Hairless cats are one of those things that you either love or you don’t. Some people think they are the most marvelous pets, while others can’t handle the idea of a hairless and wrinkled feline.
Regardless of your stance, these cats are fascinating in their uniqueness.
There are several breeds of hairless cats. The most common is probably the Sphynx cat. The other two you may have heard of are the Donskoy and the Peterbald. But how bald are these cats? What about facial hair? Do any hairless cats have whiskers?
Many hairless cats do not have whiskers: however, some do. If a hairless cat does have whiskers, they are often short or broken. Hairlessness in cats is caused by a genetic mutation of the hair structure. Though hairs and whiskers can develop, they are weak and easily snap or fall out before they reach any length.
The bodies of hairless cats are capable of forming fur and whiskers. So, what makes Sphynx cats, Donskoy cats, and Peterbald cats hairless, and how does this affect their whiskers?
How Did The Hairless Cat Become Hairless?
In cats, hairlessness is a naturally occurring genetic mutation. Breeders have used selective breeding programs to produce bald cats such as the Sphynx, Donskoy, and Peterbald.
The Peterbald cat is derived from the Donskoy cat but the Sphynx cat is an entirely unrelated breed. The hairlessness of a Sphynx cat is produced by the mutation of a completely different gene to that which causes hairlessness in Donskoy cats and Peterbald cats.
What is interesting about hairless cats is that they are not incapable of growing hair. However, the hair that does grow is so damaged that it typically falls out or breaks off before it reaches any significant length.
Whiskers are specialized and modified hairs, but they are hairs, nonetheless. The integrity of the whiskers of hairless cats will also be compromised by the genetic mutations, allowing them to break off or fall out easily.
Are Hairless Cats Completely Hairless?
Hairless cats are actually only sometimes hairless. You get different ‘coats’ for Sphynx cats, Dronskoy cats, and Peterbald cats.
Coat And Skin Of A Sphynx Cat
According to the CFA’s Sphynx cat breed standard, the Sphynx cat has a mostly hairless appearance, but they should have the same covering of hair on the bridge of their nose as is seen in non-hairless cats.
Additionally, short, thin hair can be present on specific parts of the body, including the edges of the ears, feet, and tail.
The rest of a Sphynx cat’s body can be completely hairless, or it can be covered in a layer of peach fuzz. They will still look hairless, but they will feel more like chamois leather or suede.
Even though they lack fur, these cats come in an array of colors and ‘coat’ patterns, which are displayed by the skin’s pigmentation.
TICA’s Sphynx cat breed standard mentions that the Sphynx cat’s whiskers can be present but will be short and few.
Coat And Skin Of A Donskoy Cat
According to TICA’s Donskoy breed standard, there are four main types of coat for these cats:
- Rubber bald. Rubber bald Donskoy cats are born completely bald.
- Flocked. Flocked Donskoy cats are covered in peach fuzz. They appear hairless, but they feel like chamois leather or suede.
- Velour. Velour Donskoy cats are born with wavy fur covering most of their body, except for a bald spot on the top of the cats’ heads. Over the first two years of their lives, velour Donskoy cats lose their coats.
- Brush. Brush Donskoy cats have a wiry coat with a bald spot on their head, neck, or back. They do not lose this coat.
Some Donskoy cats will have no whiskers at all. Others can have whiskers that are long, short, or broken, but these will be sparse.
Coat/Skin Of A Peterbald Cat
According to TICA’s Peterbald breed standard, there are five main types of coats seen in Peterbald cats:
- Naked. Naked Peterbald cats are entirely hairless.
- Chamois. Chamois-coated Peterbald cats are covered in peach fuzz. They appear hairless, but they feel like chamois leather or suede.
- Flock. Flock-coated Peterbald cats have a very short velvet-like coat, which will fall out over the first two to three years of their lives, although short, thin hair can remain on the extremities.
- Brush. Brush-coated Peterbald cats have a wiry coat, which they typically lose over the first few years of their lives.
- Straight. Straight-coated Peterbald cats have a regular straight coat, which they do not lose.
Some Peterbald cats will have no whiskers at all. If whiskers are present, they will look crinkled or broken.
What Is The Purpose Of A Cat’s Whiskers?
The official name for whiskers is vibrissae. Vibrissae are thick, long, deep-rooted, and specialized hairs. Their extreme sensitivity is due to the dense innervation of the hair follicles from which they grow.
These nerves carry messages to the brain’s somatosensory cortex, which interprets the sense of touch, but whiskers don’t actually feel things.
Whiskers are also tipped with sensory receptors known as proprioceptors, which respond to vibrations, position, and movement.
Whiskers are not only found sprouting from the mystacial pads on either side of a cat’s nose. They are also present above their eyes, on their chin, by their ears, and even on their forelegs. The location of whiskers is strategic to their function.
Whiskers Provide Cats With Spatial Awareness
The proprioceptive nature of whiskers provides information about a cat’s immediate surroundings and providing them with spatial awareness. They help cats sense objects around them and even judge how near or far away these objects are to the cat.
Whiskers Enhance A Cat’s Vision
Cats can have difficulty focusing on objects that are less than one foot from them. Cats use their whiskers to make up for this far-sightedness.
Additionally, cats cannot see in total darkness; although they see much better in dim light than humans, they do not have night-vision.
A cat’s whiskers pick up on vibrations and movements from objects in front of them, allowing them to gauge where these objects are. They are used for safe navigation.
Whiskers Are A Cat’s Eyebrows
The whiskers above a cat’s eyes are the cat equivalent of eyebrows. They trap small particles, dust, etc., that would otherwise fall into the eye.
Additionally, the proprioceptive nature of the facial whiskers alerts a cat when something is coming towards its eye that could potentially damage it.
This function is helpful in various situations, for example, when they are pushing their way through the undergrowth.
What Does The Absence Of Whiskers Mean For Hairless Cats?
The absence of whiskers might not affect hairless cats as much as you would think. The fact that they do not ever have whiskers, or if they do, these whiskers are short and damaged (non-functional) means that hairless cats do not come to rely on their whiskers.
A hairless cat’s other senses can compensate for this lack, and a hairless cat can live a normal life.
Hairless cats may possibly bump into things more often, struggle a bit more to see close objects, and may get more things stuck in their eyes, but they will not be disorientated and distressed as would be a non-hairless cat who had whiskers and then lost them.
Do Hairless Cats Have Whiskers? Conclusion
Hairlessness in Sphynx cats, Donskoy cats, and Peterbald cats is the result of a naturally occurring genetic mutation that people have selectively bred.
The genes that cause hairlessness do not inhibit the formation of hair. These genes prevent the growth of healthy hair, including whiskers.
As a result, the hair of a hairless cat forms normally but is so damaged that it will break off or fall out before it has grown to a significant length.
Whiskers can be completely absent in hairless cats. If hairless cats do have whiskers, these are typically sparse and broken short.
Whiskers serve as an honorary sixth sense in cats, providing them with improved spatial awareness and enhanced near-vision. They also act as eyebrows to protect a cat’s eye.
While a non-hairless cat would be distressed and disorientated by the loss of its whiskers, a hairless cat will not be distressed or disorientated by its lack of whiskers. Hairless cats never have functional whiskers, so they do not grow dependent on them.