New “Werewolf Cat” Highlights The Complicated Ethics of Breeding

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Due to the appearance of their patchy fur, you might be wondering if the two cats pictured above are sick. These kitties may have a gene deformity, but they are not technically sick, in fact they were bred to look like this.

“Lycanthrope,” better known as the “Werewolf Cats,” are missing a certain gene responsible for hair growth. When bred with a black cat, this creates the werewolf appearance they are famous for. Lykoi lack fur on their faces too, making their eyes pop out and appear even larger than the normal wide-eyed cat. While Lykoi cats are undeniably cute, there are many ethics questions surrounding breeding cats with an intentional gene mutation.

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Lykoi cats do not have the proper genetic coding to form an undercoat. Basically, they have faulty hair follicles that only grow some, or very little amounts of hair. While the Lykoi cat has only been bred by humans for a few years, we have seen the mutation naturally occur in cats for a long time, although it is rather rare.

Today, breeders are creating Lykoi cats intentionally. These cats are hard to locate and expensive to purchase, but is the whole thing fair to the kitty-cats themselves?

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While these cats are super cute, there are a number of concerns about manipulating genes like this. For one, the full health issues associated with this gene defect are not entirely known.

What we do know is that these cats tend to be born with super short legs, another disorder technically known as achondroplastic dwarfism. They are also more prone to osteoarthritis. And who knows what else? By messing with the natural order of things we risk a lot, especially when we don’t know the full picture.

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While these cats appear just fine and happy, is it really fair to breed a defect into a cat’s genes, especially one that might cause health problems? The Lykois currently out in the world, and pictured right here, seem to be doing good so far, but most of them remain fairly young. It might take a few more years, or generations before we see the effects.

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Lykoi cats are not the only ones facing potential health problems due to breeding ethics. The Scottish Fold cat has that folded ear because of a gene deformity breeders incorporate into their litters. The gene mutation prevents the ear cartilage and bone from properly developing, causing terrible pain, bone deformity, and arthritis for many cats intentionally given these non-functional ears.

Dogs are also bred with many different ailments that us humans find “cute.” Corgi dogs, for instance, shouldn’t have those short little legs they are famous for. Due to the breeding of this dog, they are at a predisposition to achondroplastic dwarfism which often leads to osteoarthritis and a ruptured vertebrae.

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The exact gene responsible for the hair defect is not yet known exactly, but it is clearly a recessive trait because it is inherited by offspring. There are researchers currently working to uncover the exact gene responsible for the defect, but does this newfound knowledge come with the potential for great harm?

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There are so many things we remain in the dark about. Do we really know what is going on behind closed laboratory doors, or isolated breeding grounds tucked away in the hills? Of course not, and people will tell you what they want you to hear.

So before you run out and buy a Lykoi cat to care for and cuddle, it’s important to consider if supporting this naturally bred defect is such a good idea for the wellbeing of the cats. And even if  you don’t think breeding Lykoi is so bad, where does it go from there–what do you think?

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Photo Credits: Nautilus, Animals.io9, FacebookBrittney Gobble, Audra Mitchell