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In 1966, a domestic feline gave birth to a hairless kitten in Toronto, Canada. The baldness was discovered to be a natural genetic mutation and is today recognized as the beginning of the Sphynx breed. North American and European breeders have since continued developing the Sphynx by breeding the cats to normal coated felines and then back to hairless cats. This selective breeding has created a genetically healthy breed with minimal health problems.
As with any pet, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with how to care for your Sphynx. The Sphynx’s stand-out physical characteristic—hairlessness—means this cat has special healthcare requirements.
The Sphynx needs periodic bathing and ear and nail cleaning to avoid skin conditions like infections. The lack of coat also means that the Sphynx is at a higher risk of sunburns and requires protection from the sun. Sphynx felines also struggle with temperature regulation and get chilled easily due to their lack of fur. Special outfits, heated beds, and other steps must be taken to keep your pet warm.
Additional Sphynx cat health issues range from genetic diseases to lifestyle-related health problems. We review three genetic health problems of the breed, as well as other health concerns. With proper health screening and well-being practices, your Sphynx cat will be your best companion for many years.
3 Genetic Sphynx Cat Health Issues
“As with most pedigree breeds, Sphynx cats are prone to certain health conditions,” says veterinarian Dr. Rebecca MacMillan, BVetMed, BSAVA, PGCertSAM. “The most common ones that we see affecting this breed are hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) and urticaria pigmentosa.” The Sphynx is also prone to hereditary myopathy.
Also known as Devon Rex myopathy, hereditary myopathy is characterized by generalized muscle weakness and fatigability. The condition is caused by a mutation of the COLQ gene, which provides instructions for making proteins that play a role in signaling between nerve and muscle cells to trigger movement.
Muscle weakness begins from three to 23 weeks of age and progresses slowly. The condition typically stabilizes around nine months of age.
Affected cats will show muscle weakness and may be unable to walk or raise their heads. The most common symptoms of myopathy in cats include:
- Exercise intolerance
- Inability to raise the head
- Muscle swelling
- Muscle pain
- Stiff gait
Megaesophagus may also occur in affected felines, which can cause problems swallowing and puts your Sphynx at risk of sudden death through choking.
A veterinarian can collect muscle tissue samples under anesthesia and have them assessed for abnormalities for diagnosis. There is no proven treatment for this condition, but with adequate care, cats with hereditary myopathy can live average lifespans.
DNA testing can detect inherited myopathy in Sphynx cats, so ensure you only purchase a Sphynx through a breeder that performs health screens on their cats.
A form of heart disease, HCM is a condition where the heart walls thicken, decreasing the heart’s efficiency and leading to heart failure. While the genetic mutation causing HCM has only been identified in two breeds (Maine Coon and Ragdoll), the prevalence of HCM in certain breeds suggests that genetics play a role in these breeds as well.
“HCM can be inherited, so adult cats diagnosed with this condition (or suspected to be carriers) should not be bred,” says MacMillan. Before purchasing your Sphynx, ensure your breeder has performed health screens on their felines. Responsible breeders use genetic testing to select breeding pairs, reducing the risk of inherited diseases.
Signs that your cat may have HCM include:
- Irregular breathing
Felines diagnosed with HCM may experience any of the following symptoms:
- Blood clots
- Limb pain
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Weak pulse
“Unfortunately, it is not curable, and it will gradually progress, despite taking medications to help improve their symptoms,” says MacMillan. “In my experience, many affected cats are euthanized when their quality of life deteriorates, but they can also die suddenly with little warning.”
“Urticaria pigmentosa is a skin condition that causes crusty sores and is more commonly seen in Sphynx cats than any other breed,” says MacMillan. “It is caused by defective mast cells (the same cells that respond if you become bitten or stung by an insect) which can build up in the skin but also in other organs too.”
The direct cause of feline urticaria pigmentosa remains unknown, but studies of the condition in related Sphynx cats suggest a hereditary component. The condition has primarily been identified in naked cat breeds, including the Sphynx and Devon Rex.
The main symptom of this condition is skin lesions, though MacMillan notes that diarrhea and lethargy are also present in some cases.
“The good news is that this condition can be treated, usually with prolonged courses of glucocorticoid (steroid) medication, antihistamines, and omega-3 fatty acid supplementation,” says MacMillan. “Your cat may require repeat treatments if they have flare-ups again in the future.”
Other Sphynx Cat Health Issues
- Body Temperature Regulation: Sphynx felines can get chilly due to their lack of fur. Invest in clothing, heated blankets, and covered beds to keep your kitty warm.
- Dental Disease: The Cornell Feline Health Center reports that 50 to 90% of cats older than four suffer from dental disease. Brush your cat’s teeth regularly to lower the risk of dental diseases like gingivitis and periodontitis.
- Ear Infections: The large ears of the Sphynx will require cleaning to remove wax and dirt build-up. Use a pet-safe cleaning solution, and read our guide before cleaning your cat’s dirty ears. Signs of an ear infection include yellow or black discharge, head tilting, inflamed ear canal, and difficulty hearing.
- Skin Problems: Sphynx felines need help keeping their skin clean. Because these cats lack hair, they experience a build-up of skin oils. Your Sphynx may suffer from acne, yeast infections, and other skin ailments without regular cleaning. To avoid skin problems, bathe your Sphynx every one to two weeks with cat-safe shampoo.
- Sunburns: Sphynx felines may experience sunburns due to their exposed skin, putting them at a higher risk for skin cancer. If you let your Sphynx outdoors, provide cover or skin protection.
Health Testing For Sphynx Cats
When purchasing a pedigree feline, confirm the breeder has proof of genetic testing for hereditary diseases. Responsible breeders use health testing to track their cats’ genes over generations, thus minimizing the probability of inherited health problems.
If you already have a Sphynx and have no records of genetic testing from a breeder, you may wish to purchase a feline DNA test. A DNA health test will help you:
- View a complete picture of your cat’s health. Knowing your pet’s health issues will allow you to offer better medical care.
- Corroborate the information you received from your breeder. Purchasing your own genetic test lets you verify any information given to you by a cattery. In addition, if you’ve signed an agreement guaranteeing your feline’s health, you may be able to get your money back if any negative information is revealed.
- Identify your cat’s ancestry. A DNA test can reveal their ancestry if you’ve purchased your feline from a rescue or shelter.
Best Cat DNA Tests
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The Basepaws Breed + Health DNA Test includes breed identification, genetic traits (including susceptibility to viral infection), and health screenings. Basepaws even reports the risk of the three primary dental diseases in its oral report.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are frequently asked questions regarding the Sphynx breed. Don’t see yours? Ask us in the comments.
How Do I Keep My Sphynx Healthy?
Like all cats, diet and exercise are critical to your Sphynx’s well-being. All felines require quality animal protein, fat, micronutrients, and water. View our picks for the best cat food for the Sphynx.
Your Sphynx will likely need more food than you initially expected. Because they lack fur, these cats use more energy to keep their bodies warm. At the same time, overfeeding your Sphynx can lead to weight gain, obesity, and related health issues. Talk to your veterinarian about proper serving sizes for your Sphynx to accommodate their accelerated metabolism.
While the Sphynx has lower exercise needs thanks to their speedy metabolism, they are high energy and playful. For a happy feline, schedule regular playtime with interactive toys. These intelligent kitties also respond well to positive reinforcement training.
Besides diet and exercise, grooming is essential for the Sphynx. Regular grooming—baths, nail clipping, ear cleaning, and teeth brushing—allows you to monitor your cat’s health and prevent any health problems.
What Is The Life Expectancy Of A Sphynx Cat?
Despite the Sphynx cat health issues, these felines typically live nine to 15 years. Lifestyle choices (keeping your cat indoors, selecting high-quality food, etc.) and regular vet checkups can significantly affect your pet’s lifespan.
Should I Get Pet Insurance For My Sphynx?
We recommend getting health insurance for your Sphynx. As with most pedigree breeds, the Sphynx cat has specific inherited health issues. Hereditary conditions are potentially covered by insurance, so long as you sign your feline up before any symptoms arise. Pet insurance won’t cover pre-existing conditions, so selecting an insurance plan is best when your pet is still a kitten. View our picks for the best pet insurance.
Are Sphynx Cats Hypoallergenic?
As a “hairless” breed, you might assume the Sphynx is a safe pet choice for those with cat allergies. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Despite their lack of coat, the Sphynx is not hypoallergenic.
Why Trust Love Your Cat?
Tara is dedicated to providing our readers with the most up-to-date information they need to become the best caretakers for their furry friends. She spends countless hours researching each topic, and works alongside the team at Love Your Cat to give our readers informed content. Tara is a lifelong cat lover, and is the roommate of two sassy domestic felines.