Feature Image via iStock.com/Nynke van Holten
By Dr. Sandra Mitchell
Perhaps you have seen an unusual hairless cat with tall, pointed ears and patches of fur and immediately thought it looked like a werewolf cat. What you saw might have actually been a Lykoi.
The name Lykoi, roughly translated, means “wolf cat” in Greek. This is a fitting name for these cats, which many describe as a feline werewolf.
This cat is an “experimental” new cat breed created from a mutation in domestic short-haired cats over the last 10 years. Unusual appearing hairless kittens were found in different feral litters starting around 2010.
People captured the animals for a closer look. Some of these kittens were examined for health problems that may have caused the unusual appearance, but with time and testing, it was determined to be a recessive gene.
Because a black coat was favored by the initial breeders, they have chosen to outcross these cats with domestic black cats. This is an attempt to preserve the unusual appearance of the Lykoi and help prevent inbreeding and subsequent health problems.
It is still possible to find feral cats with the werewolf look—and sometimes these cats are also admitted into breeding programs after determining that they do not have a health condition causing the appearance and do not carry the genes associated with other hairless breeds of cats.
The Lykoi cat is considered to be a partially hairless cat. There is no true undercoat, and parts of the body, such as the eyes, chin, nose, muzzle and behind the ears are commonly hairless. The exposed skin, ears and nose feel similar to leather, and although the skin is normally pink, it can darken with exposure to sun. Most cats will molt some or all of their coat, occasionally leaving them to appear even more naked than usual. This is normal for Lykoi cats, and not associated with a disease process.
Some Lykoi cats are more haired than others—with some animals appearing almost fully haired, while others are almost bald. Breeders are actively selecting for black cats, although in the naturally occurring mutation, the range of colors varies.
Animals with white in their coat will appear silver. This blend of white and black is often called roan in non-feline species, and it is often also used to describe these cats. However, when they show, they typically enter in the “all black” classes.
The haircoat is a combination of amelanistic (pigmentless) hair and solid black hair, which is very unique. They are born solid black, and within a few weeks, the hairlessness and roan coat color develops.
Lykoi are not particularly large cats, but the males are typically larger than the females. As is common with the feral cat, their body is lean and strong. Their tails are shorter than their body, and their legs are medium relative to the body size. Their ears are wide set, tall and pointed—contributing to the unusual facial appearance of the cat. Many people feel that this very much contributes to the “wolf look” of these animals.
The Lykoi cats are derivatives of feral cats, and as such, they have retained their strong prey drive. They very much enjoy stalking their cat toys, other pets (beware of smaller animals!) and people. They are also cautious when presented with a new situation, preferring to size it up before jumping into the fray, but will quickly warm up to new people and pets.
Although they have been carefully bred to maintain friendly personalities, the “wild cat” life of the feral cat is only a handful of generations behind them. As such, they maintain many of the fascinating traits that help feral cats survive an array of situations they encounter over their life span.
Being a relatively high-energy cat, the Lykoi tend to be more active pets. Although they don’t mind being petted and scratched, they generally would prefer to be “busy” accomplishing things on their own to-do list than simply sitting on a lap.
The Lykoi is a new cat breed, as it was developed only in recent years and starting to show in experimental classes. Its unusual look and strong personality, however, are likely to make it a hit—both in the show ring and with cat lovers all over the world. So the next time you see a werewolf cat roaming the streets, you may have just spotted a Lykoi!