The Sphynx appears to be a hairless cat, but it is not truly hairless. The skin texture has the appearance of a chamois leather. Because the Sphynx cats have no pelt to keep them warm they huddle up against other animals and people. They may even sleep with their owners under the covers. The owners of the cats are known to dress the cats in specialised clothing. There are several commercial companies worldwide providing clothes specifically for the Sphynx cats.
Lack of coat makes the cat quite warm to the touch. Whiskers and eyebrows may be present, either whole or broken, or may be totally absent. The skin is the color their fur would be, and all the usual cat marking patterns (solid, point, van, tabby, tortie, etc.) may be found on Sphynx skin.
Sphynxes generally have wedge-shaped heads and sturdy, heavy bodies. Standards call for a full round abdomen, also known as pot bellies.
Sphynxes are known for their extroverted behavior. They display a high level of energy, intelligence, curiosity, and affection for their owners.
History of the breed
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Although hairless cats have been reported throughout history, breeders in Europe have been working on the Sphynx breed since the early 1960s. Like so many other feline breeds, the present day Sphynx line has been a creation of the simultaneous work performed by mother nature and many committed, competent individuals. Two different sets of hairless felines discovered in North America in the 1970’s provided the foundation cats for that which was shaped into the existing Sphynx breed.
The current American and European Sphynx (also known as Canadian Sphynx) breed is descended from two lines of natural mutations:
- Dermis and Epidermis (1975) from the Pearsons of Wadena, Minnesota, USA.
- Bambi, Punkie, and Paloma (1978) found in Toronto, Canada, and raised by Shirley Smith.
The Canadian Sphynx breed was started in 1966, in Roncesvalles, Toronto when a hairless kitten named Prune was born to a black and white domestic shorthair queen (Elizabeth) in Ontario, Canada. The kitten was mated with its mother (backcrossing), which produced one more naked kitten. Together with a few naked kittens found later it founded the first attempt to create a hairless breed.
After purchasing these cats in 1966 and initially referring to them as “Moonstones” and “Canadian Hairless,” Mr. Ridyadh Bawa, a science graduate of the University of Toronto, combined efforts with his mother Yania, a long time Siamese breeder, and the Tenhoves (Kees and Rita) to develop a breed of cats which was subsequently renamed as “Sphynx”. It is apparent that the Bawas and the Tenhoves were the first individuals able to determine the autosomal recessive nature of the Sphynx gene for hairlessness while also being successful in transforming this knowledge into a successful breeding program with kittens which were eventually capable of reproducing.
The Tenhoves were initially able to get the breed Provisional showing status through the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) but ultimately had the status revoked in 1971 when it was felt by the CFA Board that the breed lacked both a consistent standard and an adequately broad gene pool.
The first noted naturally occurring foundation Sphynx originated at the Wadena, Minnesota farm of Milt and Ethelyn Pearson, who identified hairless kittens occurring in several litters of their Domestic Shorthair (DSH) barn cats in the mid-1970’s. Two hairless female kittens born in 1975 and 1976, Epidermis and Dermis, became an important part of the Sphynx breeding programme and further hairless cats were found in Texas, Arkansas, and Minnesota. Modern Sphynx, therefore, trace their origins to the second Canadian bloodline and to the Minnesota cats.
The first breeders had rather vague ideas about Sphynx genetics and faced a number of problems. The genetic pool was very limited and many kittens died. There was also a problem with many of the females suffering convulsions. The last two descendants of Prune, a brother-sister pair, were sent to Holland in the 1970s, but the male was uninterested in mating and the female conceived only once, but lost the litter.
The breeding program of these pioneers withered after this time with the final traceable Bawa line cats : Mewsi-Kal Johnny, Mewsi-Kal Starsky (Hugo Hernandez, Holland) and Prune’s Epidermis (David Mare, California), were unable to produce sustainable lines prior to being altered in the early 1980’s
In 1978 and 1980, two further hairless female kittens were found in Toronto and were sent to Holland to be bred with Prune’s last surviving male descendent. One female conceived, but she also lost the litter. By then, the one remaining male had been neutered, never having been interested in mating with any of the females. As a result, no modern Sphynx cats are traceable to Prune. With no male Sphynxes, breeders instead used sparsely-furred Devon Rex studs.
In the early stages of the breed crosses with Devon Rex were used, but later this crossing was frowned upon because it caused health problems. Now the Canadian Sphynx is a breed with a sound genetic pool. Outcrossing is still permitted using guidelines set down in the “standards” from each Feline Association around the globe.