Nathalie Côté was working as a groomer at a veterinarian’s office near her home in Repentigny, Québec, Canada, when her boss was given Atchoum, a Persian kitten who had been born with hypertrichosis, a congenital condition commonly referred to as “werewolf syndrome” in people.
Atchoum — who was named after the French form of the word achoo — had a number of characteristics associated with hypertrichosis, including continual and excessive hair growth, porous teeth, and malformed claws. “The veterinarian had to declaw him because his claws were disproportionately large, malformed, and non-retractable,” says Nathalie, “and would have hurt and impeded him.”
Atchoum, who was born on May 10, 2014, was just eight weeks old when he had the surgery to remove his malformed claws, and his veterinarian owner planned to leave him at the animal hospital to recover from the procedure. “Since he had been operated on the eve of a holiday weekend and the vet had to go away,” remembers Nathalie, “I asked if I could take him home for his recovery.” Nathalie’s boss agreed to let her care for Atchoum for the weekend, and over the course of just a few days, she fell in love with the one of a kind kitten.
At the time, Nathalie had three rescue cats and she’d had several other kitties in the past, but never before had she experienced the connection she felt with Atchoum. “When I came back on Tuesday to work, I was shaking and I had tears in my eyes,” says Nathalie, “looking for the words to ask the vet — who’s a friend — to give me her kitten.” Nathalie’s boss must have realized the depth of her instant bond with Atchoum, because the vet agreed, and in July 2014, he officially became a part of the Côté family.
It’s been more than three years since Nathalie first laid eyes on Atchoum, and since that day, she’s learned a lot about hypertrichosis and the devastating effect it can have on cats with the hormonal condition. “Atchoum is not a new breed of cat,” explains Nathalie. “Atchoum has a disease — he has a congenital hormonal condition that causes or can cause all kinds of medical problems.”
In fact, the other cats in Atchoum’s litter were all born with varying degrees of hypertrichosis, and sadly, two of them have already passed away from heart problems related to the extremely rare condition. As a result, Atchoum is closely monitored by his mom, as well as a team of veterinary professionals, to make sure he has a long and happy life.
Cats with hypertrichosis are prone to dental issues, so Atchoum frequently visits the vet to make sure his porous teeth remain as healthy as possible. “They get dirty quickly,” says Nathalie, “so he has to undergo several descalings.” In addition to his teeth, Atchoum’s fluffy coat requires a lot of attention, making him very lucky to have a mom who has more two decades of experience as an animal groomer.
However, while a lot of people might expect Nathalie to routinely rid this sweet Persian of his excess hair using scissors or clippers, she has found that it’s best to simply comb his coat several times a day to keep it from matting. “The more we cut or shave the hair of a cat,” explains Nathalie, “the more the texture changes. As Atchoum’s hair is different, it’s better to leave it natural.”
Thankfully, Atchoum loves to be groomed, and Nathalie — who recently retired from her career as a professional groomer — now has plenty of time to comb him the required five to six times a day. This handsome Persian, who stole Nathalie’s heart nearly four years ago, is happiest when he’s with his mom, which makes it easy for her keep a close eye on his health.
“Atchoum is extremely clingy,” says Nathalie. “He’s always around me!” On the rare occasions when Atchoum isn’t by his mom’s side, he loves watching birds and squirrels through the window of his home in the suburbs of Montreal, and Nathalie has even installed bird feeders to make sure he and his siblings have plenty of entertainment.
Today, Atchoum is happy and full of life, although Nathalie acknowledges that due to the extreme rarity of his condition, no one knows what sort of health problems he might develop in the future. Thankfully, this unique Persian boy has a loving him with a mom who is not only devoted to him, but possesses the skills and resources needed to give him the best life possible.
While no one can say exactly why Atchoum and Nathalie formed an instantaneous bond, it is one that has only strengthened over time and endures to this day, almost as if they were made one another. “Atchoum is a happy cat, joyful and playful,” says Nathalie. “He’s simply the feline love of my life.”