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It is an old truism that you can wait for hours for a bus, and then three all come along at once. This is rather similar to what has happened with hairless cat breeds. They were a rare oddity which only popped up occasionally for a century or more, and then in the late 20th century three came along, and suddenly the Cat Fancy found them all petitioning for recognition! Few breeds divide people so sharply into those who love them and those who hate them and think they should not have been developed. They are recognised by cat registries the world over, but to some people they still seem unnatural and ugly. So see what you think...
In 1966 a shorthaired domestic cat gave birth to a hairless kitten in Toronto, Canada. Aptly named 'Prune', he was mated to his mother, and the first hairless breeding programme began. Other hairless cats appeared from time to time, all being shown to carry the same recessive mutation, and were taken into the breeding programme. Early worries about lethal problems with the gene appeared to be unfounded, and in the 1970s two hairless females were sent to the Netherlands. They were bred to a Devon Rex to keep the line going, and from here the new breed spread to Europe. TICA and FIFE recognised the Sphynx in the 1990s, and in 1999 it was recognised in Australia. CFA gave it championship status in 2002, and the GCCF began registering Sphynxes in 2006. However, the GCCF have stated that they do not intend to register 'any other hair deficient breeds'.
The Sphynx is not truly hairless, but has a covering of peach-like down, which is soft and warm to the touch. Oil that would normally be dispersed into the cat's coat tends to accumulate on the skin in Sphynxes, so regular bathing is a must. Sphynxes are more likely to be injured or get sunburnt since they have no fur to protect them, so most people feel they should be indoor-only cats. But if it lives in a suitable environment, the Sphynx is said to be loving an playful, and keen to curl up with its owner for warmth.
In 1988 a hairless blue-dream female kitten was rescued in the town of Rostov-na-Donu in Varya, Russia. She passed on her hairlessness to her kittens, as it was a dominant trait. This showed it to be a distinct gene from that of the Sphynx, which is recessive. The early Donskoys were crossed to European Shorthairs and Siberians to improve the gene pool. FIFE and TICA now recognise the breed, but the GCCF refuses, saying it does not want any more hairless breeds.
The hairlessness of a Donskoy varies from a sparse, wiry fuzz to complete baldness. A safe warm environment is vital for it, so as with the Sphynx, these are best kept as indoor cats. Donskoys are said to be intelligent and friendly, happiest with owners who are at home and available for regular play throughout the day.
The Peterbald has its origins in the same mutation as the Donskoy. In 1993 a St Petersburg breeder mated a Donskoy male with an oriental female. The results were different enough for a new strain to develop, and eventually be considered as a new breed. FIFE and TICA have recognised the new breed, but all other registries remain cautious. The Peterbald is still outcrossed to Siamese and Orientals, to increase the gene pool and develop the type.
Like the Donskoy, the Peterbald has a variable coat, ranging from truly bald, with a slightly rubbery and sticky feel to the skin, through a velvety fuzz, to a sparse, wiry brush-like coat with a definite curl. It is slender in build like the Orientals, but has a different head and a more blunted muzzle, so is not merely and 'Oriental with its clothes off', as has been unkindly suggested! It is said to be somewhat prone to dental disease and tooth decay, and any diseases common in the Orientals with which is was crossed in the early days of the breed. As might be expected, its personality is similar to that of the Orientals – these cats are lively, gregarious, attention-seeking, and can be very, very loud. So perhaps even more than the other hairless breeds, these cats need a great deal of attention from their owner.
Love them or hate them, the hairless cat breeds seem to be here to stay. Some people love their 'different' look, others have said that they make cat ownership possible for those who are allergic to cat fur. However, this is often not the case, as many people who are allergic to cats actually react to the oil in the cat's hair rather than the fur itself, so they will have the same problem with a hairless cat. All of them take a certain amount of extra care beyond that require by cats with fur; they need sunblock on their ears if they go outside, and the rest of their unprotected skin may be vulnerable to sunburn too. And regular bathing is necessary to prevent their skin becoming too greasy. In addition, since Sphynx cats need to be kept indoors, owners say they need to spend quite a lot of time with them to prevent them becoming bored. But beyond that they are really normal, friendly, lovable cats, who just happen to look a little unusual.
If you have not seen a hairless cat before, the best way to find one is to visit a cat show. Sphynxes are now becoming quite common at most shows, and you will be able to see for yourself what the breed is like, ask about its care and maintenance, and maybe even touch one if its owner agrees. And then you can decide if a hairless cat is the one for you.
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