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.
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.
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.
1. Traditional Cat Association