Image via iStock.com/OlgaChan
By Kate Hughes
Most cat lovers have at least a passing familiarity with hairless cats like the Sphynx cat. According to the Cat Fanciers’ Association, the Sphynx cat’s hairlessness originated as a genetic mutation in the 1960s. These kitties aren’t always completely naked—sometimes they have a downy fur over their entire body or a little bit of fur on their noses and ears—but compared to other cats, they might as well be bald.
With the unique look of the Sphynx cat comes some challenges for owners—namely, keeping their skin healthy and keeping these naked kitties warm, especially in cold weather. If you’re thinking about adopting a Sphynx kitten or adult cat, here are some things you need to know before taking the plunge.
Keeping a Hairless Cat Warm
When the temperature drops, Sphynx cats need a few more accommodations than typical kitties. According to Kirsten Kranz, founder and executive director of the Wisconsin-based Specialty Purebred Cat Rescue, if the temperature is uncomfortable for you, it’s worse for Sphynx cats. “We may be naked, but at least we’re wearing clothes,” she says. Kranz encounters many Sphynxes through her work, and has owned several as well.
There are two main options for keeping Sphynx cats warm—cat apparel and blankets.
Clothing Can Help to Keep Sphynx Cats Warm
There is a wealth of clothing out there for Sphynx cats. From a cat sweater or cat hoodie to a cat shirt or even a cat scarf, there are cat clothes readily available for anyone looking to build their hairless cat’s wardrobe.
Dr. Elizabeth Mauldin, a professor of dermatology and anatomic pathology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia, commonly treats Sphynx cats and has one of her own. “I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I have a whole wardrobe for my Sphynx,” she says. “There are all kinds of clothes out there, from sweaters to keep them warm to UV-repellant clothes that prevent sunburn.”
If you’re looking to invest in some clothes for your Sphynx, Dr. Mauldin recommends sticking to soft fabrics like fleece and cotton and avoiding anything that could be rough or itchy.
Kranz adds that some cats tolerate clothes better than others.
“I have an elderly Sphynx who turns into a lion if you try to put clothes on him. It’s impossible. I have another who doesn’t mind. It’s entirely dependent on the cat,” she says.
Both Dr. Mauldin and Kranz note that cat clothes need to be changed and washed on a regular basis, as Sphynx cats can get very dirty (more on that below), and dirty clothes can irritate their sensitive skin.
Provide Them With Blankets or Cozy Cat Bed
If your cat hates clothes like Kranz’s older Sphynx, you may not have the option of putting a sweater on her in cold weather. In that case, you want to be sure there are plenty of warm places available for your cat to snuggle up. “I have heated beds around the house, and my cats tend to sleep under the covers with me at night,” Kranz says. You might also want to consider keep one part of your home a little warmer than you might otherwise (and completely free of drafts).
Dr. Maudlin does caution, however, that Sphynx owners should be careful that a cat heated bed isn’t too hot, as that can cause burns. After all, your cat’s skin won’t be protected from direct contact with excessive heat by a layer of fur. If you’re concerned about the potential for burns, there are self-heating cat beds, like the Pet Magasin thermal self-heated cat bed that keep kitties warm without that risk. You can also try a cat covered bed that creates a cozy little cave for them to keep warm in. It is also smart to have a cat bed available in all their favorite hangouts so they always have a snuggly place to warm up.
When it comes to blankets or covers on beds, as with clothing, Sphynx owners should stick to soft fabrics that won’t be irritating to their kitties’ skin.
Sphynx Cat Skin Care
A Sphynx’s lack of fur can present challenges for owners beyond the need for cat sweaters. Even if you’re taking all of the steps necessary to keep your Sphynx warm, you should also be paying close attention to skin care and ensuring that your cat’s clothes aren’t causing any skin issues.
“The fact that Sphynx don’t have hair actually means that they need more grooming than other breeds of cats,” Dr. Mauldin explains. “Think about what fur usually does for animals—it protects their skin from the sun and other environmental irritants, and it helps guard the cat against dirt.”
She says that in her experience, Sphynx cats get very dirty. “It’s not just environmental dirt, either,” she notes. “Sphynx cats don’t have hair, but they do have glands that secrete oils meant to keep fur lubricated and shiny. Without fur to absorb that oil, it accumulates.” Sphynx cats are particularly prone to oil accumulation in their ears and around their feet, which can lead to infections.
Kranz notes that a good diet can help cut a Sphynx’s greasiness, but that regular warm baths should also be part of your routine. She adds that certain areas may need more attention than others. “Sphynx cat ears tend to be a lot more waxy than other breeds’ ears, and if you don’t keep them pretty much spotless, you’re looking at endless ear infections,” she explains.
Giving a Sphynx Cat a Bath
Since bathing is a necessity for Sphynxes, there are some things you should be aware of before you start running the bathwater. First, you should use a cat shampoo and moisturizer that are formulated for cats with sensitive skin and are not too drying.
The water should also be warm and calm—Dr. Mauldin does not recommend having the faucet running during the bath itself. Afterward, you should dry a Sphynx cat as thoroughly as possible with cat bath towels, especially in cold, dry weather. “They have skin just like yours; it’s possible for these cats to get chapped,” she says.
Dr. Mauldin reiterates how important it is to change your Sphynx’s outfit regularly and provide proper skin care. “Oil accumulations can even cause rings around your cat’s neck. You have to be committed to keeping these animals—and their clothes and blankets—clean to ensure their continued health.”