The Lykoi, “Werewolf” Cat
The Lykoi have always been a second chance breed. The first two used to start the breed were adopted by Patti Thomas from a local rescue. She thought they were Sphynx from the description and wanted to use them in her program. A DNA test proved that they were not Sphynx at all. Other breeders saw the photos, and it was determined that they were something new.
Johnny Gobble, DVM, and his wife Brittney Gobble, showed a great interest in the kittens because of their unique appearance and the concept of a new cat breed. The Gobbles had the resources to establish a new cat breed, therefore the kittens, and their domestic mother, were co-owned with the Gobbles and sent to them to begin the program. Shortly after, another sibling pair of Lykoi were listed as “opossum cats” needing a new home on Craigslist and Brittney was alerted to the ad by Cheryl Kerr. The Gobbles then had two unrelated sets of Lykoi for the program. After testing the skin, DNA, blood, and heart for disease and disorder along with thorough physicals, it was determined that all the Lykoi were healthy. A test litter was born, and the first purposely bred Lykoi was born to the Gobbles in 2011.
Since then, many other breeders were recruited to help advance the Lykoi in TICA and establish the breed. Black domestic shorthair cats were used to increase genetic diversity of the breed, and almost all came from rescues, shelters, or online ads. All the cats needed a second chance. There has also been multiple natural born Lykoi in the feral colonies of cats around the world. At last count, more than 14 Lykoi were used in the Lykoi program. The natural mutation Lykoi were all rescued from colonies were the kittens may not have survived or from shelters that thought the kittens were just sick. Therefore, the Lykoi are a wonderful breed of cat who were all given second chances!
Once the first Lykoi was born, there was proof that the look could be passed from parent to offspring. Black domestic shorthair cats are used for genetic diversity and to keep the contrast of black roan that is so trademark of the Lykoi hair coat. After two years of using the black domestic cats in the program, it was determined that the gene was inherited as a recessive gene. Further DNA testing was performed by geneticists Dr. Lyons and Dr. Gandolfi to declare that the gene that gives the Lykoi its unique look is different from any other partial hairless or hairless cat gene. It is a unique gene that is not in any other cat breed. Further tests are being done to locate the exact gene and there are plans for a DNA test in the near future.
The gene does two things to give the Lykoi its unique phenotypic look. First, it causes some of the hair shafts to turn completely “white” from root to tip. The white appearing hairs are amelanistic, meaning they lack pigment. This process is called roan. In the Lykoi, there can be as much as 80% of the normal hair color to be white down to about 15% of the normal hair color to be white. The white hair is evenly distributed over the body of the Lykoi. Any color cat can have the roan effect in their coats, but it is more clearly distinguished in the black cats. Black Roan is the standard color for the Lykoi. The Lykoi can be any color, but the unique werewolf look is better expressed on the black cats. Roan has also appeared in another cat, the Karpati, but it appears to be a dominant gene based on information so far.
Second, the gene causes reduced coat volume. This phenomenon can also vary from Lykoi to Lykoi. Some are partially hairless while some can be almost completely coated. The gene can also cause a molt to occur periodically in the Lykoi. The cats will shed almost the entire coat just to grow in a new coat with different degree of partial hairlessness and even a different roan percentage. Lykoi are not hypoallergenic. Because of the look Lykoi have at a molt, many people rumored that a Sphynx was used in the breeding with Lykoi. Genetics dictates that a hairless gene like the Lykoi cannot be used to create any partially haired cat. DNA testing also rules out that any DNA from the hairless Sphynx are in the Lykoi
When a new gene appears in a cat, there is always a concern for the gene changing the health of the pet. Lykoi pet owners and Lykoi breeders continue to monitor for health problems and have testing done, if needed, to diagnose problems. Thus far, there has been no reported health problem or genetic defect linked directly to the Lykoi gene.
Many people that are around the Lykoi will say that the Lykoi act a lot like hunting dogs. In the end, they are still cats with cat behaviors. Since the beginning breeding cats were second chance cats, the survival instincts of rescue and feral cats are still strong in the Lykoi. They love to hunt and hunt for smells. A group of Lykoi will find a scent and track like a pack of wolves to find the source. The strong hunt drive also peaks the Lykoi cats’ curiosity. They want to look into, under, over, and around anything to see if there is something hiding. With their desire to hunt being so strong, caution is advised when the Lykoi is playing around smaller animals that can be considered prey.
Lykoi cats are very energetic. They play hard with people and with other pets. As they age, this energy level does decrease, but it is still higher than most pedigreed cats of the same age. Most owners will have many play toys, cat trees, and cat play rooms for their Lykoi. With a lot of activities for them, the Lykoi will run out of energy, but after a brief rest, they can be right back to playing.
Lykoi love attention from people. They want to be rubbed and loved, but they are not lap cats. They prefer to be able to move wherever and whenever they want. They will cuddle under a blanket or in a bed, but do not try to hold them still if they want to play. Lykoi do not tend to beg for attention and will be satisfied doing their activities. But, they will get your attention simply by running through your home in search of the next excitement they can find. When you have several Lykoi in your home they will run as a “pack” which is quite amusing although surprising when the “pack” runs across the couch and your person!
Lykoi are intelligent cats and are good at problem solving. Lykoi have been known to play fetch, open doors, carry objects in their front paws while walking on their back feet, play hid-and-seek, win high scores on cat games for iPads, and even use the toilet. Their intelligence can make it difficult to hide things from them, but does make it easier to train them. Be aware, that the Lykoi have been know to train their owners better than the owners train the Lykoi.
Care for the Lykoi
The Lykoi should be treated as normal cats with a couple of exceptions. One is that the nails will need to be cleaned regularly. Oils that would normally distribute into the hair will sometime accumulate on the nails forming a black coating that can easily be wiped off with a cloth. The same thing can happen with the ears, so a regular ear cleaning every few weeks will also be needed. The Lykoi do not need to have a bath regularly, and do quite well cleaning themselves. They have the same diet as any other cat and use standard litter in the litter box. The Lykoi may have to have their beds and blankets changed frequently due to the hair they lose, but it is not significantly more hair than typical shedding cats. When talking with your veterinarian, tell them that the Lykoi are just cats with a unique look. Many veterinarians want to diagnose a problem with the hair or skin. Just remind them that many tests have already been done before the Lykoi ever became a breed.
Where are the Lykoi found?
The Lykoi first appeared in the feral communities of the cat world. There was a litter of two from Virginia, and a litter of two from Tennessee. Since the beginning in 2011, there has been an average of eight litters per year born around the world that have had one or more naturally occurring Lykoi kittens born from a normal coated mother. Some of these were used in the breeding program by different breeders. These breeding Lykoi were naturally born in Canada, Australia, Italy, France, Israel, and more than 17 different states in the USA. They have also been reported in South Africa, Brazil, Germany, Austria, and Spain. There has been no explanation of why there has been so many born naturally in the world, and there may never be an explanation. There are also multiple people worldwide that are breeding the Lykoi for show and for pets. The Lykoi started off as a very small project that quickly grew into a worldwide passion for a beautiful cat with a unique appearance.
What is the perfect Lykoi- “The Werewolf Look”
Lykoi have been born many colors. They can be blue, tabby, pointed, and tortoiseshell just to name a few. The most striking is the black. The black hair mixed with the white give the best werewolf look. Ideally, there is a 50% mix of black and white hair. People that have seen the other colors will say they are beautiful, but the black roan Lykoi are the color that brings wolf into mind. Their toes should be almost bald with sparse hair going up the legs into the lower side of the body. The tail is coated as well as most of the body. The head will have erect ears similar to a dog and will have canine look when faced at the front. The face will also have a hairless mask. The nose, ears, area and the eyes, and the muzzle will be almost hairless. This mask connects all the areas together giving the appearance of a face with a beard. The Lykoi will have deep yellow to gold eyes. Many different colors of eyes have appeared in the Lykoi, but the gold eyed Lykoi seem to be able to look right through you. The overall appearance will give a feeling of creepy or spooky when the Lykoi look at you.
Over the years since the beginning of the breed, many rumors and falsehoods have been stated about the Lykoi. Everybody seems to have a different thought and will say it all over the internet. The following facts will hopefully answer any questions that people may have about the Lykoi. The facts are comprised from information from the medical testing, DNA testing, reports from many breeders, and reports from the many pet owners that new share their home with the Lykoi.
The Lykoi were not made in a lab from gene splicing different animals’ DNA together. They are 100% cat. There is no real werewolf or wolf DNA present.
The Lykoi are not a “designer” breed created from two different breeds of cats. They are a natural mutation breed that occurred from the domestic cat population. And they were outcrossed to domestic cats only.
The Lykoi skin will turn dark and develop black spots (similar in appearance to freckles or aging liver spots in humans) when exposed to sunlight and heat. They develop a tan and the skin can even turn completely dark brown. This does not harm them, and it will turn pink again after being away from the heat/light source for a period of time.
Many Lykoi are very quiet and sometimes will chirp instead of meow.
Lykoi are born with their natural color coat with no roan (no amelanistic hairs) in the coat and they are fully coated with no hair missing. They look exactly like normal domestic kittens. That means that the kittens color can be determined at birth. The kittens will lose this coat, and then the new coat will grow in with the roan color and partial hairlessness.
Until a DNA test is developed, there is no way to tell a cat that carries the Lykoi gene from a normal domestic. Out of the 100s of Lykoi carrier cats born in the program, they have all looked like a domestic shorthair cat.
With the exception of a small number of breeders, the Lykoi are not inbred. There has been enough genetic diversity with domestic cats and natural mutations to give the Lykoi a 0% inbreeding coefficient.
Human research groups have shown an interest in the Lykoi so they can use the data to compare to conditions that may be occurring in people.