Hailing from Quebec, Atchoum, a unique Persian kitty is the only known feline with hypertrichosis, a condition that causes excess hair growth – and it’s made him world famous!
In looks, he’s been compared to an owl, an Ewok, Dr. Seuss’s Lorax, and even Albert Einstein. Whichever one you think he resembles most, there’s no denying Atchoum is a very unusual-looking kitty. This distinctive Persian cat was born with an extremely rare hormonal condition called hypertrichosis, or werewolf syndrome, which results in rapid and continual hair growth. And it’s because of this condition, together with his arresting amber eyes, that he has become one of social media’s most famous felines!
Atchoum first met his person, Nathalie Côté, at the veterinary hospital in Repentigny, Quebec, where she works. “He was given as a gift to a vet,” she says, adding that because hypertrichosis results in a thickening and deformation of the claws, it was unfortunately necessary to declaw the kitten for his own safety and comfort. “After the surgery, I asked the vet if I could take him home for his recovery. My family and I fell in love with him, so we decided to adopt him.” The name “Atchoum” is French for the sound we make when we sneeze, explains Nathalie.
Atchoum is the only known cat with hypertrichosis. “Once he reached the age of one year, we began a series of tests to ensure his condition did not affect his health,” Nathalie says. “Since this condition is unknown in cats, it’s impossible to say how it will develop, but for now, he’s doing great and doesn’t suffer at all.”
The condition has also given Atchoum unusually small teeth, but Nathalie says it doesn’t affect his ability to eat. In fact, apart from his extra-hairy appearance, you wouldn’t know he was different from any other kitty. “Atchoum is a real clown!” laughs Nathalie. “In the mornings, he is very active and demands a lot of attention. It’s not easy going to work when Atchoum is making sweet eyes at you! He loves playing with pieces of ice from the dispenser and is never far from the fridge.” Atchoum needs regular grooming, and Nathalie says he loves to be brushed. “His grooming sessions last for several minutes.”
Not surprisingly, it took only one photo of Atchoum posted to BuzzFeed to make him famous. “In just one day, he went around the world!” says Nathalie. “Since then, requests from various media — television, radio, magazines and websites – haven’t ceased. Luckily, Atchoum likes cameras and the cameras like him.” Though he’s only two years old, he already has his own website, as well as a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Tumblr.
Nathalie uses Atchoum’s popularity to help support shelters. A recent project involved a 2016 calendar, available in both English and French – revenue from sales went to a local rescue. “And last summer, Atchoum participated in the Internet Cat Video Festival, which allowed us to pick up several thousand dollars for the SPCA in Montreal.” He has also teamed up with Oreo, another internet celebrity cat from Canada, to tackle the problem of bullying in schools; the two kitties are featured together in a book called First Day of School. “It’s a heartwarming story about friendship, kindness and what makes each of us special and unique,” says Nathalie. Additional Atchoum merchandise includes cushions and a sleeping mask created by Quebec designers, and fans are also clamoring for a plush toy lookalike.
Atchoum’s unique appearance and beautiful eyes have inspired a lot of creativity in his followers, whose imaginative fan art is featured on his website. “People are really extraordinary with their drawings, paintings and sketches,” says Nathalie. “I like people to draw and paint Atchoum, and to see through their eyes how they perceive him!”
At home, Nathalie says her other cats don’t play with Atchoum. “They don’t recognize him as one of them, due to his appearance,” she explains. But he gets plenty of attention from Nathalie and her family, who delight in his impish personality. “He always finds a way for us to have fun, with the little sounds he makes or his funny expressions and poses,” she says. “Things have changed in a beautiful way because he takes up much space in our lives.”