Pet Talk: Sphynx a curious, wonderful breed

Rene Knapp

The first time I saw a sphynx in person, I did a doubletake. It’s a funny little alien cat with huge ears, no hair, wrinkles, a pear-shaped body and a rat tail. But for all her strange physical attributes, she was still very much a cat. In fact, the breed is extremely active and human-oriented. I know, because last year I brought home Merrick.

It’s hard to know what color she is, because she looks like a pink and gray cat. In reality, she is a tortie and white. She also is full of energy and able to leap tall refrigerators in a single bound. You might see exotic looks and a magic aura in the sphynx persona, or you will just think it’s downright ugly. But whether you think a sphynx is beautiful, it’s definitely a curiosity to most people.

This breed truly is just a cat, despite its somewhat odd look. Sphynxes also can brag they have one of the best personalities of any of the cat breeds, in that they are loving, patient, tolerant and social. They can get along with other cats, dogs and even children. Merrick is truly an amazing creature who delights every person who walks through our door with her quick wit and mischievous antics.

Where did they come from? Well, despite their name, it was not Egypt. In fact, they were named by CFA judge David Mare in 1973. He said they reminded him of an Egyptian cat statue in the Louvre, which bears some resemblance to the breed. He went through all sorts of Egyptian names and decided sphynx was just a wonderful name for this strange but wonderful cat.

There have been natural mutations of hairless cats in Ontario, Minnesota and Michigan all credited for this breed’s beginnings. The truth is they probably all had something to do with the start of the formation of the cat and today’s sphynx standard. But we can be fairly certain  these hairless cats were born of a domestic nature.

When I am judging the sphynx, it is funny to watch the spectators’ faces. Many have a look of wonder about them and they start asking a lot of questions, typically about how the cat feels. They don’t actually want to touch the cat, but just want to know how it feels to touch the cat. I describe it as warm suede. It is the most wonderful feeling to pet a sphynx or to have one sleep under the covers, against your body on a chilly night. It is like having your own live hot-water bottle. I have heard many people say they have a higher body temperature than other cats. This is a myth, as their normal temperature is the same as any other cat. The warmth is just one more mystery to add to the other strange qualities of this breed. If you get the chance the next time you are at a cat show, see if there is a breeder that will let you touch his or her sphynx. It is truly an experience.

You might think since there is no hair to brush the breed requires no grooming. That is definitely not the case. A sphynx, like a person, needs to bathe, although once a week is usually sufficient. The oils on its skin are not absorbed or disguised by fur like they are on the breeds with hair. The oils stay on the skin and collect dirt and dust as the cat goes through its normal days. And then they tend to secrete a heavy oil around their nails and have very waxy ears. Nails and ears must be cleaned frequently and if you fail to clean your cat’s ears at least once a week, there is a high chance of yeast infections. Also, if you do not keep the skin clean and oil free, your furniture could be ruined with oil stains. So I would classify a sphynx as a high maintenance cat in the grooming area. While many people with allergies find they can have a sphynx, remember that no cat is truly hypoallergenic. The sphynx have dander and protein in their saliva like other cats. However, people with allergies seem to be able to tolerate this breed much better and a vast majority of people who could not have a cat in the past, can have a sphynx. The best thing to do, if you have allergies, is to visit a reputable breeder’s home and spend time interacting with the cats. If you do not have a reaction to being around a number of sphynx cats, chances are you will be able to have one in your home.

Aside from their hairlessness, sphynx have a definite unique look about them. When they are on the judge’s table, I generally describe a nice example of the breed as being the blind date that is described as having a wonderful personality and nice eyes. But they are wonderful cats. They run to the door to greet you or anyone who may happen to come to your house. They jump on your shoulders, climb into your lap, and they are loyal, wonderful companions. I find it an experience and a pleasure to share my home with Merrick.

But it is especially important that you choose a reputable breeder and check into the health of the lines your cat will come from. You may have to wait up to a year for you kitten, but it will be well worth the wait. Trust me on that.

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Norwich Bulletin