Usually, people prefer cats with full, robust fur, shunning those mangier specimens with thin, scraggly hairs. But that might be changing. The "werewolf cat" just might be the next big thing.
The Lykoi cat is a new breed, one that's only been around for a few years. The name is derived from the word "lycanthrope," because its patchy fur coverage makes it look kind of like a werewolf. At Nautilus Magazine, Ian Chant explains how it's all thanks to a genetic anomaly that affects hair growth.
Lykois bear a mutant gene variation that interferes with their hair growth, robbing the animals of much of their undercoat and leaving them with hair follicles that are either unable to produce hair at all, or that can produce it but not maintain it. While they do have hair, it is sparse, and often missing entirely around the face and paws, lending Lykois a lean, slightly mangy look, with eyes that, unhidden by fur, give the illusion of being much larger than normal.
"These are the result of a natural mutation that appeared in the wild cat population," says Johnny Gobble, a veterinarian and breeder of Lykois. "They've been reported for years, but no one has tried to breed them because there were concerns about their health." Though the cats don't project the image of a hale, hearty feline, the unusual variety has caught the interest of cat fanciers recently.
So far, it seems as if Lykois are faring decently, as long as they're kept inside where they can compensate for their lack of fur with artificial sources of warmth. But all the Lykois are still pretty young, and some health concerns might not become evidence until they mature.
Of course, it's not always health that humans are seeking in a new animal breed—often, it's novelty. Breeders look for very specific traits and do their level best to not only bring them out but hone them to their ultimate expression. Pug noses get flatter, corgi legs shorter, and bulldog shoulders so broad that the animals have to be delivered by cesarean section. Rather than being weeded out as they are in nature, these mutations in breeding are prized, preserved, emphasized, and multiplied at grand scales. At its heart, breeding animals represents the industrialization of mutations.
As Chant explains, corgis suffer from something called achondroplastic dwarfism, a condition that gives them both their adorably tiny legs as well as osteoarthritis. One gene mutation gives shar peis both their wrinkly skin and fevers. The list goes on. That dog and cat breeders generally select for appearance, often to the detriment of the animals' health, isn't exactly news. But now that we know more about genetics and the diseases and disorders that afflict our domestic menagerie, should we stop to consider how to move forward in a more ethical way?
I'm the first one to admit that the Lykoi is an adorable cat, and I don't even like cats all that much. But let's think carefully about the welfare-related ethical consequences of this sort of pet breeding. It is encouraging that Lykoi breeders are taking the necessary steps to see whether this particular genetic mutation is associated with health concerns more generally. It's something that all pet breeders should think about.
It strikes me as fascinating, the disconnect between the intense fear that some people have over our tinkering with the genes of the fruits and vegetables we eat, and our often lackadaisical attitude regarding our tinkering with the genes of the animals we treat as members of our own families.
Read more about the "werewolf cat" at Nautilus Magazine.
Header photo via Lykoi Cats on Facebook.