Hairless cats have been recorded throughout history, particularly in Mexico and France. The ancient Aztec civilization in Central America supposedly bred hairless cats hundreds of years ago. Reportedly, the last Mexican hairless pair was given to an American couple in Albuquerque, New Mexico, by Pueblo Indians in 1903. Apparently the male of that pair subsequently was killed by a pack of dogs, and so that line of hairless cats disappeared. Historically, in most places, the occasional hairless kitten in an otherwise “normal” litter was viewed as being undesirable and was placed as a pet.
The Sphynx as we know it today is originally a Canadian breed that derives from a spontaneous genetic mutation. In 1966, one of a litter of kittens born to an ordinary short-haired black and white domestic cat in Ontario was virtually hairless. The owner called the kitten “Prune,” due to his wrinkled, bald appearance. A cat fancier and Siamese breeder purchased the hairless kitten and used him as the foundation of a new breed of cats with little to no hair coat. Prune was bred to a number of other cats, resulting in some coated and some hairless offspring. Because the Sphynx’s relative hairlessness comes from a recessive genetic mutation, both parents need to carry the “hairlessness” gene in order to ensure that all of their kittens will have a similar hairless appearance. Hairless kittens from Prune’s litters were called Canadian Hairless Cats. Some people referred to them as Sphynx Cats, because of their resemblance to an ancient Egyptian cat sculpture.
Between 1975 and 1978, several hairless kittens were born to litters in Minnesota and Toronto, arising from natural spontaneous mutations. Those kittens, named Punkie, Paloma and Epidermis, were eventually crossed with Devon Rex, a breed with a fairly sparse, curled coat. Descendants of Prune were added to the mix. Today’s Sphynx trace their ancestry back to these matings.
Some purebred cat registries have refused to recognize the Sphynx breed, on the grounds that its hairlessness is a genetic abnormality which may be potentially harmful to the cats’ health, longevity and well-being. The Sphynx has long been accepted for registration by The International Cat Association (TICA), as well as by several independent cat clubs in Europe. The Cat Fanciers’ Association granted it provisional status, but subsequently revoked that status. The CCFF accepted the Sphynx for championship status in 1971. The Sphynx is not currently recognized in Great Britain but has a firm following in North America. Interest in this breed is increasing, especially in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Because of their relative hairlessness, Sphynx cats are especially vulnerable to climatic changes – particularly to the extremes of heat and cold. They should not be allowed outdoors unattended in cold weather, as they have limited means to conserve body heat. They also are predisposed to becoming sunburned, especially on their lighter areas. Sphynx are prone to developing skin allergies and related lumps and bumps. If their skin is not cared for properly, they can develop a greasy detritus, which must be sponged and scraped away.