Sphynx cats are high maintenance

The sphynx cat breed has become one of the most popular over the past 5-10 years. This is due to their unique and unusual appearance and what is said to be their intelligence. They have a monkey-like character and abilities and can make excellent companions with the right person who should realise, before adopting, that this is a high maintenance cat breed. A story on the Internet today highlights this feature of the breed.

It concerns the rehoming of 19 Sphynx cats from a Sheffield, UK breeder. Six of them went to a rescue organisation while the other 13 were rehomed by the breeder but they weren’t neutered. Here are two of the rescued cats:

Rescued female Sphynx cats Lady and Melynake, who are 16 months old, from a breeder who could not cope. Image: Lauren James-Thompson.

Cat rescuer’s assessment on maintenance

Lauren James-Thompson at Sheffield cat charity Cat-Ching said that despite having no coat which might indicate to some people that they are lower maintenance than normal they are in fact the opposite and “extremely high maintenance”.

She said that they require the following to maintain them:

  • Special kitty shower caps and specialist shampoo for their weekly baths. She says that they are “incredibly oily, so caring for them properly involves weekly baths and special shampoo, regular ear and eye cleans [and] they can be pretty sassy in the water”.
  • Specialist and costly brands of cat food – see comment below.
  • They can only live indoors to avoid sunlight burning their skin.
  • Intensive nail cleaning to prevent toe infections.

Below I expand on Lauren’s list based on my research. I’ll say right away that I don’t believe that Sphynx cats need specialist cat food. My research indicates that they do not have sensitive stomachs. High-quality cat foods, mainly wet, should suffice.

RELATED: Sphynx breed standard – summary plus illustration

Skincare

Without fur they don’t need brushing, combing or flea combing but they still need regular grooming. The skin produces oils which is typical of all domestic cats but as it has no coat to go to it builds up on the skin where it is greasy and attracts dirt. This breed can become dirty and require regular bathing usually once every week or perhaps twice weekly to keep the skin clean and prevent an oily buildup. Comment: this is a great shame because what’s happening here is that the natural oils that a cat produces to improve the condition of their coat has to be cleaned off the cat because there is no coat. This is fighting against nature. What we are saying here is that a cat without a coat is anatomically defective. That’s obvious but it is brought home by this need to have to bathe them regularly.

A gentle cat shampoo needs to be used to avoid drying out their skin and they should be dried thoroughly after bathing to prevent chilling.

Heat sensitivity

Without a coat Sphynx cats are heat sensitive. They can easily become overheated in hot climates during the summer months. The caregiver should provide them with a cool and well ventilated environment. You might use fans or air conditioning to regulate their body temperature. They need to be monitored closely to ensure that they don’t get exposed to extreme heat.

It would seem reasonable to suggest that the opposite can happen: the home could be too cold. The correct ambient temperature would appear to be necessary for a Sphynx cat. My research indicates that they tend to seek warmth if the ambient temperature is not up to scratch. This would be normal for all domestic cats.

But the cat’s coat helps to regulate body temperature. It helps to maintain a correct body temperature. No coat and this function is lost.

Thermoregulation

No coat results in heat loss which affects the cat’s ability to maintain a correct body temperature. A 20% increase in food is needed to provide extra energy to the cat to help them maintain their body temperature.

Sun protection

Without fur the cat has no protection against sunburn from UVB and UVA light. If they are allowed to go outside in a controlled way their skin needs to be protected from the sun’s harmful rays. You can use pet safe sunscreens on the exposed areas such as the ears and nose. Time outdoors should be limited and should be at a time when the sun is at its weakest to prevent sunburn or there should be plenty of shady areas.

Is it possible to get sunburn through a window? On the basis that Sphynx cats are kept indoors full-time which is normal, it’s worth noting that it is possible to get sunburn through a window. Although the amount of UV rays that pass through glass depends upon the type of window and the sun’s intensity and of course the time of day, and while glass blocks most UVB rays, more than 50% of UVA rays can penetrate glass. In humans this can cause premature skin ageing and contribute to skin cancer. It would be sensible to protect Sphynx cats from the sun inside the home in some circumstances.

Attention and socialisation

It is said that Sphynx cats are highly social and affectionate. They need plenty of interaction with their caregiver. It’s not clear whether they are more demanding than normal in terms of social interaction. I doubt whether they are but it is probably fair to say that more than other domestic cats they need the attention of their owner for the above reasons and in terms of social interaction.

Health issues

As is not unusual in purebred cats, Sphynx cats inherit some diseases such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) which is a very typical heart condition inherited by a number of cat breeds such as the Maine Coon for example. The Sphynx can also suffer from respiratory infections and skin conditions such as dermatitis or sunburn. In addition, my research indicates that they can contract congenital (hereditary) myopathy and have a predisposition to periodontal disease, and urticaria pigmentosa. And as you can see in the linked article below, this breed is prone to developing yeast infections. And my research indicates the breed has a higher incidence to certain ocular disease than normal.

RELATED: Sphyx cat health concerns.

Hereditary myopathy affects muscles used for movement and muscles required for breathing. Urticaria pigmentosa is a condition where there are too many inflammatory cells (mast cells) in the skin. These are immune system cells that help the body to fight infections. Periodontal disease as you probably know is gum disease.

Thes health concerns might mean health insurance which in turn means more maintenance costs.

Below are some more articles on the Sphynx cat.

Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.

Should cats be kept indoors during the heatwave?

Yes, ideally domestic cats should be kept indoors during the heatwave in the UK if practical and appropriate depending on other factors. This is because all the experts say that the best way to keep the inside of your home cool is to open the windows at night to let in cool air to reduce the interior temperature of your home and then when the air temperature warms up during the day to close everything up, draw your curtains and rely on the cooled interior to suppress the growing heat during the hottest part of the day. Clearly, I am referring to homes without aircon which is the norm in most of Europe as opposed to the USA (but see Jon’s comment below please). Also, this is about protecting cats from sunburn not heat per se. Although cats do not tolerate heat as well as humans which may surprise people.

Cat in 40 degree C weather
Cat in 40 degree C weather. Image: Pixabay.

RELATED: WARNING: Cat guardians should beware of cosmetics containing butylparaben

And the experts also say that cats should be protected from sunburn during a heatwave such as currently being experienced in the UK with temperatures rising towards a projected, possible record of around 40°C. Cats can get sunburnt ear flaps. Separately, it is advised to use sunscreen on a cat’s ears if they are allowed outside. It should be sunblock for pets and not human sunscreen as the latter can contain ingredients which are toxic to pets (see article below).

A lot of cats in the hottest areas of the USA such as Texas are kept inside airconditioned homes full-time anyway for reasons of cat and wild animal welfare. The beneficial spin-off is protection from sunburn.

RELATED: Do Pets Need Sunscreen?

My personal opinion is that cats do find shady spots naturally and therefore perhaps arguably the fear of a domestic cat living in a home acquiring sunburned ears is possibly misplaced. I think you will find stray cats and feral cats, particularly white ones, getting sunburned ears because they live outside. They are constantly in the elements and it’s a foregone conclusion that they will receive a lot of UVB light during hot weather.

But it is my distinct impression that domestic cats living in good homes, particularly if they are indoor/outdoor cats, will be sleeping during a large part of the day because they’ve been active at night and they’ll find shade if and when they venture out if it is hot. So, I think this problem takes care of itself to a large extent provided sunblock is applied.

I’m not saying that responsible cat owners should ignore the possibility of their cat becoming sunburned but at the same time I don’t think the problem should be over-egged.

My cat in 30 degrees weather spread out to dissipate the heat from his body
My cat in 30 degrees weather spread out to dissipate the heat from his body. Photo: MikeB on Galaxy S21 Ultra and edited in camera.

However, to return to the question in the title, in a strict sense, the answer is YES if your cat companion will tolerate it. Domestic cats who are habitually allowed to go outside do not tolerate well being confined to the home by having their cat flap locked shut. They become confused because cats are creatures of habit just like humans. If they’ve done something for years, they expect it to continue.

My cat has literally forced his way through a cat flap that was shut on one occasion. He simply head-butted it until it broke. He made his point. It is the kind of behaviour that might cause injury and it certainly is the sort of behaviour which destroys cat flaps.

Below are some more articles on sunburn.

Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.

Sunscreen for cats and dogs is not a gimmick – ingredients to avoid

Sunscreen for cats and dogs is not a gimmick. It is a serious business and veterinarians recommend you use it in protecting your companion animal but there are dangers and it is advised to not use products for humans as they contain ingredients which can be harmful to companion animals. In a recent survey (July 15, 2022 report) it was found that 40% of dog owners mistakenly think that human sunscreens are suitable for dogs. I suspect that the same percentage have the same thoughts about cats. And also, in respect of dogs, a poll of 2000 dog owners found that 51% are planning to take their dog on a summer staycation but only 46% realise that dogs need sun protection and 55% were unaware of the potential side effects of their dog being sunburned. Once again, I suspect similar percentages exists with respect to domestic cats.

I think that we can expect, with global warming, some hot spells this summer. And with that in mind the British Veterinary Association (BVA) is recommending that owners use an animal-specific SPF 30 sun cream if their cat or dog is exposed to the sun for long periods. Sunscreen applications come in the form of creams, mists, sprays, wet wipes and balms. They are sold everywhere including, in the UK, from Pets at Home, an online and on the ground pet products retailer in the UK.

White cat in sun in danger of sunburnt ear flaps
White cat in sun in danger of sunburnt ear flaps. Photo in public domain.

And it appears that companion animal owners are taking the advice of veterinarians as sales of dog-friendly sun cream rose by 24% in 2021 compared to 2020 according to Pets at Home.

A sunscreen product is important for certain breeds and colours of cats and dogs. Justine Shotton, president of the BVA said: “Any non-pigmented and scarred patches of skin or areas covered by a finer hair coat, such as ear tips, are susceptible to sunburn. In the case of chronic exposure, it can lead to potentially dangerous skin cancers.”

For dogs: dalmatians, whippets, white boxers, white English bull terriers and beagles are the most susceptible. For cats, it is all about white cats or bicolour cats with white ear flaps either purebred or moggy. Online, it is not uncommon to see white cats without ear flaps as they been removed by veterinarian due to the development of cancer caused by chronic sunburn.

The recommendation is to apply pet-appropriate sunscreen 10-15 minutes before exposure. If it is hard to find products made for pets, hypoallergenic or baby human products may be suitable as an alternative said Justine Shotton.

Cats are particularly fond of lying under the sun until they become too hot when they move but they are at risk of sunburn. The BVA recommend using a waterproof sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or above which contains titanium dioxide and which blocks UV rays.

Apparently, the best products for protection of cats’ ears are products containing titanium dioxide. It works by physically blocking the sun’s harmful UVB and short UVA rays but does not block the longer UVA rays. And it is not poisonous but it does not completely protect against the sun and therefore zinc oxide might be added to increase protection.

The BVA advise against using a cream with zinc oxide as if it is ingested when grooming it might poison the animal. Zinc toxicity in dogs (I will presume that these symptoms apply to cats as well) include, excessive and continuous vomiting and diarrhoea, weakness, lethargy, lack of appetite, liver failure and jaundice, kidney failure and blood in the urine and finally anaemia and pale gums.

Petplan, an insurer, said that there is another ingredient to avoid namely para-aminobenzoic acid (Paba) as it can be toxic. A veterinarian at Petplan, Brian Faulkner, said pet sunscreen can make “a real difference. Vet bills for sun-related issues can stack up quickly.”

And this applies even though cats can lick off sunscreen. Clearly the most vulnerable part of a cat’s anatomy are the ear flaps. Cats, as you may well have observed, wash their ear flaps using their forelegs.

Para-aminobenzoic acid is also known as vitamin B10. One website says that it was “once added to sunscreen”. This implies that it is no longer added to sunscreen. This appears to be correct but possibly irrelevant because a lot of people keep sunscreen for a long time. When ingested it can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, bone marrow changes and liver damage in a cat. Also, PABA sunscreens contain 50% more ethanol alcohol. This means that there is also an ethanol toxicity risk.

Other chemicals in current human sunscreens which are poisonous when ingested by dogs and cats are listed below. However, as mentioned above, pet owners should only use pet-specific sunscreens to avoid the following chemicals which are found in current human sunscreens (source Petsafe.net).

  • Cinnamates – cinoxate, ethylhexyl, Octyl & p-methoxycinnamate
  • PABA esters – Padimate-O, Octyl Dimethyl PABA
  • Salicylates – ethylhexyl salicylate, homosalate, octyl salicylate
    Propylene Glycol – as a humectant in sunscreens to extend activity time

Apparently, many sunscreens which are licensed to be used on pets and therefore are meant to be pet-appropriate apparently contain chemicals that could cause problems namely: Octyl Dimethyl PABA, Octyl methoxycinnamate, Propylene Glycol and Zinc Oxide.

Please be careful in your selection. You might seek the advice of your veterinarian. A phone call will be enough.

Below are some pages on things that are toxic to cats.

Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.

Why do white cats get eye boogers, sunburned and white hair?

There are three questions in the title. I will answer them in reverse order!

Why do white cats have white fur?

Cats which are completely white have a gene in their genetic makeup which is called the dominant white gene. It stops the development of cells in the skin that produce pigment. These cells are called melanocytes. They fail to migrate to the skin during embryological development. Melanocytes produce pigment and as there is a lack of them in the skin pigment is not produced. Pigment is melanin. In white cats, the hair strands don’t contain melanin. Therefore, they appear to be white. It is actually transparent as there is no pigmentation inside the hair strands. I guess it just looks white when it’s all bundled together.

RELATED: White cat coats.

Hair follicle showing melanocyte at base
Hair follicle showing melanocyte at base. Image in public domain.

Why do white cats get sunburned?

Not all white cats get sunburned but if a domestic cat is going to get sunburned it will likely be a white cat and it will likely be their ear flaps. That’s because there is little fur on the ear flaps and what little fur there is has no pigmentation in the hair strands. Therefore, the ultraviolet light goes straight through the fur onto the skin and burns it. There is no protection from the pigmentation. The same reason is why people of colour are much less likely to be sunburned than pale-skinned, red-haired white people.

Fluff was sunburned and had to have his ear flaps removed due to skin cancer
Fluff was sunburned and had to have his ear flaps removed due to skin cancer. Photo: Cats Protection.

Ultraviolet light causes skin cancer because too much UV radiation from the sun can damage the DNA in a cat’s skin cells. The DNA tells the cells how to function. If the DNA is damaged to a sufficient level, it causes the cells in the skin to start growing out of control which can lead to skin cancer. Skin cancer of the ear flaps often results in their surgical removal as seen above.

Why do white cats get eye boogers?

White cats don’t get eye boogers any more than non-white cats in my opinion. The phrase “eye boogers” refers to a buildup of a kind of mucus that comes off the cornea of the eye and congregates in the corner near where there is a tear duct and above (see diagram). If the tear duct is blocked the liquid runs from the corner of the eye and down the side of the nose. If the cat is white then this is very apparent because it stains the cat’s face.

Tear duct overflow due to a deformed drainage system in a flat-faced Persian who also seems to be suffering from a deformed mouth due to the same reason: extreme breeding
Tear duct overflow due to a deformed drainage system in a flat-faced Persian who also seems to be suffering from a deformed mouth due to the same reason: extreme breeding. There are more extreme versions of this breed by the way. Photo in public domain.

Tear ducts of a cat
Tear ducts of a cat. Image: rodsncones.blogspot.com

Jacqueline Fernandez with her white flat-faced Persian with tear duct overflow causing staining
Jacqueline Fernandez with her white flat-faced Persian with tear duct overflow causing staining. Screenshot.

I think the reason why people perceive white cats as having more eye boogers than non-white cat is because we see a lot of white Persian cats on the Internet because they are popular. The contemporary Persian cat is very flat-faced. This distorts the anatomy of the face. The tear ducts which drain tearing from the cornea of the eye become blocked because they are distorted. This causes tears to run down the face instead of through the duct. This stains the face. You will see a lot of white Persian cats with stained faces caused by tear duct overflow.

Johnson's diamond eyes
Johnson’s diamond eyes. Photo: the manufacturer.

In non-Persian cats you might see tear duct overflow sometimes but relatively rarely because they are white and tear ducts contain dirt which is coloured and therefore, they stain the white fur. You can buy special treatments for tear duct overflow such as Johnson’s Diamond Eyes (see above).

Below are some articles on white cats.

Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.

What is solar dermatitis in cats?

In cats, solar dermatitis is a recurrent skin disease caused by exposure to sunlight leading to sunburn. It is most often seen in white cats or cats with white noses and white ears. It is a recurrent inflammation which may ultimately predispose the cat to squamous cell carcinoma in those areas. My reference work on cat health, written by four veterinarians, states that tattooing the white areas or applying sunscreen may help. I had never thought about tattooing a cat to darken the skin to protect it against sunlight. This apparently is what is being suggested. The best solution is to keep white cats out of the sunlight especially during the hottest part of the day i.e. between 10 AM to 2 PM. I’m sure that all responsible cat owners do this. I don’t have anymore to say. Please see a good vet if you suspect solar dermatitis.

Note: My reference book refers to ‘solar dermatosis’. I am presuming that it is the same condition but a different label. Wrong? Please tell me.

White cat with amputated ears
White cat with amputated ears. Was this due to solar dermatitis leading to cancer? Image in public domain.

Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.

Do cats get sunburned? Yes, and skin cancer sometimes.

Yes, cats do get sunburned sometimes. We see this quite a lot on the Internet and it is particularly relevant at the moment in many parts of the world where it’s very hot. The interesting aspect of domestic cats getting sunburned is that it almost exclusively occurs on the ears because they are sparsely protected by fur.

And what happens is that the ultraviolet light emitted from the sun, which is made up of UVA and UVB, penetrates the skin and causes damage to the DNA in the cells of the skin. UVA penetrates deep into the skin i.e. the dermis, while UVB penetrates into the epidermis i.e. the top layer of the skin. UVB is responsible for sunburn.

Fluff was sunburned and had to have his ear flaps removed due to skin cancer
Fluff was sunburned and had to have his ear flaps removed due to skin cancer. Photo: Cats Protection.

This ultraviolet light kills cells by damaging the DNA. Ultraviolet light creates a reaction between two molecules of thymine. Thymine is one of the bases that make up DNA. The reaction creates thymine dimer which is stable but the damage can be repaired. The more exposure to UV light that occurs, the more thymine dimers are formed in the DNA which makes it harder to repair.

If it can’t be repaired the cell cannot carry out its normal function. If the damage is too bad cancerous or precancerous cells are created from healthy cells. If the damage is too extensive a gene product called p53 programs the cell to die. If the damage is fixable, p53 instructs repair to take place.

UV light causing cancer
UV light causing cancer. Image in the public domain and found by Bing. It is on the Florida skin cancer website.

And so, cancerous cells are then created because of DNA damage and in domestic cat this happens in the ear flaps. At this point, there may have to be a partial or complete amputation of the ear flaps. And that’s why you see cats with no ears on the Internet. It’s either sunburn or frostbite. They are at opposite ends of the spectrum and the ears are an extreme appendage which are the most susceptible to damage like this.

As you can imagine, white cats are particularly susceptible to sunburn of the ears because not only is the fur very thin over the ear flaps, there is no pigmentation in the individual hair strands to help block the sunlight because of the presence of the dominant white gene. Bicolor cats – white and another colour – are also susceptible (caused by the piebald gene). So, the sun directly hits the epidermis.

And as domestic cats, through their inheritance from the Wildcat, like warmth they can sometimes be in the sun for too long not realising the damage it can do.

It can take quite a few years for UV damage to become visible but once the early stages of cancer set in an urgent trip to a veterinarian is required.

If cancerous ear flaps are not dealt with, sometimes by an amputation, as mentioned, the cancer can spread to the rest of the cat resulting ultimately in a slow and painful death.

It perhaps goes without saying that the way to prevent this happening is for the cat’s owner to be aware of the dangers of bright and persistent sunlight and keep their cat indoors when the sun is at its hottest say between 10 AM and 3 PM. People can use sunscreen on their cat’s ears as they do on themselves (available on Amazon) but it might be best to consult with your veterinarian at the next visit.

Domestic cats instinctively find shade if it too hot and therefore provide plenty of shady areas for your cat outdoors if they are not already there naturally.

The picture on this page of a rescued cat called Fluff he was brought to Cats Protection at their Bridgend centre where he had to have his ear flaps removed. He was subsequently rehomed.

SOME MORE ON CANCER:

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Can you use suncream on cats?

This is a problematic area. You can use suncream on cats but you have to be careful about how it is used. In general, domestic cats like to lie in the sun. Cats with white non-pigmented areas of skin can suffer serious skin inflammation which the doctors call solar dermatitis. It occurs mainly on the nose and ears. An unprotected cat might develop squamous cell carcinoma (1 in 300 can suffer skin cancer). This is a malignant tumour which spreads locally destroying surrounding tissue.

Should I put sunscreen on my cat?
Photo of ‘Winter’ by Ken Pope

White Cats: 1 in 300 chance of skin cancer through sunlight

Some cats will tolerate sunblock cream on those vulnerable areas and if so it should be SPF 30 or more. Most cats will simply wash it off and then ingest (swallow) the sunblock cream.

Therefore, there are special sun creams for cats and dogs which don’t contain zinc oxide. According to ASPCA sun creams containing zinc oxide (typically found in sunblock creams) and a group of chemicals called salicylates are toxic to cats. It might be a gradual process but repeated exposure to zinc oxide can causing toxicity which, they say, can damage the red blood cells. Salicylates might irritate the skin and cause it to become inflamed.

You need to pick a veterinarian-approved sunscreen and therefore I would suggest you contact your vet to discuss this.

White cat with amputated ears because of cancer
White cat with amputated ears because of cancer. Photo: PoC.

I would argue that is the sensible way to proceed because I’m not sure that you can completely trust online suppliers of pet sunscreen which is a shame because of the convenience. I will refer to one example. In the UK, Pets at Home, a well-known retailer of pet products, sell Filtabac Antibacterial Sunblock Cream (Web Exclusive). The information provided online states that the ingredients are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide cetrimide. Cetrimide is an anti-septic added to the sunscreen.

As you can see, their product contains zinc oxide which the ASPCA (a trusted American organisation) say is toxic to cats. What is going on? Is Pets at Home being careless? The Pets at Home products is recommended by those who have used it although the comments refer to its use on horses and dogs.

Filtabac Antibacterial Sunblock Cream also contains an antibiotic which helps wounds to heal. However, one person commented; Kathy Hill, says that “there is only a very small amount of zinc oxide and this is inert so it cannot be absorbed by the gut”. I cannot confirm whether that is true or not and therefore common sense dictates that you should discuss it with your veterinarian.

There is certainly some use in using sunscreen for outdoor cats. You just need to be aware of the potential downsides.

Some earlier pages on sunburn sunstroke in cats

Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.

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