The Sphynx is a breed of cat that naturally has little to no fur. They look like naked cats, and this is charming to some people.

Sphynx need special care because the lack of a protective fur coat makes them sensitive to heat and cold, as well as more likely to be injured if they were to get into a spat with another cat. They should exclusively be indoor cats.

Those who are extremely allergic to cat fur may find that the Sphynx is their only option.

Perhaps the most famous Sphynx around is Mr. Bigglesworth from the Austin Powers movies.

They have been called ugly, freaks, and weird - but the Sphynx cat is exactly like other cats, minus the fur. Those who claim the Sphynx is a freak have probably never met one.

The first recorded instance of a hairless cat was in the 1903 Book of the Cat by Frances Simpson. Under the name "Mexican Hairless" was a picture of Dick and Nellie, cats who were born with the appropriate genetic mutation, but who could not be bred to each other as they were brother and sister. The female was to be sold to H.C. Brooke, but in 1927 he wrote in a letter that there was no record of this breed other than the one he had made in 1902. There were other reports of hairless cats around the world but none were ever successfully extended into a new breed.

In 1966, a domestic cat in Canada gave birth to a hairless kitten, and so began the practice of breeding bald cats. It is worth noting that this was not a forced breed, like the Twisty cats, but rather a natural genetic mutation that breeders have taken advantage of to create a new breed. The breeding program from the original kitten was undertaken by Toronto scientist Ridyadh Bawa, who determined the recessive nature of the hairless gene and was able to breed fertile hairless cats. In 1970 the breed was provisionally accepted by the Cat Fanciers' Association as the "Canadian Hairless," but the breed recognition was withdrawn one year later because of anticipated health problems in the naked cats.

The next line of hairless cats came from Minnesota, where a farm cat gave birth to hairless kittens. The kittens were bred in Oregon and Minnesota with the intent of strengthening the gene pool - one line was combined with Rex cats to form a stronger, more healthy line. (It is interesting that although the hairless gene is recessive to normal hair, it is dominant over Rex-type curly hair.) In 1978, another line of hairless cats turned up in the Toronto area. One kitten, Bambi, was bred in Canada, and two others, Punkie and Paloma, were bred in the Netherlands. Today's Sphynxes are the descendants of the Minnesota and Toronto hairless cats, and due to the cross-breeding they are healthy and robust.

Many people who have petted a Sphynx liken the sensation to a warm peach or warm suede. The cats do have a fine down on their bodies, and some may also have sparse fur around their ears, tail, and feet. Because they lack a coat to absorb body oils, Sphynxes are usually given regular baths from kittenhood and generally do not complain about it. Additionally, although normal feline body temperature is about 101°, Sphynxes can get cold just as a naked human can. Accordingly, some owners outfit their cats with sweaters in winter, and allow them to snuggle under the covers for warmth.

Despite appearing more slender due to the lack of fur, Sphynxes are actually strong cats. The CFA standard (established in 1998) stipulates that Sphynxes should be medium-sized with good bone structure and muscle development. Their Rex heritage is evident in their round eyes and oversized ears, although this may vary depending on the cat's exact lineage. Owners note that their necks are very flexible which can give them an odd appearance as the cat's head cranes to look at something while its body remains still! They may come in a wide variety of colors - the pigmentation is evident directly on the cat's skin rather than in the fur. Sphynxes may be one solid color, tabby, calico, pointed, bicolor, or any other pattern that cats usually wear.

These cats are often described as very people-focused: they have an interest in being with humans most of the time. They are also usually good with dogs and other cats, but they prefer humans. Sphynxes are also considered curious, inquisitive, and intelligent - to the point of learning tricks - and they are vocal cats.

Sometimes Sphynxes are labeled hypoallergenic; this is partly true, but it is more dependent on the allergic person rather than the cat. Their lack of fur means that they are good for someone with an allergy to the fur, but if the person's allergy is to cat dander (created when they bathe themselves), the Sphynx may still cause problems for the human. (Rex cats are another good choice for those allergic to animal fur.)

The International Cat Association (TICA) was the first large group to recognize Sphynxes for championship status, which they did in the early 1990's. TICA's standard, in addition to the general body shape of the Sphynx, mentions that they may or may not have whiskers and eyebrows, and that their tail should be "rat-like," tapering from the body to the tip. TICA also lists certain features that penalize the cat in judging, including a lack of wrinkles on the head, significant amounts of hair above the ankle, and a frail appearance. TICA judges may disqualify a cat who has been shaved, plucked, or put through any other form of hair removal.

The Canadian Sphynx line met its first challenger in the hairless world in 1987 when the Donskoy Sphynx breed began in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. Although they are quite similar to the Canadian Sphynx, these cats may still have some residual fur that is often curly like a Rex's. A particular indicator of a Donskoy Sphynx is curly whiskers when the cat is born, although many Don Sphynxes are born without whiskers. Additionally, those Don Sphynxes that are born with some fur typically lose it by the time they are two years old, and become almost completely hairless cats. Donskoy Sphynxes are now also being bred in the United States, and there has been discussion of mating them with the fledgling line of polydactyl hairless cats, known as the Hemingway Sphynx.

The important thing to know about the Sphynx cat is that it is not alien, disgusting, or creepy. This natural genetic mutation has led to a unique cat to be sure, but they are otherwise like any other cat - perhaps even more deserving of love because they are so looked-down-upon.

Additional resources

written for nonficwrimo 06

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