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Sphynx Cat

Sphynx Cat
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Sphynx Cat Personality

According to the French breed standard, the Sphynx is part monkey, part dog, part child, and part cat. The breed does seem to possess some personality traits of each, despite what geneticists might say about such a combination. To say Sphynxes are lively is an understatement; they perform monkey-like aerialist feats from the top of doorways and bookshelves. Very devoted and loyal, they follow their humans around, wagging their tails doggy fashion and purring with affection. They demand your unconditional attention and are as mischievous (and lovable) as children. And despite all that and their alien appearance, they are completely cats, with all the mystery and charm that has fascinated humankind for thousands of years. While the Sphynx may not be for everyone, his unique appearance and charming temperament has won him an active, enthusiastic following.


Sphynx Cat Breed Traits

When the first matings of the breed occurred, breeders discovered that the Sphynx's lack of hair is governed by a recessive gene. It takes two copies of the gene for the trait to express itself and, if each parent has only one copy of the hairless gene, the number of hairless kittens in any litter is approximately one in four. This makes establishing a large gene pool more difficult. However, it was also discovered that the hairless gene is an incomplete dominant over the gene governing the Devon Rex's wavy coat. Crosses between the Sphynx, Devon Rex, and the American Shorthair widened the gene pool.

The Sphynx only appears hairless, its skin, or parts of it, is covered with a fine, almost imperceptible vestigial covering of down that gives the skin the texture of chamois. Heterozygous Sphynxes (those that possess only one copy of the hairless gene) usually exhibit more hair than homozygous Sphynxes (those possessing two copies).

Wrinkles are a desirable trait in the show Sphynx. He isn't really more wrinkled than any other cat, though; you can see the wrinkles because of the lack of fur. The lack of coat makes the Sphynx feel like warm suede to the touch.

One would expect a hairless cat to produce no symptoms in the cat-allergic, but this is not the case. The Sphynx considerately refrains from shedding all over your couch, but can still make you sneeze. It is not the hair itself that causes the allergic reaction, but rather an allergenic protein called Fel d1 secreted via saliva and sebaceous glands. Sphynxes produce this secretion just as all cats do; they just don't deposit allergen-laced hair all over the place.

Sphynxes also require grooming. They must be regularly bathed to remove collections of oily sebaceous secretions on the skin. These secretions are normal; it's just that Sphynxes don't have hair to absorb them. Allowed to collect, these oils can cause skin problems.


Interested in the history of the Sphynx cat breed?

The Sphynx is not the first instance of hairlessness in domestic cats. This natural, spontaneous mutation has been seen in various locations around the world for at least the last ninety-something years, and probably longer. The Book of the Cat (Simpson, 1903), mentioned a pair of hairless cats belonging to a New Mexico fancier. Called the 'Mexican Hairless', these cats supposedly were obtained from Indians around Albuquerque.

In 1950 a pair of Siamese cats in Paris, France, produced a litter that included three hairless kittens. The results were repeated in subsequent matings of the same pair, but breeding the parents to other Siamese cats produced no new hairless kittens.

Other hairless specimens turned up in Morocco, Australia, North Carolina, and, in 1966, in Canada, where a pair of domestic shorthairs produced a litter that included a hairless kitten. A breeder named Ryadh Bawa obtained the parents and, with the help of other breeders, began a breeding program. The CFA originally granted New Breed and Color status, then in 1971 they withdrew recognition due to infertility problems with the breed. This line was not pursued after 1980 and is not part of the current bloodline.

The breed as we know it today began in 1975, when Minnesota farm owners Milt and Ethelyn Pearson discovered that a hairless kitten had been born to their normal-coated farm cat, Jezabelle. This kitten, named Epidermis, was joined the next year by another hairless kitten named Dermis. Both were sold to Oregon breeder Kim Mueske, who used the kittens to develop the breed. Georgiana Gattenby of Brainerd, Minnesota, also worked with kittens from the Pearson line, using Cornish Rex as an outcross.

At almost the same time (1978), Siamese breeder Shirley Smith of Ontario, Canada, found three hairless kittens on the streets of her neighborhood. In 1983 she sent two of them to Dr. Hugo Hernandez in the Netherlands. Dr. Hernandez bred the two kittens, named Punkie and Paloma, to a white Devon Rex named Curare van Jetrophin. The descendants of these cats, along with the descendants of the cats from Minnesota and Oregon, became the foundation of today?s Sphynx breed. The breed has made considerable strides since its inception due to a small group of dedicated breeders.

While most fanciers have welcomed the Sphynx as unique and exotic, some members of the cat fancy wish that the Sphynx would put on some clothes. Like other breeds that have diverged from the basic design, the Sphynx has drawn some negative attention. Also, the gene that governs hairlessness can be considered a genetic disorder, since the cat is more susceptible to both heat and cold. On the other hand, fanciers argue that we humans are pretty much hairless ourselves compared with our closest relatives, and we?ve managed to get by pretty well.

Breeders and fanciers are currently working toward CFA recognition. The Sphynx would be required to come in as a new breed, rather than one previously recognized.

Copyright © 1998 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc. based on
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CAT BREEDS by J. Anne Helgren.

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