The most distinctive feature of this cat is its appearance of hairlessness. The Sphynx is of medium size and body conformation with surprising weight for its size. The body feels warm and soft to the touch, with a skin texture akin to either a soft peach or a smooth nectarine. The Sphynx is sweet-tempered, lively, and amenable to handling.
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 more than a century, and probably much longer.
The Book of the Cat by Frances Simpson, published in 1903, mentioned a pair of gray and white hairless cats, Dick and Nellie, belonging to an Albuquerque, New Mexico cat lover named F. J. Shinick. Called the “Mexican Hairless,” these cats looked similar to today’s Sphynx, and supposedly were obtained from Indians around Albuquerque. According to Mr. Shinick’s letter, “The old Jesuit Fathers tell me they are the last of the Aztec breed known only in New Mexico.” It’s unknown if that was true, but Dick and Nellie died without producing offspring.
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 felines turned up in Morocco, Australia, North Carolina, and, in 1966, in Roncesvalles, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where a pair of domestic shorthairs produced a litter that included a hairless kitten named Prune. A breeder obtained the parents and began a breeding program; the breed was named the Canadian Hairless. Prune was mated with his mother, which produced one hairless kitten.
In 1970, CFA granted provisional status to the breed. This line had a number of difficulties; the gene pool was limited, and some kittens died from undiagnosed health problems. In 1971, CFA withdrew the recognition due to the breed’s health problems. The last of Prune’s line was sent to Holland to Dr. Hugo Hernandez in the 1970s. In 1978 and 1980, two hairless female kittens believed to be related to Prune were found in Toronto. They were sent to Holland to be bred with Prune’s last surviving male descendant. One female conceived, but she lost the litter. None of Prune’s descendants went on to become the Sphynx breed we know today.
In 1975, Minnesota farm owners Milt and Ethelyn Pearson discovered 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 Sphynx 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 Toronto, Ontario, Canada, found three hairless kittens on the streets of her neighborhood, which she named Bambi, Punkie, and Paloma. The descendants of Bambi, Punkie, and Paloma in Canada, along with the descendants of Epidermis and Dermis in Oregon, became the foundation of today’s Sphynx. The breed has made considerable strides since its inception.
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. In addition, 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 more or less hairless compared with our closest relatives, and with a dap of sunscreen we manage to get by just fine.
Association acceptance followed the breed’s creation quite rapidly for such an unusual breed. TICA accepted the breed for championship in 1986. In 1992, CCA recognized the Sphynx for championship. In 1994, ACFA followed suit. In 1998, CFA recognized the new and improved Sphynx lines for registration and in 2002 accepted the breed for championship. The breed is now recognized by all North American cat associations, as well as Fédération Internationale Féline (FIFe) and the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) in Europe.
Body is medium length, hard, and muscular with broad rounded chest and full round abdomen. The rump is well-rounded and muscular. Back line rises just behind the shoulder blades to accommodate longer back legs when standing. Boning is medium. Neck is medium in length, rounded, well-muscled, with a slight arch.
Modified wedge, slightly longer than it is wide, with prominent cheekbones, a distinctive whisker break, and whisker pads giving a squared appearance to the muzzle. The skull is slightly rounded with a flat plane in front of the ears. The nose is straight, and there is a slight to moderate palpable stop at the bridge of the nose. Prominent, rounded cheekbones which define the eye and form a curve above the whisker break.
Large to very large. Broad at the base, open and upright. When viewed from the front, the outer base of the ear should begin at the level of the eye, neither low set nor on top of the head. The interior of the ears is naturally without furnishing.
Large, lemon shaped, with wide-open center while coming to a definite point on each side. Placement should be at a slight upward angle, aligning with the outer base of the ear. Eyes to be set wide apart with the distance between the eyes being a minimum of one eye width.
Legs are medium in proportion to the body. They are sturdy and well-muscled with rear legs being slightly longer than the front. Paws are oval with well-knuckled toes; five in front and four behind. The paw pads are thick, giving the appearance of walking on cushions.
Slender, flexible, and long while maintaining proportion to body length. Whip-like, tapering to a fine point.
Appearance of this cat is one of hairlessness. Short, fine hair may be present on the feet, outer edges of the ears and the tail. The bridge of the nose should be normally coated. The remainder of the body can range from completely hairless to a covering of soft peach-like fuzz whose length does not interfere with the appearance of hairlessness. This coat/skin texture creates a feeling of resistance when stroking the cat. There are usually no whiskers, but if whiskers are present they are short and sparse.