Gaze at a Lykoi cat and you might have flashbacks to the 1980s music video for Thriller, in which Michael Jackson morphs into a werewolf.
This new breed of cat, which strongly resembles an itty bitty mythical shapeshifter, has this wolf-like appearance because of a mistake in its DNA.
This mistake has interrupted — or in some cases stopped altogether — hair growth, leaving Lykois with a quintessential scraggly and patchy appearance.
While Lykois don’t resemble the stereotypically cute and cuddly feline that melts the hearts and minds of ardent cat lovers, breeders are starting to see an uptick in interest in them, according to science writer Ian Chant in an article for Nautilus.
In the process, they are perpetuating a mutation that, for better or worse, would have naturally been weeded out of the cat population via natural selection.
The Lykoi’s mutation was not bred specifically, but arose naturally from the domestic short-haired cat. Husband and wife breeders Johnny and Brittney Gobble started the bloodline in 2011.
And while we’re not sure exactly which gene the mutation occurred in, according to Chant, it’s likely a region of the genetic code that is responsible for hair growth. This is why the Lykoi is named after the Greek-derived word for werewolf, “lycanthrope.”
Lykois are generally born bald, and while they do eventually get an overcoat of hair, they often will never grow hair around the eyes, nose, muzzle, and toes. They also go through cycles of completely losing their hair for months at a time.
Despite their freakish appearance, though, they’re friendly, curious, and highly affectionate, not unlike a dog.
While this relatively new breed of cat appears to be healthy, breeders are cautious about potential issues arising from their sparse coat. A build up of oil on the skin can make them vulnerable to ear infections and mites, Chant wrote for Nautilus. They are also extremely susceptible to the cold, which would make them unlikely to survive a winter in the wild.
And breeding them is especially challenging because this mutation is probably recessive, meaning that an offspring would need two copies of the mangled gene in order to look this way. Therefore, unless you’re breeding two Lykois together, you never know if a normal-looking cat contains the mutation until they birth a Lykoi.
And because of this, similar to mythical folklore, the breed of cat isn’t likely to die out any time soon.
For more photos and other information about Lykoi cats, check out Brittney and Johnny Gobble’s website. And of course, if you are looking to adopt a cat remember to visit your local ASPCA shelter first, as there are plenty of animals in need of homes.
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