12 Surprising Hairless Animals That We Keep as Pets
We as a people love little fluffy things. It doesn’t matter if it’s a puppy, a kitten, a hamster, or a wee baby lamb—fluff is in! Every once in a while, however, an "anomaly" is born—these are creatures who were supposed to be cute and fluffy but somehow ended up hairless.
All mammals have the potential to produce offspring with these hairless genes. In some cases, it's even useful. Whales and dolphins are mammals, and they don’t have hair. In fact, they would look utterly bizarre to us if they did. However, most of these flukes are exactly that: flukes. Hairless mammals are usually just the result of an interesting genetic phenomenon that doesn't end up being useful.
Most people would cringe at the sight of a hairless mammal. After all, we're only used to seeing hairlessness in furry creatures when they have mange or some other disease. That being said, some of us are attracted to them—we seek them out as pets and breed them purposely. Below are some of the crazy hairless animals that are kept as pets or used in research.
12 Hairless Animals that Are Kept as Pets or Used in Research
- Guinea Pigs
- Humans and Other Primates
1. Hairless Dogs
There are at least five breeds of hairless dogs. Some, like the Chinese Cresteds, have a small amount of hair; while others, like the Xoloitzcuintli (that’s Xolo to all of you who don’t care to try to pronounce that one), lack hair entirely. Additional hairless dog breeds include the American hairless terrier, the hairless Khala, and the Peruvian Incan orchid.
While most hairless dogs in existence are were bred purposefully for their unique baldness, sometimes hairless puppies are born to typically hairy breeds like Yorkshire terriers. When this happens, breeders usually refrain from breeding the affected individual.
2. Hairless Cats
There are at least two genetically unique breeds of hairless cats that have become relatively common in the pet trade: the sphynx and peterbald breeds. There are several additional breeds of furless cats, but it is unclear whether they are genetically distinct from sphynxes and peterbalds.
Pet owners absolutely love these little naked kitties. They’re obnoxiously friendly (or maybe they just like to use our laps for heat—we may never know) and are often quite colorful. Badly bred kittens may have heart issues or other health problems later in life, but most well-bred hairless cats are generally pretty healthy. In fact, Grandpa, one of the world’s oldest cats, was a sphynx, and he lived to be 34 years old! Not bad for a cat rescued from the Humane Society.
3. Hairless Horses
The first hairless horse on record was found roaming feral amongst a herd of zebra in South Africa in 1860. The horse was captured, studied, and put on exhibit. She had bright blue skin and captured the public’s adoration immediately. She soon traveled from South Africa to England where she performed in a circus, went on fox hunts, and stayed in London's Crystal Palace.
What ultimately happened to the first known hairless horse is a mystery, but many more like her have since been discovered in other countries in both feral and domestic populations. Horses are not usually bred to be hairless on purpose, as bald horses are prone to sunburns and other skin conditions.
The most famous living hairless horse is ironically named Harry (he was named before he went completely bald). Unlike the first known hairless horse, Harry does not lack follicles. Harry was born with some fuzz and was expected to grow more hair as he aged, but instead, he lost the hair he was born with.
4. Hairless Guinea Pigs
Hairless guinea pigs come in two distinct varieties. The first to show up were named skinny pigs. These little darlings are furless except for small fuzzy patches on their noses and faces. Baldwin pigs, which were discovered shortly after, are completely hairless.
Many people don't know that guinea pigs were first domesticated so that they could be eaten and still are in some countries. So if you think this hairless guinea pig looks delicious, you're not alone.
5. Hairless Hamsters
Hairless Syrian hamsters (sometimes called alien hamsters by enthusiasts) may look shocking to some, but they have been floating around the pet population for years. The first time I saw people breeding them, they were doing so to feed them to their reptiles. Why hairless animals get stuck with this terrible job I don’t know—you’d think the furry ones would be more nutritious.
Nowadays, fur-free hamsters are more popular as pets than as feeder animals. Unfortunately, they catch chills easier than their furry relatives and therefore can send themselves into hibernation when other hamsters wouldn’t. Other than that, I haven’t heard of any particular problems with them.
6. Hairless Rats
Hairless rats were first bred for research in laboratories. Known as nude rats, members of the breed initially had very week immune systems which made them valuable for disease research. They are still bred and used in labs but have now become popular in the pet trade as well.
At least two genetically distinct hairless rat breeds exist, but some claim there are as many as four. All furless rat breeds are called sphynx, like the hairless cat breed, but they are also referred to simply as hairless/furless rats. While the first sphynx rats in the pet market had very poor health and often died of kidney failure early in life, breeders have since worked hard to breed more genetically diverse and viable specimens. A well-bred hairless rat from a reputable breeder should now live to about the same age as a normal rat.
7. Hairless Mice
Hairless mice have been used for research in laboratories for years. You may remember seeing one with a human ear growing on its back in the 1990s. They’re still used mostly for research, but they also exist in feeder and pet populations.
8. Hairless Bunny Rabbits
Hairless rabbits are currently being bred for meat production at Texas A&M University in Kingsville. The facility houses 50 or so individuals that are being selectively bred to create a bunny that can withstand tropical heat. The goal is to use these resistant rabbits as a food source in certain developing countries.
Furless rabbits have also been known to show up spontaneously in the pet population, but they usually die from serious health problems fairly early in life. Their exposed skin also puts them at higher risk for sunburn than furred rabbits.
9. Spineless Hedgehogs
This is Spud, the world’s only known spineless hedgehog, all rolled up into a ball. No one knows why he’s spineless, but he was donated to the Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital in the United Kingdom where he now enjoys lots of warm baths and plenty of attention from staff and visitors.
10. Hairless Cattle
Hairless calves show up fairly frequently, but farmers usually slaughter them at the outset because they tend to have health issues and usually don't make it to adulthood. Occasionally, however, hairless calves do mature successfully. Like other hairless livestock, these cows are prone to sunburns and are less able to tolerate colder temperatures than normally furred individuals.
11. Featherless Chickens
Scientists in Tel Aviv created featherless broiler chickens that they hoped would provide a viable food source in tropical countries. Unfortunately, the birds did not grow as large as normal meat chickens, could not breed on their own (the roosters lacked the balance necessary to mate), and displayed the same frailties as hairless mammals.
While the Tel Aviv project was not particularly successful, a few featherless chickens did make it into pet population. Some owners have even taken to knitting clothes for their birds to help keep them warm. The photo above is actually of someone's pet—not someone's lunch.
12. Hairless Primates and humans
While most of us don’t keep each other as pets, it is worth mentioning that we too can inherent hairless genes. There are at least three genetic abnormalities known to cause non-fatal hairlessness in Humans. Things like alopecia and male-pattern baldness will probably always be in the population. Other hairless primates have been observed as well. The photo above is of Cinder, a well-known hairless chimp. She lived to the age of 15 at the Saint Louis Zoo.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.