They may not be common, but you’ve seen them out there. In the past, they’ve most often been spotted at specialty breed shows and perhaps lurking in the purse of some comic book villain, but these days, hairless dogs and cats have become a bit of a trend.
A Genetic Defect Inspires a Breeding Program
According to Dr. Patrick Hensel, Associate Professor of Veterinary Dermatology at the University of Georgia, the hairless trait is “a genetic defect. Someone thought it was a cool trait and decided to breed it.” For the hairless cat, this process started in the 1960s. The Canadian and Russian Sphynxes were developed from two different genetic lines that had resulted in the hairless mutation. The Canadians were the first to discover the autosomal recessive nature of the Sphynx gene, which was knowledge that led them to a successful breeding program. The hairless dog has a similar genetic backstory, and today, there are three recognized hairless dog breeds; the Chinese Crested Dog, the Peruvian Hairless Dog, and the Mexican Hairless Dog.
Less Hair Does Not Mean Less Maintenance
Although they don’t have a coat that sheds or that needs traditional grooming, hairless dogs and cats actually require extra maintenance. They tend to accumulate a lot of body oils that would otherwise be absorbed by hair. This builds up on the skin, requiring a bath weekly if not twice a week. Also because of their lack of hair, they are highly sensitive to environmental temperatures. It’s a good idea to give them a sweater during cold weather and to keep them out of the sun on hot days. Their skin will burn, so they also need sunscreen.
Lack of Fur is not the Same as Hypoallergenic
Sometimes, owners adopt hairless pets under the mistaken assumption that they are hypoallergenic. Unfortunately, this is not the case, so if you have allergies, even hairless pets aren’t necessarily safe. This is because pet allergies aren’t generally triggered by the fur itself. In many cases, people have an allergy to a protein that’s found in the sebaceous glands.
Hairless pets can really make a statement, but be sure you know what you are getting into before you bring one home!