An ‘ordinary’ random-bred (moggy) cat that was being fostered by Brianna Walton in the US gave birth to a litter of kittens one of whom Brianna named Gracie. She was fond of Gracie and decided to adopt her. And then strangely, when Gracie was five weeks old, she started to lose her fur. She turned into a so-called wolf-cat or more accurately a ‘werewolf cat’ due to their peculiar, sparse-haired appearance.
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This is the now well-known and rare cat breed called the Lykoi. Walton took Gracie to a veterinarian because she thought that she was ill but her vet correctly diagnosed that Gracie was the product of a genetic mutation, the same genetic mutation that produced the Lykoi cat breed. It’s a story which highlights how some cat breeds are started. A genetic mutation takes place spontaneously and randomly and somebody interested in the cat fancy then picks up on this and creates a new breed through selective breeding. In this case it just happened with a female cat that happened to be in the care of a foster carer living in America.
Walton said that: “Gracie was about five weeks old when she started to lose facial hair. She then lost most of her hair completely over the next two weeks and I became very concerned that she was sick so I brought her to the vet.”
As mentioned, the vet found that Gracie was perfectly healthy and that the hair loss was caused by this rare genetic mutation known as “sparse fur” which, according to Sarah Hartwell, an expert feline geneticist, eliminates “all but the guard hairs, which tend to be short.”
She also mentions the Lykoi breed, a cat which displays “an unusual grizzled colour”. There is a certain amount of genetic variability in the Lykoi breed which means that some cats become hairless rather than having the breed’s characteristic grizzled sparse coat.
The first litter of Lykoi cats were a brother and sister born in 2010 to a black domestic short hair. The mutation is not the same as the Devon Rex or Sphynx mutation. DNA testing found that the skin has no abnormalities and is not diseased. It is just that some hair follicles are unable to produce hair. Those hair follicles that can produce hair are unable to maintain normal hair growth. When the cat sheds fur, as all cats do, the coat may also have patchy bald areas.
The Lykoi name refers to their werewolf-like appearance. Selective breeding of the Lykoi first took place in 2011 in a Lykoi-to-Lykoi mating. This resulted in a single female kitten with the same hair pattern as her parents. They have a foreign body conformation which means slender and they are medium-sized. They are said to be curious to the point of fearlessness. TICA have recognised the breed for registration (2012) and they allow outcrossing to non-pedigree, black shorthairs.
The point of the story is that these sorts of very rare genetic mutations occur spontaneously and it just happens to have occurred in this litter when in the care of a fosterer in the US.
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