With their angular faces, big ears, and smooth bodies, Sphynx cats are living (and purring) proof that there’s more to a kitty than its fur coat. Here are a few facts about the fleshy feline.
1. Sphynx cats originated in Canada.
You’d think a cat whose ancestors come from the North Country would be equipped with a warm coat. But the modern-day Canadian Sphynx—the hairless breed we know in North America—has been defying expectations since the mid-1960s, when an Ontario cat gave birth to a hairless kitten, the result of a natural genetic mutation. Then, in the mid-1970s, two separate sets of hairless kittens were born to owners in Toronto and Minnesota. Thanks to various breeding efforts, their lineages resulted in the affectionate animal we love today.
Don’t think, though, that the Canadian Sphynx is the only hairless cat out there. Similar breeds exist, and look-alike felines have been reported in countries across the world. For instance, the Sphynx has a hairless doppelgänger—the Donskoy—that’s actually a separate breed from Russia. While they look nearly identical, the Sphynx’s lack of long hair is thanks to a recessive gene, whereas the Donskoy’s hairlessness is the result of a dominant gene.
2. Sphynx cats aren’t actually bald.
At first glance, the Sphynx might look less like a feline and more like a naked mole rat. If you pet one, however, you’ll discover they’re not actually hairless. Sphynx cats are covered with a fine layer of downy fuzz. While they’re not plush to the touch, their coats feel akin to suede.
3. Sphynx cats have different patterns and colors.
Although Sphynxes are “naked” cats, their skin pigment can vary in color and pattern. From tortoiseshells to tabbies, you’re bound to find a Sphynx version of many longer-haired cats.
4. Sphynx cats aren’t hypoallergenic.
If you’re a cat lover who’s allergic to your favorite animal, don't shell out the big bucks for a Sphynx kitten. Despite rumors to the contrary, the breed isn’t actually hypoallergenic. Sphynxes still produce Fel d 1, the allergenic protein in cat saliva and skin secretions that causes your eyes to grow itchy and red.
5. Sphynx cats are warmer than most other felines.
Four degrees warmer, in fact.
6. Sphynx cats need a weekly bath.
Think Sphynx kitties are super-clean because they don’t have fur? Think again. While your cat’s coat might not be a magnet for dust particles, pollen, and other substances, its skin still produces oil. For most cats, oil helps keep their fur sleek. But with Sphynx cats, it can form a greasy film over their bodies—meaning their owners must give them weekly baths.
The same goes for the ears: Since there aren’t any hairs to block dirt or dead skin cells from accumulating inside the cavities, owners have to regularly wipe them down with a washcloth or cotton ball to keep ears clear.
7. Sphynx cats have sensitive skin.
Don’t slather sunscreen on your Sphynx every time it sits in a sunbeam—but do keep in mind that because it’s not covered in a dense coat, a Sphynx’s skin is more sensitive. (And yes, they can get sunburnt.) They can get overheated or cold and, though they can go outside, they should be mostly indoor cats.
8. Sphynx cats are popular.
While pet owners in America love furry cats like Ragdolls, Exotic Shorthairs, Persians, and Maine Coons, Sphynxes are currently ranked the 10th most popular feline breed in the country, according to the Cat Fanciers’ Association registration statistics from 2021.
9. Sphynx cats are friendly.
While they share a name with the Great Sphinx of Giza, Sphynx cats don't have such a stoic statue. They’re sociable, loving, and playful animals—so much, in fact, that a 2012 study in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior ranked Sphynxes as the most affectionate cat breed.
Why are Sphynx cats so friendly? Experts have a few theories: It could be because they rely on humans to keep warm; because friendlier cats might be selected for breeding; or because breeders tend to leave Sphynx kittens with their mothers for longer periods of time.
10. Sphynx cats eat a lot.
Thanks to their fast metabolisms, Sphynx cats need more food than the average feline.
11. The Sphynx cats that played Mr. Bigglesworth in Austin Powers had punny names.
The main Mr. Bigglesworth in Austin Powers, Ted Nudegent, was specially trained for the films, sitting still for up to 45 minutes at a time while actors screamed and Mike Myers petted him. "It helped that he had been a show cat and was used to having lots of people around," animal trainer Tammy Maples told The Daily News. "And also that he just loved Mike Myers. Mike always took time to talk to Ted. It wasn't just 'sit down, roll cameras.'" And when the filmmakers needed a Bigglesworth kitten for The Spy Who Shagged Me, they used Mel Gibskin. Later, as a grown cat, Mel served as Ted's double.
This story originally ran in 2021; it has been updated for 2022.