Photo credit by Quentin Descotte
The two primary reasons people look for cat breeds that don't shed hair are either to avoid having hair all over their furniture and clothes or because they have cat allergies. Cat allergies are usually caused by dandruff and the dried saliva left on the fur rather than the fur itself. Keeping a totally hair-free home is impossible. All mammals shed some hair. Even whales with their extremely low volume of body hair will shed as the follicles go through their growth and dormancy cycles.
Finding a cat that does not shed very much is relatively easy if you have the finances to look for several purebred varieties. Of the shorthaired cats, the Sphynx is by far the breed least likely to ever show evidence of shedding hair. At first glance one is inclined to believe they have no hair at all. It is, however, merely very short and fine and feels very much like velvet to the touch. To compensate for not having to vacuum hair off the furniture, you will need to bathe your sphynx at least once a week to remove the built-up oils on its skin. The sphynx is also the only cat with sweat glands, so the weekly bath is especially important to keep the skin and fur, such as it is, in healthy condition.
Developed within the last fifteen years in St Petersburg, Russia, the Peterbald provides not only a range of colors and markings, but lengths of fur as well. The Peterbald varies from the near-hairless "bald" through "flock" and "velour" to the "brush" style hair which is wiry and curly and as much as a quarter of an inch long. It should be remembered that almost always the Peterbald will loose almost all of its hair as it ages.
Another alternative for cats that don't shed much is the English Devon Rex. This active breed varies between shaggy loose curls to a nearly bare, suede-like fur. Since they do not have the thicker, guard hairs, their shedding is very unobtrusive. The Devon Rex also has a hypoallergenic coat which makes it a great companion for those who generally suffer from the various cat allergies. The Cornish Rex is very similar to its cousin the Devon Rex. The Cornish Rex has a fur pattern that looks almost like a washboard. The wavy fur is very soft and velvety and has very minimal shedding behavior.
There is one type of cat that cannot shed because a mutated gene has become a dominant characteristic. The Dom Sphynx of Rostov-on-Don in Russia is truly hairless even though it is a mammal. The Dom does require extra care and a daily cleaning to keep this unusual animal healthy and vibrant.
For those who do not want to indulge in expensive and maintenance-intense purebreds just to keep from having to deal with shed hair, a few more common breeds do present themselves as candidates. Cats that do not grow an undercoat do not shed extensively. The Siamese cat is a great example of this variety. Similar to the Siamese, the Short-Haired Oriental and the Tonkinese breeds provide enough hair to look like a normal cat without the extreme shedding that people try to avoid.