A relatively new breed of cat, the Peterbald is a Russian-bred cat with a very complicated relationship with fur. Coming in a variety of coat colors and patterns, the Peterbald can have a coat of short hair, fine peach fuzz, or no hair—all of which can change throughout the cat’s lifetime.
But don’t let the coat fool you, these cats aren’t just a visual novelty. The Peterbald is a loving, affectionate, deeply loyal family cat breed that develops strong bonds with people and loves the company of other animals.
Strap in, because there’s a lot going on here.
To begin with, the Peterbald’s coat can come in any of the following flavors:
- The version people might be most familiar with because it’s the most photographically memorable are the Peterbalds that are totally hairless or have only very fine short hair on the face, paws, and tail. Within this subset there is an even more hairless version called the “ultra-bald” type, which doesn’t even come with eyelashes or whiskers.
- A coat of very fine fuzz, which has sometimes been described as feeling like velour. This hair is extremely fine and soft to the touch, and may cover the entire cat’s body, or just appear in patches, mainly around the extremities.
- A coat of varying lengths that is made entirely of downy soft hair, much like the undercoat of a long-haired breed. Again, soft to the touch and very fine.
- A coat (again of varying lengths) that is made entirely of wiry guard hair with a slight kink to it. This is rougher to the touch and can sometimes feel coarse or stiff.
- May lack the Peterbald trait entirely and have an ordinary cat coat. These Peterbalds are called "straight coats.” Genetically, they’re identical to their bald relatives and they can be registered and bred as Peterbalds, but they’re not championship material, and are only kept as pets or for breeding.
As an added bonus for multi-colored Peterbalds, the coat will sometimes grow in two distinctly different types of hair, with white parts of the coat being soft, downy hair and the darker spots being more wiry and coarse.
No matter which of the above categories your Peterbald kitten was born in, just know that he may not actually stay that way, as his coat may change over time. Nude Peterbald kittens have grown coats and straight coated kittens have lost all their hair, all within the first two years of life.
Peterbald whiskers are often a grab bag as well, sometimes appearing curled, crinkled, or even as barely there, vestigial whiskers. The Peterbald is a medium-sized cat with a long, lean body shape, tight abdomen, and usually wedge-shaped head. Ears tend to be comically oversized, rounded triangles that take up much of the real estate on the sides and tops of their heads. Their almost almond-shaped eyes are on the large side and usually green in shade. The tail is long and whippy.
The Peterbald is an incredibly affectionate, playful cat. He gets along famously with humans of all ages, shapes, and sizes and loves to follow his bonded family around the house as they go about their day. He’ll also get along well with other cats and even dogs. Playtime with other animals and smaller children should be at least passively monitored, however, because all that exposed skin does make the Peterbald more susceptible to injuries like scratches and cuts, which will need to be disinfected and cleaned.
Since he trends towards the more vocal side, you’ll never wonder where your Peterbald is in the house, as he’ll be happy to describe his day to you in real time. While they make marvelous house cats and are happy to climb into your lap when they can, they shouldn’t be allowed outside and don’t travel particularly well, as their thin (or non-existent) coat doesn’t provide them with much protection from the elements.
Extremes in temperature can be difficult for this little guy, since he doesn’t have a lot of fur helping him regulate. This means that colder climates might be a challenge, but too much direct sunlight is problematic as well. For these reasons, the Peterbald should never be let outside on his own, and should remain an indoor cat.
Beyond those basic concerns, the Peterbald is a pretty easygoing housemate. They enjoy toys and will climb from time to time, but mostly enjoy following you around the house and watching what you decide to do with yourself during waking hours.
If your Peterbald has fur, maintenance is pretty simple. For downier coats, a rubdown once a week with a chamois or glove takes care of it. For the straight coats, a soft brush and you’re done. If your cat has hairless patches or is fully bald, then baths are going to be necessary, probably weekly. The natural oils in their skin and saliva will keep them moisturized and healthy, but regular bathing will keep those oils from building up and causing skin issues like acne.
Feeding can sometimes be a complicated issue for Peterbalds. They have a higher than average metabolism, with some owners reporting feeding them up to five times a day. However, whether or not your Peterbald has been spayed or neutered can also change how much they can take in without gaining weight. This is one reason why Peterbald owners may choose to only feed their cats during specific windows throughout the day, rather than just leaving food out for them for the whole day; a tactic referred to as “free choice feeding.”
“If you’re going to free choice feed, my recommendation is to only leave out their recommended daily caloric amount,” suggests Carol Margolis, DVM, DACT of the Gold Coast Center for Veterinary Care, on Long Island, N.Y.
“Once a cat is [spayed or neutered], cutting back by about 15 percent is probably going to be a good guideline, but it can be as much as 30 percent,” Margolis says.
The biggest daily issue you’ll need to watch out for is your Peterbald’s skin. Too much direct sunlight can lead to sunburn, and prolonged exposure can open up the potential for skin cancers, so keeping them shaded and indoors is important.
“Cats are prone to melanomas, just like humans,” says Michelle Beck, DVM, CCRT, CVA, of the Backlund Animal Clinic in Omaha, Neb. “Sunscreen can definitely help, but in general, keeping them out of direct sunlight or indoors is going to be safer.”
Additionally, making sure that any scrapes or cuts are properly cleaned and dressed will keep infections from setting in.
Beyond those issues, the Peterbald is such a new breed that there haven’t been many breed-specific concerns raised yet. Keeping any eye out for common cat maladies as they age, like kidney and heart disease, is important.
The first recognized Peterbald was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in late 1994 as the result of an experimental breeding between a Don sphynx female and an Oriental shorthair male. For this reason, straight coated Peterbalds can sometimes be mistaken for Siamese, and full nude ones are often mistaken for sphynx cats, but the Peterbald is now a genetically separate breed.
While the gene that creates baldness appears to follow basic Mendelian genetics (in an average litter, one in four cats will be bald, one in four will have an ordinary coat, and two in four will have some middle variation of coat), there is currently no understanding for why some Peterbalds change their coat—or lose it entirely—over their lifetimes.
- The Peterbald’s gene for baldness is dominant, so crossbreeding with other cats can produce hairless kittens.
- The Peterbald is one of just six recognized hairless cat breeds in the world, along with the sphynx, Donskoy, bambino, Ukrainian Levkoy, and elf.
- This breed isn’t cheap. A Peterbald kitten can cost you as much as $2,000, and due to their high calorie requirements, owning one can run you as much as $1,200 a month, with vet bills, food, and toys factored in.