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Traditional Sphynx Breeders


Copyright Diana Fineran March 14, 2003

 What is the History of the Traditional Sphynx Cat?

The Traditional Sphynx has been recognized as a distinct breed of domestic cat for many decades.  The first documented report was given by the German naturalist, Johann Rudolph Rengger in his book, “Natural History of the Mammals of Paraguay”, in 1830.  Rengger said, “This scant-haired cat was the descendant of house cats taken from Europe to Paraguay in the 1600’s.  The change in climate, he suggested, had gradually effected a change in coat.” 

Azzaro of Fleur DeLune

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Fleur DeLune Cattery
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For some time they were called “Mexican Hairless Cats”. A portrait of a “Mexican Hairless Cat” named, Jesuit, appeared in C.H. Lane’s “Rabbits, Cats, and Cavies”.  In this account of “The most rare of any species of domesticated cat,” Mr. Lane quoted a Mrs. Shuick of Albuquerque, New Mexico, who stated, “These cats were obtained from Indians a few miles from here.  The old Jesuit fathers say they are the last of the Aztec race, and are known only in New Mexico.”  Mrs. Shuick referred to two cats, a female named Nellie and a male named Dick, who had been killed recently by several dogs.  She lamented, “His loss was very great and I may never replace him. The Chicago Cat Club valued him at $1000.  I have sent all over the country and endeavored to get a male for Nellie, but I fear the breed is extinct.”

Thirty six years later Ida M. Mellen wrote in her “Journal of Heredity” that she believed the immediate ancestor of the New Mexican Hairless Cats “undoubtedly was a scant haired cat of South America,” described by Johann Rudolph Rengger before her. She also suggested that the hairless cat “may be extinct.” 

Still other hairless cats appeared in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1936, in Paris, France in the 1930’s, and in Ontario, Canada in the 1960’s and again in 1978.

With only one exception, the parents of hairless cats were Domestic Shorthairs with no particular bloodlines predominating.  Of interest though were the Paris cats, who had turned up from time to time in litters born to a certain pair of Siamese cats.  Breeding experiments revealed certain genetic factors.  When the French hairless cats or their parents were bred to other Siamese, their kittens had normal length coats.  Hairless kittens resulted only from repeat breedings between the original hairless kitten producing Siamese or from breedings between two hairless cats.  This indicated that the mutation gene responsible for hairlessness is recessive, at least among cats with normal length coats.  Other experiments were done by crossing Traditional Sphynx to Devon Rex.  It was suspected that the Traditional Sphynx gene may be dominant in Traditional Sphynx-Devon crosses. In any case they are a naturally occurring mutation that happened many times through out long history. 

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Over time their name evolved from the less flattering “Mexican Hairless” to the more regal name with the Egyptian flare, the “Traditional Sphynx”.

A domestic cat gave birth to a single hairless kitten in Toronto, Canada in 1966.The foundations of the present day Traditional Sphynx began to be deliberately bred. in 1978.  In 1978 an Ontario, Canada Siamese breeder found three hairless stray kittens on the streets of her town.  In 1983 two of the kittens, Punkie and Paloma, were shipped to Dr. Hugo Hernandez in the Netherlands, where they were bred to a white Devon Rex.  It is believed that the descendents of these cats along with the addition of descendents of other exceptionally rare mutations are the foundation of today’s Traditional Sphynx breed. 

No weakness of any kind has been found to be connected with being hairless.  For a while it was hinted that this must be so, but that is untrue. European and North American breeders have bred the Traditional Sphynx to normal coated cats, then back to hairless individuals for many decades.  Other comparative selective breedings were done to create a genetically sound cat with a large gene pool and hybrid vigor.  All of these were increased by out crossing to other breeds as well.  In 1985 Walt and Carol Richards were influenced by an internationally known geneticist, Solveig Pflueger.  The Traditional Sphynx were in danger of becoming extinct, so Mr. Pfleuger suggested that they be crossed with the Devon Rex.  The Richards bred one of their Traditional Sphynx males to one of their Devon Rex females and had a litter of four hairless kittens. They spent years outcrossing to healthy, unrelated Devon Rex to reach the point where the gene pool was expanded.  While laudable, the work of the Richards did enable the breed to perpetuate itself, crossing to the Devon Rex to revive the breed, wasn’t enough for the breed to thrive and flourish. Experimental crossing to the American Shorthair was conducted as well. 

The most distinguishing feature of this rare breed is its appearance of being hairless.  They truly are not hairless, however.  Their somewhat wrinkled looking skin feels like a soft, warm, suede, hot water bottle. Some are nearly hairless and others have a fine, virtually imperceptible fuzz or down on the body. Other descriptions concerning the feel of their skin are like a warm peach, a horse’s warm muzzle or a heated chamois.  It is acceptable for them to have short, tightly packed soft hair on their ears, muzzle, nose, feet, tail base and on the tip of their tail. Every color in the rainbow of cat colors is acceptable.  The color is visible in the skin pigment and on the small amount of hair they do have. 

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How is the HEALTH of the Traditional Sphynx ?

The Traditional Sphynx is a very robust cat, which has few health, or genetic problems and a low kitten mortality rate. 

How is the PERSONALITY of the Traditional Sphynx ?

Their personality has been universally praised across decades and continents for their demeanor.  In 1903 one anonymous lover of the Traditional Sphynx wrote, “They are the most intelligent and affectionate family pets I have ever met and the smartest cats I have ever seen.”  The French describe them as “part monkey, part dog, part child, and part cat.”  Loyal, closely identifying with their human family, they follow people around, and use their paws like hands.  Some say they are more like people than cats.  Their spirit is more than temperament or personality.  The strength of the Traditional Sphynx is its ability to adapt its personality to fit the desires of its human companions.  They operate out of their intuitive senses rather than instinct.  With the clarity and innocence of children, they remarkably know what is really going on in their human environment, regardless of how things actually look.  They can take a place as your sidekick, provide all the love and attention a person could desire from a pet, lie on your lap when you are quietly seated,  sown an abundance of energy and mischief, comfort you when you are feeling low, be sensitive to your disposition, or romp around when your feeling great. Loving to be looked at, they perform funny antics for mutual entertainment.  Because of their desire to be admired, they are easy to be handled. The Traditional Sphynx exudes intimacy. Their very nature is to love and be loved by a human being, via the intensity and devotion to their humans. It has been said, “These cats are so interactive, so completely satisfying, entertaining and enchanting that we can’t imagine our lives without them.  In truth these cats are healing by their very nature.  They are instant intimacy in a culture in which true intimacy is almost impossible to come by.”

The Traditional Sphynx does not enjoy being an only pet.  The company of people, other cats or dogs is their desire. 

“They are in reality a gift,” wrote Steve Patterson, “which when experienced to their fullest capacity, show themselves to be nothing less than angels in cats bodies!”

Azzaro of Fleur DeLune

Photos Courtesy of
Fleur DeLune Cattery
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How difficult is it to care for the of the Traditional Sphynx ?

If you are hypoallergenic the Traditional Sphynx may be a good choice for a pet friend. However, depending on the severity or type of a persons allergic reactions, some people still can’t live with this breed. The Traditional Sphynx differs from other cats because they don’t have hair to absorb the oil the skin produces.  Their dander, which is the usual cause for allergies, tends to remain on the skin rather than floating freely. The Traditional Sphynx needs to be bathed periodically with mild shampoo made for cats every so often, which washes the dander, oil and dust away. It is not difficult with cats who have been acclimated to being bathed since kittenhood.  It takes little time at all to dry them. Their skin doesn’t dry out as that of regular cats when they are bathed, so the bathing doesn’t make the dander more plentiful.  If you keep your hands away from your face, after petting your Traditional Sphynx you should remain relatively unaware of whatever air born allergens do exist. It is still advised to acclimate gradually to your cat.  Don’t let the cat in the bedroom or on your pillow until you’ve given your body time to adjust. If there are any reactions they diminish with time. There is nothing in nature that is purely hypoallergenic, however.  Yet the Traditional Sphynx seems to come as close as one can get.

Bathing procedures vary.  They can be sponged off in a sink, wiped down with a damp, soft washcloth, or soaped in a bathtub.  Begin by running warm water that just touches the bottom of the cat’s stomach.  Shallow water gives them more opportunity to move around, so this amount is best.  Be sure to put the total amount of water in first before putting the cat into the water.  Other wise the cat could be freightened.  A non-skid sink or but liner is best placed on the bottom to protect the cat from slipping.  Use a cup to dampen the cat.  Always keep on hand on our under the cat to steady it and give reassurance.  A small amount of shampoo goes a long way, so first put the shampoo into a small amount of warm water in a bowl, then put that diluted mixture on the cat.  Lather and rub the cat, but avoid its face to keep soap from getting into its eyes, ears or mouth.  Rinsing is so important, because every amount of soap must be removed, otherwise the cat will have an itchy irritation from any soap residue.  Dry your cat with a warm towel.  A damp, soft cloth is best to wipe off the face.  Always reward your cat for it’s patience with lots of affection.

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Photos Courtesy of AphroditePaws Cattery
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It isn’t surprising that the very intelligent Traditional Sphynx isn’t as tolerant as a barn cat.  Their extreme sensitivity makes them vulnerable to mistreatment of any kind and even to negative human environments.  They must be bred and raised respectfully and properly placed in appreciative homes in order to preserve their essential nature.

Of course, a Traditional Sphynx is NOT an outside cat.  Yes!  They can accompany you on trips, but they must be protected from the elements. Just consider, if it is too cold for you, then it is too cold for a Traditional Sphynx.  Within their home they seek out a warm dog, cat or human to cuddle up with.  Also, they don’t hesitate to get under the bed quilts with you. 


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