Impaired behavior of hairless domestic cats

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.

Hairless bobtailed cat SphynxieBob
Hairless bobtailed cat SphynxieBob
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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.

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7 thoughts on “Impaired behavior of hairless domestic cats”

  1. I have to get this book…is it part of Irene Rochlitz book? This is a big hypothesis to react to and requires some real analysis especially because I live with and love Paka and have really never studied her. More after I think.

    • I am well aware that the research is about hairless cats in general and I have only one with a peculiar background. Understand that I probably would never have chosen to have one, she was special needs so I adopted her and her sisters to socialize her to be a cat. My opinion of breeders needs to be withheld.

      The one thing that has always made me curious is that when I throw treats, Paka doesn’t find them like the others and It has always perplexed me because it doesn’t seem like it’s because she is partially blind. She prefers I feed her from my hand which now that I read this, may be because of the positioning of her teeth and the lack of whiskers. Nontheless she has no trouble with balls or other toys, large or small.

  2. I think all behavior would be affected. If I were a hairless cat I’d feel very vulnerable in general, every second of every day. Though I’d have no other way of being to compare it to (unless my human put a body-glove type sweater on me) I’d still feel naked. Even then they wouldn’t want to groom it. I think a hairless breed of cat is to their detriment – it’s not natural.

    • Paka is a rescue. The breeder wanted to kill her. She has never known another Sphynx The furries clean the hairless and vice versa. Used to make us laugh when Paka had a hairball. Now they are essentially the same age and grew up together. I just noticed she grooms ME about as much as she grooms the others, much more than the generalized licking the other do to me. It annoys my husband dreadfully and is not fond of her snuggling next to him and giving him a bath. Her tongue is rougher than every cat I’ve ever had. She has never worn a sweater.

      • I neglected to say she is fastidious and spends much time grooming herself so that is completely similar to the others.

        Her ears get dirty and she can’t do that herself so my husband helps her with Qtips and rubs her with wipes as that is suggested. She takes good care of herself so she is never greasy. I’ve heard others get that way.


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