Want a cat but don’t want to clean up all of the fur? You might have considered a hairless variety, such as the Sphynx. Ever since the breed was depicted as Mr. Bigglesworth, the fierce feline companion of Dr. Evil in the “Austin Powers” franchise, these furless cats have come into prominence.
Before you rush off to purchase one of these hairless cats, there are a few caveats. From their activity level to their special bathing requirements, here are ten things to know about hairless cats:
They Require Sun Protection
Unlike most cats, a hairless cat doesn’t have a layer of fur to protect it from the elements, so it’s extra important that you keep it safe from the sun’s harmful rays.
“If they go outside, sunscreen or some sort of sun protection is recommended,” says Dr. Shari Brown, a veterinarian in Chesapeake, VA. “It’s generally recommended not to take them outside, especially at the brightest times. Talk to your vet about [sun protection] products and what is best for your cat.”
They Are Very Active
As a certified instructor with the National Cat Groomers Institute of America, Inc., Lynn Paolillo has encountered her share of hairless cats and says that getting them to sit still on her grooming table can be a bit of a challenge.
“All the hairless cats I’ve met are very sweet and cuddly but also active. They want to play and have cat interactive toys, but also will seek out warmth from the owners,” she explains.
If You Have a Cat Allergy, You Still Might Be Allergic
Brown says that, contrary to popular belief, hairless cat breeds are not necessarily hypoallergenic. In addition to their dander, cat allergies in people can be caused by the proteins in a cat’s urine and saliva. For this reason, hairless cat breeds, such as the Peterbald, may still elicit allergies in people that come into contact with them.
Paolillo says that weekly bathing will remove the majority of the Fel d 1 protein on the cat’s body, which can help with cat allergies.
Hairless Cats Aren’t Entirely Hairless
Although they may look hairless, these cats aren’t entirely without some type of fur (even if it more closely resembles a thin layer of down).
“They aren’t completely hairless; they can have a peach fuzz over certain parts, or even the whole body,” says Maria Drechsel, owner of Fabulous Feline Grooming in Calgary, Canada.
Hairless Cats Can Have Skin Problems …
Brown says that hairless cats are predisposed to a variety of skin conditions.
“Sphynxs are prone to uticaria pigmentosa, a skin condition characterized with itching and red bumps,” she says. If you notice any type of rash or skin irritation in your pet, make an appointment with your veterinarian.
… And Certain Health Problems
According to Brown, Devon Rexs have been found to have luxating patellas and a neuromuscular spasticity disorder, while Sphynxs can be prone to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or a thickening of the heart muscle.
The cardiac condition has been known to affect a variety of cat breeds, but Sphynx are especially susceptible to it. If your cat exhibits any symptoms such as labored breathing, open-mouthed breathing, or lethargy, it’s important to get them to a specialist, as a veterinarian can diagnosis the condition via a cardiac ultrasound.
Brown also notes that some breeds of hairless cats can be susceptible to tooth staining or discoloration.
“This is known as enamel hypoplasia and is correlated with the hairless gene. It is commonly seen on the baby teeth but has been noted on the adult teeth as well,” she says. “Dental radiographs as adults are recommended to further assess the tooth and make sure the tooth is otherwise healthy.”
They Can Be Greasy
Breeds of hairless cats can be greasy and have wax accumulation in their ears and around their nail beds. As a result, their care can be labor intensive.
“You want to start out with a mild hydrating cat shampoo and bath often,” says Brown. “Also get into a routine of regular ear cleanings to help with the wax build-up. Sometimes it can be difficult to determine wax build-up from infection. If other signs are occurring, a consult with a vet should be performed.”
Hairless Cats Get Cold Easily
“Hairless cats are heat-seeking missiles,” says Drechsel. “They are constantly looking for a lap to snuggle on or blankets to crawl under.”
She adds that, because of their oily skin, hairless cats may stain your blankets and sheets.
“Wherever they prefer to curl up, place a blanket or towel there so you can wash it, as their body oils can build up there,” she says.
You could also try a heated pet bed. One option is Aspen Pet’s self-warming pet bed, which utilizes the same technologies used in items like space blankets to help pets to stay comfortable in cold climates.
Hairless Cats Need Daily Maintenance …
If not cleaned often, hairless cats can get a build-up of oil on their body which can become a thick residue, predominantly on the head and in between the skin folds. If the oil builds up in the folds of a hairless cat’s skin, it can cause them to break out in a rash. To combat this, Drechsel recommends wiping your hairless cat down with a warm, damp cloth.
“This should be done daily,” she says. “Getting into the wrinkles in critical, as that is where oils, along with dirt and dust, can build up.”
… And Weekly Baths
Because hairless cats are prone to having oily skin, they require weekly baths in addition to daily spot cleaning.
“These kitties need more regular bathing than cats with hair to help gently remove the excess oils,” says Paolillo. “They are a wash-and-go breed of cat, which makes it easy for owners to do at home in their sink or bath tub.”
Paolillo says that new hairless cat owners should start their cat’s bath routine as young as a few months of age.
“After the bath, wrap them up in warm towels to dry. Nails should be trimmed every few weeks depending on how quickly they grow to protect their skin,” she adds.
When washing a hairless cat, owners should use only hypoallergenic, pet-and-veterinarian approved shampoos.
“There are many pet shampoo companies that make hypoallergenic shampoos,” says Paolillo. “Look for ones with little to no fragrance. The general rule of thumb for hairless cats is treat them as you would a woman’s face.”
Nicole Pajer is a freelance writer who lives in Los Angeles with her husband, energetic Doberman, and rat terrier.