There's a new cat on the block, and it looks like a werewolf. The Lykoi cat is a designer breed that is purposely bred to express a unique natural mutation that makes it have thinner hair or no fur at all around the nose, eyes, underbelly, and paws. Some may question why exactly you would want a balding feline, but for many cat lovers, the Lykoi cat is becoming a hot topic.
Lykoi cats have been naturally seen on occasion, and at first glance, can look like a cat with moderate mange. However, this is reportedly the first time the trait has ever been purposely bred into a population for a specific designer effect.
Johnny Gobble, a veterinarian and practiced breeder, and his wife Brittney Gobble, a Sphinx cat breeder and animal photography lover, are likely the first breeders to purposely select for this exotic trait in felines, and are hoping that the breed's fledgling popularity can lead to something bigger.
Johnny told Nautilus magazine that these wolf-man-like traits have been reported in felines for years, "but no one has tried to breed them because there were concerns about their health."
That is, until the Gobbles stumbled upon two unrelated litters expressing the Lykoi gene.
"Upon starting the program Johnny decided that testing would need to be done to ensure that we are not dealing with disease or disorders causing the hair coat appearance. Infectious disease tests were performed first in his clinic. DNA testing was then done by UC Davis to confirm that these cats do not carry the Sphynx/Devon gene," Brittney announced on the Lykoi Cats website. "We also performed DNA panels for genetic disease, color and blood type. At the University of Tennessee (UT), dermatologists examined them for any skin abnormalities - and they too fell in love with these cats!" (Scroll to read on...)
According to the breeders, dermatologists and experts at UT could not find a genetic cause for the mangy look of these cats, despite the fact that they all were clearly displaying the same trait - some hair follicles around the eyes, nose, and underbelly lacked all the necessary components required to create hair. Interestingly, this is not consistent throughout the animals' entire coat.
Still, they appear to be breeding fine and in 2012 became an officially recognized breed by The International Cat Association.
The Thing About Cats...
So why all the hubbub about a balding cat? Designer felines are actually relatively rare, with significantly fewer unusual looking breeds compared to the extensively modified canine gene pool.
According to John Bradshaw, a biologist at the University of Bristol in England who has studied cat behavior in particular for more than three decades, that may be because unlike dogs, cats as a species are not so intimately tied into human lifestyle to the point that they need to genetically adapt to human whim to survive.
While canines were becoming domesticated and even bred for specific uses - resulting in a wide variety of breeds (and just as many consequential genetic defects) - cats were functioning more as accepted novelties. (Scroll to read on...)
Used for their natural abilities, such as mousing, or simply kept around for comfort, Bradshaw suggests in his latest book "Cat Sense" that most felines are actually semi-feral and simply think humans are massive, dumb, and harmless fellow cats. They appeal to humans as cats would appeal to friendly-but-superior felines, and for that reason alone we accept them as they are.
A dog may be a man's best friend, but it's a friend that we use as a tool as well. With cats, it's more of a partnership born of ignorance on both sides - no selective breeding required.
At least until people realize they want a cat that looks like a sphinx or a werewolf, that is...
However, according to the Gobbles, no Lykoi kittens will be going home with any feline fanatics just yet. Right now, the breeding pool is just too small, and unlike with many dog breeds from a by-gone age, these breeders want to ensure that the Lykoi gene doesn't come with any unexpected genetic defects that could affect the cats' quality of life.
"The few Lykoi kittens we produce usually go back into breeding programs," the Gobbles said. Still, "we expect to have babies available regularly in 2016."
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