Very affectionate, very demanding, very vocal and very high energy, the Peterbald is often described as an Oriental or Siamese with something EXTRA. The breed, although outcrossed to the Siamese and the Oriental to maintain its looks, is unique in many ways, in particular its four coat types: chamois, velour (flock), light brush and heavy brush.
Their personalities are similar to the Oriental and Siamese but with a little bit of extra oemff. They are said to be extra demanding, affectionate and have bounds of energy. They form very close bonds with their humans and animal companions and are extremely intelligent, sensitive and playful. Despite their slender appearance, like their Oriental cousins, they are athletic, lithe and muscular and very agile which often gets them into precarious situations. They generally prefer to live in pairs or groups and also seek human interaction constantly. The Peterbald are not as high strung as the Siamese and Oriental but may also be prone to stress, although their offspring are usually more robust and have stronger immune systems. They generally get on with everybody if they do not feel threatened. Females are usually more dominant in nature and males less so, and more laid back in attitude.
Like the Oriental and Siamese, they are very curious and may get into situations where they are unable to defend themselves. For this reason their territory should be limited to the home and a secure outdoor area where they can exercise but not escape your property to challenge the neighbour’s dog to a duel or chase an interesting looking car up the road. Due to their unique coats, or lack thereof, they are born heat-seekers and they need to be kept indoors or have access to a shaded outdoor enclosure so that they do not burn. The heavy brush is less likely to have these limitations.
One of the rarest cat breeds in the World, the Peterbald will steal your heart. This breed is the ultimate attention-seeker. So very like the Oriental and Siamese breeds, the Peterbald forms strong bonds with its humans and are often described with words such as “dog-like”, “loyal”, “clown”, “attention sponge”.
Any new breed of cat comes from one of two things: a cross of two existing breeds, or a spontaneous genetic mutation. Any cat with a unique and prominent distinction will have begun from a genetic mutation. Some examples of this would be the American Curl, the Munchkin, the Scottish fold, the distinctly curly coat of the Rex breeds, the Canadian Sphynx, and the Don Sphynx. And so begins the history of the Peterbald, not with a Peterbald, but with a woman and her cats that became known as the Don Sphynx.
The Peterbald’s existence is due to the kind nature of one Russian woman, Elena Kovaleva. In February 1986 Elena was going home to her daughter and their four other rescued cats. On a playground near her home, she noticed some boys throwing each other a bag. In the bag a kitten was crying. Elena took the bag from them, and, in it she found a tiny kitten. She estimated the kitten to be 3 – 4 months of age. She was a pretty, fluffy tortoiseshell girl. Elena took the kitten home.
She named her Varvara, although some histories record her name as Varya. As she grew, there was nothing extraordinary about her; just a fluffy kitten. However, strange things began to happen after about 4 months: the kitten began to slowly lose hair. Her hair loss began with her head, then her back. Elena took the young cat to her vet clinic. The vet, of course, thought Varvara was ill; demodicosis, dermatitis, ringworm? So they began an impressive treatment programme, which included many medications that were very difficult to get. Despite their best efforts, her condition did not improve. They finally decided to let her alone, after all, she appeared otherwise healthy and had a very good appetite. As she grew, she continued to appear healthy and continued to lose hair.
In 1989 Svetlana Volkova from Dnepropetrovsk (Ukraine) with “Alisa” Club cat show came to Rostov-on-Don (a rural Russian community). Elena and her friend, Irina Nemykina asked Inna, Elena’s daughter, to participate in the show with Varvara. Inna returned after just a few hours; the pair were not well received. They called Varvara “shabby” and harassed her until she left the show. Over the next year, Varvara continued to grow and also to “undress.” By the time the “Alisa” Cat Club had their next show, she only had fur behind her ears, a fluffy tail, and fur on her legs. This time, Elena decided to show Varvara herself. At the show, Elena explained that Varvara was a Sphynx, like the new hairless cats recently discovered in North America. Very few people at the show had even heard of a Sphynx, and none had seen one. They did not believe Elena’s cat could possibly be a healthy, hairless cat.
Yet another year past, and the cat show had come again. Elena and Irina took Varvara and some other cats to the show. As there were now three cats with the same thin(ning) hair, it was hard to say that Varvara was just one sickly cat; this is how they were being born! Although they were received much better at this third cat show, there was still no real interest in the cats.
The sire of the next three litters born to Varya and her offspring was a smoky blue tabby named Dima. This breeding process really confirmed their suspicion that this “hair losing” tendency would happen in every litter. The third litter out of Chita brought a female that was different than the rest: she was born completely hairless! Irina sent her to Leningrad to Irina Katzer, where she would live with her brother of a previous litter, Anton Mif.
It was here that Irina made a decision: she had read of a breed of horse, the Przewalski, where they had needed to line breed to save a nearly extinct line. She understood from the book that line breeding would lock in specific characteristics and features, so she chose to cross Chita with her son. The kittens came in February 1993, and once again, there was one born naked kitten, a male this time. She named him Viscount Mif. Another male of the same litter, Vityaz Mif, was the first to go to Moscow.
As you have read, at first, these women thought that they had a Sphynx. After the first matings, the primary difference was discovered: the gene that is responsible for the hairlessness or hair losing tendency of these cats is dominant, where the Sphynx’s gene is recessive. This is to say that, when you breed a Sphynx to a furry cat, the first generation of kittens will be furry. It is not until about the third generation of breeding back to hairless Sphynx that the kittens will again be hairless. With the Don Sphynx, the kittens will be hairless and hair losing in the very first generation. Therefore, the name was changed to the Don Hairless, and is often referred to today as the Donskoy or Donsky. So, now you know of the origins of the Donsky, but what of the Peterbald?
It was in 1993, in St. Petersburg, Russia, that a brown mackerel tabby Don Hairless male with a rather refined look, Afinguen Myth, was mated to a very classy tortie Oriental female, Radma Vom Jagerhof. Although their offspring were not very well received in Moscow, they were very popular in St. Petersburg, and soon became known as the Peterbald. Another male that played a big role in development of the Peterbald was a black male called Nocturine Iz Murino. He was born in February 1995, resulting from the same sire and dam as Radma. He was used widely for matings with purebred Oriental and Siamese females, and produced many high quality offspring. To increase the gene pool, the Peterbalds were also crossed with light-type Don Hairless cats, new lines of Oriental Shorthairs, and Siamese cats. This is why most colours are present in the Peterbald. Through the past several years, a few people have tried to cross a Peterbald and a Sphynx, and all resulting kittens were born with a full coat. It is partially because of this, and more because the Sphynx and the Peterbald have nothing to offer one another for looks or type as they are so different, that the Sphynx is not an allowable outcross for the Peterbald breed.
(Reference: http://www.smoothcats.com/pd/?menu=historyPD – Shamira Cattery – History of the Russian Peterbald)
Peterbald Coats - True Naked
Completely hairless, called a “sticky bald” (undesirable as they are weak and battle to thrive). Born without whiskers or any hair and often with their eyes open. These kittens require supplementation and supportive care and often do not make it past the first two weeks. If these cats make it to reproductive ages, females are documented by some breeders to have a particular issue with milk production.
Peterbald Coats - Chamois
Very short, almost naked coat called “chamois”. This coat appears naked but upon close inspection, one will notice a fine down. Kittens and adults often have more down on their extremities and are more “wrinkly” than the other coat varieties. Kittens are often smaller, requiring moderate supplementation due to a faster metabolism and higher body temperature. Regular baths are required to keep your chamois clean.
Peterbald Coats - Velour / Flock
The Velour has a tight, short coat that feels velvety to the touch giving resistance when stroked “the wrong way” like a peach. A velour Peterbald may have soft down or very short, soft fur on its extremities. This coat requires a moderate amount of grooming and stay relatively clean for much longer than a Chamois.
Peterbald Coats - Brush
The Brush can vary in length and density and be categorised as light or heavy. The light brush is a short, sparse coat of coarse or wiry fur. One may see “skin” between the sparse layers of brush. The heavy brush is very special. It is a longer (2 – 5cm) coarse, wiry or soft, fuzzy coat that often looks “untidy” and slightly stands out from the body unlike a normal coat, which should lay flat. Because the heavy brush is more dense, one may not see “skin” between the brush hairs. Normal fur or a softer coat may be visible on the extremities and stomach. Textures of brush coats may vary with age, hormones and colours and patterns.
Peterbald Coats - Undressing
A Peterbald may go through several stages of losing and gaining different types and lengths of coats till it settles to its “true coat” at about two years of age. This is called “Undressing”. For this reason it is increasingly difficult to pinpoint the true coats of kittens until they are much older. Much of this is a guessing game early on as every cat’s coat may behave differently depending on age, genetics, hormones, temperature and environment. All Peterbald have crinkly whiskers, but if mum likes to chew these off, it can sometimes be difficult to determine a heavy brush from a variant at a very young age.
Most kittens born with the Peterbald gene should have a mostly bald, red “cap” at birth, and their eyes tend to open very early. As they grow, the hair on their head evens out to match the rest of the kitten’s coat type by the time they are about 6 weeks of age. Once their whiskers have grown in, you will also notice the kinky or curly whiskers and eyebrows that are characteristic of the breed.
It has been originally documented that Peterbalds are born with the coat they will settle into, but many breeders have had varying degrees of hairlessness at birth in comparison to adulthood so this cannot be set in stone just yet and as a result it is quite difficult to register the coats with 100% accuracy. There are no known genetic markers or tests for the coats at present. We still have so much to learn!
South African Peterbald
Peterbald have been bred by a few breeders in the past 20 years in South Africa, however the breed did not gain much traction in the country until imported into South Africa by Mariette Burger of LaMASKA Cattery in 2006 from Israel and in later years, from the USA. Together with Nicole Barratt of Kioko Cattery, they sought to update and refresh the local standard of points and gain championship status once again for the breed. They both continuously aim for improvement to breed world class type and temperaments of this amazing breed, whilst maintaining their robust immune systems. More Peterbald were imported by Barratt and Melissa Myburgh of Siori Cattery in December 2015 and January 2016 in order to diversify the gene pool once more with healthy, robust Russian blood.
South African Breeding Programme
Worldwide, the Peterbald are bred with the Siamese and Oriental and can produce all three breeds in one litter, although in most countries, Oriental and Siamese born to a Peterbald parent, or with Peterbald in the 4 generation pedigree, are registered as “Variants”. In South Africa, under the guidance of the Breed Council of the Cat Federation of Southern Africa, however, there is a groundbreaking breeding programme. Each kitten is registered with its respective breed and is considered pure bred. Oriental and Siamese bred with Peterbald in the pedigree are given a special registration number to distinguish them from their pure cousins. This allows for more accurate documentation where research and development is concerned down the line.
In CFSA, the “Variants” known as Oriental and Siamese compete against the “pures” in the same group and a handful of these cats have gone on to have very successful show careers, achieving national qualification status and placing well in the CFSA Cat of the Year annual flagship finale.
The reason for this programme is not only to provide the Peterbald with an appropriate outcross to improve it’s type moving away from the old “Don” look, but it goes both ways. The Oriental and Siamese, although stemming from a seemingly large gene pool is dwindling in immunity, health, fertility and robustness worldwide in a quest for the ultimate slinky. The Peterbald has a unique look, coat and personality, distinctly their own, but using their “Variant” offspring in an Oriental Siamese breeding programme has proved over the years to be beneficial in many ways.
- Kittens born to Variants or Peterbald are in most cases more robust, have higher birth weights and stronger immune systems. Nakeds are still weak at birth, however and require a lot of supplementation and supportive care if they are to survive.
- Peterbald (especially the Brush coat varieties) and Variant mothers are in most cases excellent mothers and rarely have issues with pregnancies, milk production, fertility and the birthing process. I have personally had not one c-section, milk problem, pregnancy issue, fertility issue or birthing problem with any of my Peterbald mums.
When we first started developing the breed in South Africa, a presentation was put together to illustrate, explain and support our proposal for breed acceptance. Since 2006, the presentation has been updated into a comprehensive Breed Manual that outlines breed information, developmental limitations and the future of the breed. Should you wish to learn more about the Peterbald, this is an excellent resource, but should you wish to use it for your own proposals, please credit the author: Nicole Barratt (Kioko Cattery, South Africa) accordingly.