Hairless cats may sound like the perfect solution for allergic cat lovers, but while they are often thought to be hypoallergenic, they’re not. Allergies aren’t to fur but most often to cat dander (dead skin cells) or saliva after a cat bathes himself.
But if their minimalist style appeals to you, spend time with a hairless cat to see if you’re compatible. There are a few breeds to choose from, ranging from virtually no hair to a minimal amount. Allergies or not, here’s what to know if you’re considering one of these fur-free felines.
A Sphynx cat is bald or, more properly called, hairless. The feel of a Sphynx’s skin has been compared to the softness of a chamois cloth or the fuzz on a sun-warmed peach. As kittens, they seem to have more skin than body but soon grow into it.
“Sphynx like to cuddle and be warm so provide blankets they can snuggle under. Be sure to check for bumps before you sit! They may find unexpected places to get cozy,” says Cathy Dunham, Midwest regional director for the Cat Fanciers’ Association. “During cool or winter months, they can develop fur on the ears, nose, and tail. This is normal and can come and go, dependent on the temperature.” For these friendly cats, a lap is a popular destination for a nap. If one is unavailable, a handy dog will do. Think of a Sphynx as a living hot water bottle.
Sphynx can have oily skin. Regular baths will prevent stains on furniture and fabrics.
Dunham has had British Shorthair and Sphynx living together. The long, thin, whippy tail of the Sphynx looks like great fun to British Shorthair kittens. Sphynx will play along, then deliver a teaching moment. Kittens quickly learn tails are not toys.
Prefer a cat with some hair? Meet the Cornish Rex, whose fur has been compared to cut velvet. With the personality of a cat but the climbing skills of a monkey, a quiet Rex is one you should check on.
“Living with Cornish Rex, no surface is safe. Our cats traverse our kitchen cabinets, including the vent hood. Invest in non-toxic museum putty to prevent items falling or breaking,” says Selma Kessler of Vandal House Cornish Rex. “They’re incredibly loyal and friendly. Guests at our house are welcomed by little purring ‘parrots.’ Our crew will hop onto a guest’s shoulders, invited or not.” Care is easy. They’re predisposed to gunky ears but it’s manageable. Clipping nails and a wipe down with a damp cloth is usually all that’s needed.
Heat-seeking hairless cats can be sunburned but don’t reach for the sunscreen unless it’s labeled pet-safe (look for it at pet-supply stores or online). Cats lick to bathe and regular sunscreen ingredients could make them ill.
A Devon Rex has more hair than the Cornish, ranging from a thin suede-like fur to a looser, short mop of curls. In facial features, Devons have been compared to Yoda.
Peterbald cats have a body shape similar to a slinky Oriental cat or modern-style Siamese but their covering comes in five different styles, any one of which can develop during their first two years: completely bald; what’s known as flock or chamois, with minimal hair; velour, a slight coat about 1 mm in length; brush, with a wiry, feltlike texture; and straight, a normal short coat and whiskers. They tend to have a high metabolism, so don’t be surprised if they need extra food to stay warm and healthy. Peterbalds crave love and attention and can be patient and sweet with children. They were developed by crossing Donskoy (below) and Orientals.
Of Russian origin, Donskoy have large ears and almond-shaped eyes. There are four types of coat—bald from birth, light fur that may recede, bald on the head with minimal hair on the face, legs, and tail, or light hair with bald spots. They are a cross between a Peterbald and a Siamese.
Some hairless breeds have characteristics that can lead to health problems. Be sure to work with a reputable breeder who tests for potential problems.
“A hairless cat is not for everyone,” Dunham says. “But they are a lot of fun.” Kessler agrees. “They’re willful, outgoing, attention seeking cats,” she says. “Life is definitely better with them around.”
No matter the breed or coat (or lack of coat), enjoy your cat!
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
Sandra Murphy lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with Ozzie, a Westie-ish dog and Louie, a tuxedo cat. Both are ridiculously spoiled. She is a freelance writer about all animals, eco-friendly topics, and oddball notions. She’s edited two fiction anthologies, A Murder of Crows, crime stories involving animals, and Peace, Love, and Crime: Crime Stories Inspired by the Music of the ‘60s. From Hay to Eternity: Ten Devilish Tales of Crime and Deception is a collection of her own stories.
Cornish Rex Vandal House Sweet Caroline photographed by Richard Katris of Chanan Photography, courtesy of Selma Kessler.
Peterbald Téo with his boy Felix, courtesy of Brigitte Cowell Moyne.
Published September 6, 2021