A lot of people think Sphynx cats are cool. Some think they’re ugly. Most had never heard of them before the Austin Powers movies, where they “played” the pets of Dr Evil and MiniMe.
I have two of them, Yoko and Mitsou. I’ve had cats, mostly Siamese, all of my life. In order to be a real Crazy Cat Lady, you need to have crazy cats. Sphynx cats certainly fill the bill. Siamese are nuts too, but they’re downright straitlaced and boring next to the Sphynx. Here’s what you need to know if you’re thinking of adopting one someday.
So why do I say that these cats are the perfect pet for an evil genius? Because Sphynx themselves are evil geniuses in their own right.
To keep a Sphynx cat and your sanity at the same time requires a lot of adaptation. For example, my kitchen cupboards and fridge all have safety latches installed on them. Before I installed the latches, getting up each morning started with a tour of the apartment to see what they destroyed last night. I’d find cupboard doors hanging open, contents pulled out and scattered on the floor, with breakable items in bits. I quickly learned not to store anything breakable on top of the fridge, because it would end up on the floor in pieces, or down behind or beside the fridge. Just the other day I got up to find my acrylic and steel paper towel holder in two pieces on the floor. Often the fridge door would be open as well, with items also strewn about the floor. Luckily I don’t eat meat, just dairy and vegetables, so there wasn’t much for them to steal. They just liked the fun of tearing things apart and scattering them around.
They know damned well that they’re not allowed to do these things, so the destruction happens primarily at night when I’m not around. Booby traps that work on other cats are ignored or outsmarted by Sphynx. For example, once I bought compressed air cans with a motion sensor on top, the idea was to make a HISS! sound when a cat came near. After two or three “hisses” both Sphynx just ignored them, then they learned to knock the cans over, breaking the motion sensors on top. Eventually I bought a surveillance cam which allows me to monitor the living area using my phone at night if I hear something suspicious.
I also keep birds, and a terrarium with a pair of crested geckos (small lizards). The terrarium has a heavy screen top which I’ve had to place a board over, because they rip through the screen to get at the lizards. Bird cages have to be attached to the wall just below the ceiling, to protect them from Sphynx predation. Even that doesn’t help much. At night the fronts of the cages have to have cardboard shields hung on them, otherwise the cats jump several feet straight up from the floor, hook their claws in the cage bars and climb straight up the cage, sometimes hauling it down from the wall in the process. In the past, they pulled two cages down, but luckily the birds inside hadn’t escaped when I got there. Just when I think a cage is secured, they think of a new way to get at it. One time, Yoko figured out how to climb a folded ladder I had propped next to a cage (it’s a very tall, high one and I need the ladder to do work in the cage). Luckily this happened during the day and I caught her before she could do any damage.
Fish tanks also have to be shielded at night, because glass hoods and pricey LED fixtures aren’t built to stand up to cats trampling all over them and/or knocking them to the floor, much less leaving greasy footprints behind. They don’t try to get at the fish, they just want to drink the water. One morning I found a glass hood sunk to the bottom of its tank and the LED fixture on the floor, that was the day I built night covers for them. Before bedtime each night I spend over an hour covering bird and reptile cages, along with my two fish tanks.
Another issue with Sphynx is their love for trampling on the buttons of appliances and electronics. Any device with
buttons on the top is fair game for them. Many times I’ve found my portable air conditioner reset to “heat” mode in the middle of a hot summer, and with a high temperature set on the thermostat. Either that, or they just shut it off. They’ve shut off my apartment washer in mid cycle many times. I’ve had to build shields on top of every device with buttons on the top in my home, with the exception of a Keurig coffee maker which I had to throw out because they did something that caused it to stop working altogether.
Finally, there are the unique joys of dealing with the anatomical products of the Sphynx bald gene. First and most noticeable is their poop. There is no other creature on this earth that can create the eyewatering stench a Sphynx can when it poops. Worse, they don’t bother covering it up. And then they often step in it and track it around the house. I have to keep books of matches near their litterboxes, because no air freshener known to man works on this particular stench. Their buttholes are perpetually dirty and must often be wiped in order to prevent the dreaded “poop stamps”, which look like brown lipstick kiss marks.
Speaking of brown marks, a cat’s skin produces copious amounts of oil, which normally conditions their fur and skin. This is needed due to the feline habit of constantly licking themselves. The fur absorbs most of that oil. A Sphynx has little or no fur, so the oil stays on the skin and picks up any dirt the cat is exposed to. It also collects on their claws and pads, where it turns into a blackish greasy gunk. Everywhere they go, they leave dirty, oily footprints – counters, tables, wood floors, furniture. Any popular place to lie, like heaters, a favourite spot on the couch, windowsills – all have to be wiped down regularly otherwise they become covered in a thick layer of gunk. I keep a supply of old throws and blankets for the couch, which I rotate and wash often. On the plus side, if I find something knocked over or destroyed, I can always tell who did it by those telltale footprints.
Sphynx skin temperature is a lot hotter than a regular cat’s. Note that I wrote “skin” temperature. Their internal body temperature is the same as any other breed. The first time I took my Sphynx to the vet, who had never seen a Sphynx before, the poor things got a thermometer shoved up their backsides several times before the vet would believe their body temperature was normal. To their delight, they also got handed around among the entire office staff. Their heat is penetrating and very nice if you have sore muscles or joints!
Sphynx owners are advised to bathe their pets regularly to help keep the dirt at bay. However – have you ever tried to bathe a squirming, wet, angry toddler? A squirming, wet, soapy bald cat is ten times worse, because they have teeth and claws which they use to great effect, and they mean business. I still have bite puncture scars in my left arm from trying to bathe Yoko. Don’t believe anyone who tells you they get used to baths – NO cat gets used to getting wet! Over time, I found that NOT bathing them actually causes them to secrete less skin oil. It also causes me to secrete less blood, from teeth and claw puncture wounds. Another hygiene issue for Sphynx is that they have no hairs to protect the inside of their ears, nor do they have eyelashes. They also have deep facial wrinkles. All of these must be cleaned regularly, as they develop an incredible amount of dirt inside, and they can get infections if they aren’t kept clean, especially the eyes and face. I use baby wipes to “spot clean” the dirty areas. They still hate it, but not enough to bite and scratch.
I’m sure that most people reading this will be wondering “so why the Hell do you keep these cats with all of the mess and damage they cause?” First of all, of course I didn’t know what a handful they’d be before I got them. This article may hopefully act as a warning to anyone who’s thinking of adopting a Sphynx. They are a definite handful and not for everyone, rather like the feline version of keeping a pet monkey. However, they are also highly affectionate and devoted to their owners. Their antics can be quite amusing. Despite their prey drive towards birds and smaller pets, they are eager to make friends with larger pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs or dogs. Mitsou even made friends with my hedgehog. As shown in the photo for this article, they even get into goofy sleeping positions. Yes, both of them are sound asleep, no animals were tortured during the taking of this photo.
When it comes to affection, Sphynx have the personality of an exploding cigar. They prefer it on their rather creative terms, and they don’t take “go away I’m busy” for an answer. Each of my two Sphynx display affection in different ways. Yoko only comes to see me in the early evenings while I’m watching TV. She always approaches in stealth mode, from the back of the couch diagonally down onto my lap. If I stroke her back, she will stay on my lap for a few pats, then she climbs up the (always) left side of my chest to place her paws on my shoulder. Then she starts purring and licking at my left ear. This wouldn’t be so bad, except for a couple of things. First, she drools when she’s purring, which is common among Sphynx. Then, she starts shaking her head, splashing slobber all over the place. Finally, she concentrates her licking on one small spot on the edge of my ear until it hurts. I’m forced to chase her away after a few minutes, unless I want my ear to end up raw and bleeding.
Mitsou, on the other hand, arrives at any time of day. Her ways of showing affection involve cracking her tail from side to side like a whip, hitting my eyes behind my glasses or whacking her tail into my coffee. The peach fuzz on her tail is more like bristles, so it’s like being whacked in the eye or face with a piece of barbed wire. Next, she tries
incessantly to climb up my body to get at my upper chest and neck, stomping on every vital organ and nerve bundle on the way. This behaviour was caused by the fool who bred her, teaching Mitsou that cuddles involve being tucked under a human’s chin. Sadly many animals are taught annoying, lifelong behaviours by emptyheaded humans who don’t think of the fact that what’s cute for a pup or kitten to do isn’t so cute when they’re four or more times the size. Sphynx are nothing if not stubborn, and no amount of pushing or shooing away stops them from coming right back. Over the course of years, I’ve finally been able to teach Mitsou to cuddle on or beside my lap – but most of the time she has to be pushed down from multiple attempts to climb my belly like Mount Fuji, first. As soon as she appears on my lap, I unconsciously place my arm across my chest and belly, to fend off her latest climbing attempt.
Overall, I’m not sure if I’d want another Sphynx cat when mine pass away. They’re a lot more work than a regular cat, even a flat-faced Persian. But on the other hand, they’d make wonderful therapy or visitation cats for seniors or children. Their skin feels like very soft, warm suede, and you never have to worry about rubbing them the wrong way! In fact they love being rubbed, Mitsou in particular loves it when I rub her face and the top of her head. But if you have the patience of Job and don’t mind the extra work (and don’t keep small, active pets like reptiles, birds or small rodents) they make a great pet for the right person.