Andreas Steiger in the book The Welfare of Cats tabulates an interesting list of symptoms and associated welfare problems concerning hairless cats, the best known of which is the Sphynx. The Sphynx is a popular cat breed with many fans although it is not mainstream because of it’s rather extreme appearance.
The first welfare problem which caught my eye was:
“impaired behavior (social communication, comfort behavior, orientation, prey catching).”
It had not immediately occured to me (but it should have) that hairlessness affects a cat’s behavior. Steiger does not elaborate on how hairlessness can affect behavior. Therefore I’ll have to try and work it out myself.
He states that it affects social communication. This must mean communication of a cat through vocalisations, body language and behavior. One thing comes to mind. Cats use their fur to look larger when in defensive aggressive mode. We know that cats stand sideways on to the agressor and the fur down their spine and on the tail stands on end. Without fur this is impossible. This may make the cat feel vulnerable. How does hairlessness affect a cat psychologically?
Obviously a cat without fur will be more likely to feel the cold. He/she will avoid cold places. The hairless cats have impaired thermoregulation (less efficient means to control body temperature). They don’t go outside to avoid sunburn and the cold in winter. Being automatically confined to the home could arguably affect social communication as the cat will not have to opportunity to interact with other outdoor cats. However, this will not be seen as a problem for a lot cat owners. Although in a multi-cat household where the owner lets her cats go outside, confining the hairless cat would dramatically affect social communication.
Whiskers may be absent in hairless cats or they are malformed and short. Whiskers are an important part of the cat’s anatomy. They are sensitive enough to detect air currents allowing cats to “see” at night. They assist in hunting. Whiskers compensate for the cat’s inability to focus closer than about a foot away from their noses. Whiskers point forwards to create a 3-D tactile picture of objects that are close to their noses. It is not difficult to see how this may affect social communication when interacting with humans and other cats. I think the lack of proper whiskers affects “orientation” and “prey hunting” as referred to by Andreas Steiger. Whiskers assist a cat in positioning the teeth when killing prey for instance.
As for “comfort behavior” this probably refers partly to how the behavior of a cat without fur will be dictated by the ambient temperature. If a cat feels cold it must affect behavior. Also what about grooming? I presume hairless cats groom themselves because this behavior is hard wired but grooming is about keeping the coat in good condition. Without a coat do hairless cats stop grooming? Also grooming is a behavior which brings comfort to a cat hence why stressed cats can overgroom. Perhaps Sphynx cats do not groom themselves in the normal way. If so the hairless cats misses out of the comfort behavior of grooming.
Also allogrooming is affected. In harmonious groups friendly cats groom each other. Do cats with fur groom hairless cats? It would seem pointless.
Do you know of any other behavioral characteristics of hairless cats?
P.S. Steiger refers to “disposition to significant reduction in number of teeth”. I had no idea that the Sphynx could lack the usual set of teeth.
P.P.S. Hairless cats have a tendency to produce more sebum (oliy substance from sebaceous glands) than usual. Onwers have to wipe them down regularly as I understand it.