The Peterbald Cat
There aren’t many Peterbald breeders out there. In fact, at the time of this writing, The International Cat Association (TICA) lists exactly one, and they call their cattery “Aliencat.” That should tell you something.
This is no ordinary cat – not in looks, nor in personality. What makes the Peterbald so special?
The history behind the Peterbald cat
Blink. That’s about how much time has passed since the Peterbald came into being. There’s no fabled backstory, involving Norse gods and Vikings (The Norwegian Forest Cat), and no eccentric cat ladies who stumble onto perfection while steeping themselves in nutty conspiracy theories (The Ragdoll cat).
The Peterbald came about in 1994, a result of the deliberate breeding of two established cat breeds. The end.
Well, not exactly.
This breed actually began a bit before it really began. About four years before the first Peterbald was born, a cat with an unusual coat was discovered in Russia by a serious cat breeder. She rescued this ordinary-looking kitten off the street, and at age four months, the kitten began to lose her coat. The progressively balding kitten grew up and mated with a local tomcat and produced the first litter of what would become known as the Don Sphynx breed. This breed is also called the Donskoy or Donsky cat, the Don Hairless, and the Russian Hairless. The Don Sphynx is an important part of the Peterbald story.
(We’ll talk about why the Don Sphynx is not the same as the Sphynx cat, below.)
But, back to the Peterbald. A Russian cat breeder named Olga Mironova bred her world champion Oriental Shorthair named Radma von Jagerhov to a Don Sphynx cat named Afinogen Myth. Together, they produced four tiny Peterbald kittens who became the foundation of the breed.
The breed is called Peterbald because this cat gained popularity in the city of St. Petersburg, Russia.
Are all Peterbalds bald?
The simple answer is “no.” The complicated answer is that the Peterbald can have a range of coat types from so-bald-the-cat-doesn’t-even-have-whiskers to a full fur coat. The full answer to the question lies in genetics, but science hasn’t figured out what genes, or how many genes, contribute to this cat’s unusual coat or lack thereof.
Peterbald kittens may be born with hair, or they may be born with no hair. But that’s not the end of it. For the next two to three years, a Peterbald kitten can change. Some born with hair will lose their hair. Some born with hair will keep every strand. But kittens born with no hair will not grow any hair at all.
This breed is also notorious for changing color. “I have seen red cats turn lilac or blue cream, and I have seen a tortie develop distinct stripes to become a torbie…They just like to keep us on our toes,” an owner of Shamira Cattery reported.
There are basically five categories of Peterbalds, depending upon how much and what kind of hair they have:
This is not one of the categories, and is fairly rare: but on some bicolored Peterbald cats, the white fur will be soft and downy, while the darker fur will be comprised of wiry guard hairs. There is likely to be a sharp demarcation between the two types and colors of fur.
Are Peterbalds and Sphynx cats related?
You might assume that Peterbalds (and their forebears, the Don Sphynx) and Sphynx cats are related. Aside from the fact that two of these breeds share a similar name, they sure do look like they’re related – from a distance anyway! Baldness is a pretty noticeable trait in an otherwise furry animal like a cat.
But they are not the same and they're not any more related than any other two cat breeds. How do we know?
Well, we know that the baldness in the Sphynx cat is caused by a recessive gene, and we suspect that the baldness in the Don Sphynx, and by extension the Peterbald, is caused by a dominant gene, or possibly more than one gene.
We don’t know for sure, but research is ongoing on this topic. The reason I say we “suspect” that the hairlessness in the Peterbald is caused by a dominant gene, is because careful breeders have come to expect certain results from their breeding programs. The patterns that breeders have noted, lead us to believe that it only takes one gene to get a bald or funky-haired Peterbald.
For example, if you breed two Peterbald cats (bald ones, or with altered hair), you can still end up with normal-coated kittens roughly 25% of the time. That means that it’s likely that the parents each only have one gene that causes them to have altered coats or no coats at all. They’re passing “normal-coat” genes on, too.
Breeding these same Peterbald parents will also produce, on average, litters in which 25% of the kittens are completely hairless. It’s assumed in this case that each parent passed on their altered-hair gene to those babies, who thus ended up with two copies of the Peterbald gene. They will remain hairless all their lives and pass the Peterbald trait on to their own kittens.
One thing that simple genetics can’t explain is why some kittens who are born with hair will lose it, while some kittens born with hair will retain it. It’s possible there is more than one gene at play that influences how the Peterbald trait is inherited or expressed.
What does a Peterbald cat look like?
It’s not just the hair, or lack thereof, that stands out when you see a Peterbald. This is an exotic-looking cat all the way around.
The Peterbald is a small-to-medium-sized cat, about seven to 14 pounds. He’s slim and muscular, with a long body that ends in a fantastic horsewhip of a tail. He has straight legs that finish in oval feet, with long, webbed front toes. The webbing allows the Peterbald to use his paws to grab toys and open levered doorknobs. Uh oh.
But the face! Oh my! The Peterbald has an extraordinary face. This cat has a long, narrow head and a straight profile that is completed by a blunt muzzle and well-defined chin. But it’s the eyes and ears that really captivate: beautiful and large, almost-almond shaped eyes, and enormously oversized ears that start at the top of the head and continue on down the sides.
What is the personality of the Peterbald cat?
Is it a cat or a dog?
This is a loving, affectionate, outgoing, energetic, active playful cat that craves time with his family. He wants to be where you are, doing what you are doing. He loves other cats and dogs, too, and is good with children. (Supervise play with rough children or other pets. The lack of fur means that the Peterbald is more easily injured.) Even if you’re not family, this is a cat who has never met a stranger.
But this cat isn’t just go, go, go. According to TICA, “The deeply affectionate Peterbald cat will be in your lap as many hours as you will allow it,” adding, “Once you have lived with a Peterbald, life will never be the same.”
Health and maintenance of the Peterbald
The Peterbald is a healthy cat, who is expected to live 12-15 years. Being hairless, a Peterbald has a faster metabolism than most fully furred cats, and a healthy appetite to go along with it.
Other than weekly baths to keep skin oils from building up and causing irritation, this is a low-maintenance cat. You’ll have to keep yours indoors, and warm.
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Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.
 “Donskoy Cat.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 17 June 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donskoy_cat.
 Shamira Cattery, RUSSIAN Peterbald Hairless Cats and Kittens, www.smoothcats.com/pd/?menu=faq.
 Shamira Cattery.
 “Peterbald Breed.” Welcome to TICA - The International Cat Association, TICA Cats, TICA Pedigreed Cats, Pedigreed Cats, Pedigreed Cats Registry, Household Pet Cat Registry, Domestic Cat Registry, Savannah Cat, Bengal Cat, Persian Cat, Maine Coon Cat, www.tica.org/breeds/browse-all-breeds?view=article&id=865%3Apeterbald-breed&catid=79.
 “Peterbald.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 5 Sept. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peterbald.
 “Peterbald Breed.”
 Sorocco, Erika. “The Peterbald Cat - 11 Facts You Need to Know about This Breed.” Catster, 14 June 2018, www.catster.com/cats-101/peterbald-cat-facts.