With its wiry appearance, thin black fur and retractable claws, the animal in the photo above may resemble a werewolf, but its breeders assure us it’s all feline.
Meet the Lykoi cats, which get their name from the Greek word for wolf.
The cats’ unique appearance is the result of a natural mutation of a domestic shorthair, giving them thin hair and no fur around their eyes, nose, underbelly and paws.
Although these wolf-like traits have been reported in cats for decades, no one had attempted to breed the cats until 2010 when veterinarian Johnny Gobble and his wife, Brittney, came across a litter of the strange-looking kittens.
The kittens were born to what appeared to be a normal black domestic shorthair, but Johnny had Leslie Lyons, the scientist who heads the 99 Lives Cat Whole Genome Sequencing, do a DNA test to confirm they weren’t Sphynx or Devon cats.
A few months later, the Gobbles heard about another set of wolf-like cats.
“When I arrived to pick them up, I could immediately tell that these two siblings had the same gene as the first pair we had gotten,” Brittney writes on her website, LykoiKitten.com.
Genetic testing confirmed her suspicion.
Before they began breeding the cats though, the Gobbles wanted to ensure the felines were healthy and that their unique coats weren’t the result of a disease or disorder.
Infectious disease tests, cardiac scans and DNA panels for genetic diseases were performed for all the cats, and then the felines were taken to the University of Tennessee, where dermatologists examined them for skin abnormalities.
Researchers discovered that some of the cats’ hair follicles were unable to produce hair and those that could create hair lacked the proper balance of components to maintain it. This explains why Lykoi lack an undercoat and why they occasionally molt, becoming nearly bald at times.
At the conclusion of all the tests, the Gobbles learned their cats were perfectly healthy and that their unusual appearance was simply the result of a natural mutation.
With a clean bill of health, the Gobbles began to breed the felines, and they welcomed their first kitten in 2011.
Lykoi are now bred across the United States, as well as Canada and France, and they’re often with black domestic shorthairs to ensure genetic diversity. As of 2014, the “werewolf cats” have even received “preliminary new breed” status from The International Cat Association, which describes the felines as intelligent, loyal and protective.
Take a look at some of the Gobbles' Lyko in the photos below.
Related on MNN: