1. The Ocicat
Ocicats are just freaking beautiful. Who can resist those eyes?!
Despite its wild appearance and striking resemblance to the ocelot, the Ocicat is actually 100% domestic, through and through. This designer cat breed was reportedly first bred (by accident) in 1964 in Berkley, Michigan, a hybrid of two rather more well-known breeds, the Abyssinian and the Siamese. Presumably the subject of many awkward conversations around the family dinner table, the Ocicat looks absolutely nothing like either of its parent breeds. Rather handily, it also shares relatively few of the health problems associated with either breed, instead displaying “hybrid vigour”, which is scientist-speak for really quite impressively good health.
Ocicats are medium-large in size, with relatively strong bones and a powerful appearance. Again, somewhat surprisingly given the lack of any actual wild heritage, the Ocicat tends to stalk rather than walk, and makes a truly epic hunter.
Ocicats tend to be incredibly friendly and confident. This is in large part due to being the somewhat unexpected-looking lovechild of two heavily domesticated breeds (both Abyssinian and Siamese cats have enslaved, sorry, lived with humans for centuries). It’s not unusual to hear Ocicats described as being like a dog inside a cat’s body, which is a decidedly less alarming concept for me as a vet compared to the reverse (a cat inside a dog’s body).
Moving swiftly onward…
2. The Munchkin
Munchkins are – as the name suggests – pretty pint-sized cats; even full-grown adult males typically weigh in under 8.8lb (4kg). This rather ridiculous sounding feline is famous for their leg length, or lack thereof. Thanks to a chance gene mutation, what the Muchkin lacks in height, it will forever have to try and compensate for with its admittedly very sweet personality.
Some (most of all the Munchkins) would later argue that this mutation was in fact rather unfortunate, resulting in an appearance not dissimilar to a feline corgi (and as we all know, corgis – and their owners – are the spawn of Satan). Others disagreed however, latching onto this similarity to a sausage with equal enthusiasm as the first dachshund breeders experienced back in 17th century Germany when they first realized they could breed tube-shaped canines suitable for firing off down holes in the ground in pursuit of badgers. Whilst Munchkins would also fit, cat owners tend to be a little keener to avoid deploying their furry family member quite so directly into interspecies combat.
Not unlike the sausage dog, the Munchkin tends to suffer with back problems, and may be more prone to the development of osteoarthritis. Very short-legged Munchkins may also find it more difficult to jump and explore, which is obviously somewhat sad. If you choose to welcome a Munchkin kitten into your home, more is more when it comes to the legs. Pick wisely.
3. The Chausie
The Chausie is a hybrid cross between the domestic cat, and the jungle lynx (Felis chaus). It is a large, powerfully built and undeniably beautiful cat, but is not without controversy.
For starters, we should consider that litters of Chausie kittens are typically born to a domestic cat mother, following a mating with a male jungle cat. There is more than one welfare concern here.
Firstly, it’s worth questioning whether it’s fair to keep a wild animal – the jungle cat- in captivity to facilitate these breedings. Secondly, you’d be right in wondering whether this undertaking is actually safe for the mother cat, given that the average female housecat weighs 6.5-11lb (3-4kg), and the average adult male jungle cat 11-20lb (5-9kg). Jungle cats can be incredibly territorial, and upon the introduction of an unknown female these wildcats are as likely to battle as they are to breed. With such a significant discrepancy in size and strength, this is clearly an entirely unfair fight for the poor female.
Finally, even if we make the mammoth assumption that it is safe and fair to breed Chausies, we are still left with a few problems on our plate. Early generation jungle cat hybrids are extremely powerful and territorial pets, presenting a notable risk for other cats in the neighborhood if allowed to roam. On the flip side, confining an animal with such raw wild instincts inside a house is arguably unfair and certainly likely to lead to stress, boredom and both mental and physical health issues.
The Very Real Vet conclusion? Wild cats belong in the wild. You may want to consider Cat Number 1, 8 or 10 on this list, instead.
4. The Sphynx
Not the newest designer cat breed, but certainly a classic. Nothing beats the scrotumesque beauty of the Sphynx.
Like stroking a ballsack but infinitely more appealing, the soft, warm and sparsely fuzzed skin of the Sphynx is every middle aged woman’s dream. This delightfully bald cuddle buddy is one of my personal favorites, not least because the Sphynx’s veins are super easy to visualize meaning IV catheter placement is a breeze (there are never any functional clippers to be found when you need them).
Development of the Sphynx began in the 1960s with repeated, careful selection of a naturally occurring gene bestowing hairlessness. Arguably, Toronto is to blame for these Alien-faced felines, although Canada is probably too polite to claim ownership of the breed if you asked.
The main health concern plaguing the Sphynx is a genetic predisposition to the development of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that leads to thickened heart walls and unfortunately eventual heart failure. Very sadly, younger and middle aged animals are often affected. If you are lucky enough to be the human radiator to a Sphynx cat, please don’t skip those 6-monthly vet checks; catching the disease early can really help provide a greater quantity and quality of life.
Sphynx cats will also require regular baths in order to maintain healthy skin. This is because there is obviously no hair present throughout which the cat can distribute the oils naturally produced by the skin, so instead these oils build up on the skin surface and if unchecked may encourage the yeast or bacterial dermatitis.
Cats have evolved rough, barbed tongues specifically for the purposes of grooming (and your average cat will spend between 30-50% of their day indulging in this pastime). Some therefore argue that intentionally breeding hairless cats may represent a welfare concern. I’m not against this argument, although I would like to point out that what we’ve done to Pugs, French Bulldogs and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is infinitely worse than having less-than-average opportunity to lick one’s self. Perhaps we should pick our battles.
5. The Highlander
The Highlander, or Highland Lynx is traced back to 1993. The breed was born out of a desire to create a friendly, domestic feline that still retained a wistful, visual resemblance to a long past wild heritage. The Desert Lynx and the Jungle Curl (sometimes also the Abyssinian) were selected and bred in an aim to meet this goal. One expert kept it short, sweet and simple, describing the Highlander as “in short, a Desert Lynx with curled ears”.
Highlanders are visually stunning medium sized cats with plus sized personalities. They have above-average requirements for both space and attention. Would-be owners should bear this in mind! When well cared for, you can expect a Highlander to make a human-focused, active and confident cat that loves to hunt and to play. Highlanders should be provided with ample “hunting” toys, or local wildlife populations may suffer!
In addition to the signature curled, round-tipped ears, some Highlanders may have polydactyl feet. Owners of such felines should be cautious when it comes to fabrics and furnishings in the home that may snag, since additional toes may be more prone to damage. Responsible breeders know to avoid mating cats with excessively curled ear tips, in order to navigate around the problematic cartilage issues faced by the Scottish Fold (see number 7).
6. The Peterbald
Photo credit: Peterbald Cats NYC
Image used with kind permission from owner
The Sphynx’s less popular but arguably more beautiful “cousin”, the Peterbald was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1994. This noble Tsar of the feline world is the result of an experimental mating between a Donskoy male and Oriental Shorthair female. Both parents were Champion cats in their own right, so no surprise really that the Peterbald turned out rather strikingly majestic.
Peterbald cats are intelligent, sociable creatures that frequently enjoy following their human butlers from room to room! A Peterbald kitten may be born bald, or with various forms of soft, velvety coat. This unique coat rather resembles an adorable peachfuzz to the more casual cat lover, however I have it on good authority that there are in fact five distinct “types” of Peterbald coat (or lack thereof): naked (bald), chamois (or flocked), velour, brush and straight. Kittens born with fur may lose this over time.
Like many pedigrees, Peterbald cats are not without a couple of potentially problematic predispositions (now that’s a tongue twister). A proneness to progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) has been identified, and (since the recessive gene that causes this condition has been identified) it’s possible to test cats to see if they are carriers. Cats carrying the gene (‘CRX’) that causes PRA should not be used for breeding, even if they themselves aren’t affected.
Additionally, like the more well-known Sphynx, Peterbald cats should be bathed regularly in order to maintain skin health, and may be more prone to dermatological issues including yeast infections and – as you might expect – sunburn.
7. The Scottish Fold
The Scottish Fold can be traced back to Scotland in the 1960s, when an unsuspecting farmer discovered a peculiar, folded-eared kitten on a neighbor’s farm. It would later be determined that the breed’s characteristic folded ears are the result of a natural mutation…but for farmer and chance discoverer of the breed William Ross, the ears were just kinda different and kinda cute.
Determined to make something of this discovery, Willy would later adopt and raise one of this folded-eared kitten’s kittens (Grammarly would surely have a midlife crisis and quit if faced with that sentence structure), presumably because the original be-foldended one was not particularly tame. Ross began to breed this kitten (a female) with British Shorthairs, and the occasional local moggy, in the hopes of establishing a popular breed and making his fortune. At least 50% of these goals manifested, as today the Scottish Fold is both well known and well loved…albeit arguably rather more thanks to Taylor Swift, than to William Ross.
In addition to the trademark foldy bits, Scottish Folds possess wide, full-moon faces, short necks, a stocky body and a bushy tail. Enthusiasts of the breed should be warned that the gene mutation that affected the ear cartilage also affects the cat’s joints; consequently, many Scottish Folds sadly suffer with severe, painful degenerative joint disease from a young age.
This debilitating, lifelong affliction tends to progress with time, and may result in fused bones and difficult, slow, painful movement at the most severe end of the spectrum.
Care should also be taken to ensure the ear canals (which of course, are hidden in this breed) are inspected regularly, excess wax removed, and any ear infections promptly identified and veterinary attention sought.
8. The Minskin
Photo credit: Minskin Cats South Africa
Image used with kind permission from owner
The Minskin recipe is a little more complex than that of some of the other designer cat breeds discussed herein. As one breed expert rather beautifully puts it, “Burmese is the #1 ingredient…at least 50%. Munchkin about 25% (for stature)…Sphynx and Devon Rex each just a dash”. The feline equivalent of an ice cream sundae with literally everything on it, please.
Like Bruce Springsteen, the Minskin was born in the USA, and from here spread to the homes of cat fanciers across the globe. Weighing in at around 9lb (4kg) or sometimes a little more, the Minskin is an affectionate housecat with an inquisitive mind. These saucer-eyed genetic smorgasbords thrive on human company, and are reportedly never happier than when stuffed up a jumper (of their own free will, of course). Like the Munchkin, these little guys are decidedly short of leg, and so owners with furniture (ie, all owners) may wish to provide steps. Those with gardens may also wish to provide sunscreen.
The Minskin was reportedly first bred in 1998, and has since been accepted by The International Cat Association (TICA) as being distinct from all parent breeds. But like it’s parent breeds, the Minskin does have some unique care requirements. Similar to the Sphynx, Minskins will need regular baths in order to maintain optimal skin health. And like the Munchkin, owners should keep an extra-close eye out for any evidence of joint pain or decreasing mobility with age.
9. The Serengeti
Whilst the name of this dazzling feline may be giving “exotic”, the Serengeti cat is in fact a domestic critter through-and-through. We have a cross between the Bengal and the Oriental Shorthair to thank for these long-legged beauties, which certainly have earned a place on the fancy feline catwalk when it comes to designer cat breeds.
Serengeti cats are exceptional athletes; no bookshelf will prove too high, nor any kitchen cabinet too daring, to be explored by this avid adventurer of the cat world. The Serengeti’s ideal human slave has a deeply ingrained appreciation of the value of tall furniture (whereas the human slave’s ideal Serengeti is one that can’t quite reach the bag of cat food on top of the fridge).
Childproofing is a must before bringing home a Serengeti cat, as the nimble digits of this would-be wildcat are more than capable of opening cupboards, doors and drawers. The Serengeti cat is understandably somewhat accident prone. Otherwise, they are widely reported both anecdotally and in scientific literature to be generally robust and healthy breed with few-if-any breed related health concerns.
Seren-get-me one, they sound purrrfect!
10. The Lykoi
One of the newer invitees to the list of designer cat breeds, the Lykoi is frankly just strange (sorry). Also occasionally referred to as wolf cats, the Lykoi’s odd appearance is the result of a natural mutation causing a form of hypotrichia, that is, lower-than-average hair growth.
DNA testing undertaken by UC Davis has laid to rest the incorrect theory that the Lykoi breed draws from the Sphynx or the Devon Rex. It’s official: the Lykoi’s brand of weird semi-hairlessness, is it’s very own brand of weird semi-hairlessness.
The Lykoi was refined in Tennesse by breeder Patti Thomas. They have kinda triangular looking heads, big ‘ole bat ears and truly striking golden eyes. They’re coat – well, what coat they have – is soft, sparse, and with a roan pattern: black-grey with a scattering of white hairs. “Lykoi” is derived from the Greek word for wolf. 100% of individuals surveyed (a random dog owner at work, and me) agreed that this name is genuinely cool, if a little uninventive.
According to the internet, Lykois enjoy human company, although I must admit that every Lykoi I have met so far has seemed shier and more reserved than your average moggy. These little batmen are prone to greasy skin and waxy ears (delightful), so any would-be wolf mother will need to be prepared to put in the work.
11. The Toyger
Toygers are not tigers. In fact, they’re not even close. The Toyger was created in the 1980s America by selectively breeding domestic shorthair cats (translation: standard moggies) with a mackerel tabby pattern, until eventually after many generations a tiger-like appearance was achieved.
Toyger “inventor” and breeder Judy Sugden has reportedly stated that the breed was developed with a vision to inspire people to are more about the conservation of wild tigers. I’m sure the $1,500 – $5,000 price tag per cat (depending on the vibrancy and clarity of the stripes) had nothing to do with it.
Admittedly very beautiful, the Toyger is a medium-sized cat with a long, thick tail and soft, dense coat. Personality wise, they are – despite their glorious markings – ultimately still moggies. So, exactly what you’d expect then: completely, utterly, wonderfully unpredictable 🙂
Whilst they are a relatively new breed and we still have much to learn about the Toyger, there is currently little solid evidence to suggest that these cats suffer with breed-related health concerns. Toy-get me one? Oh wait, I already used that joke. Guess I’ll call it a day.