Atchoum the cat now has tens of thousands of Instagram followers, and his owner, Nathalie Côté, had a feeling he’d be an Internet sensation.
Atchoum’s rise to fame began with a dare from Côté’s kids to post a photo of the unusually hairy Persian kitty on Facebook. The kids thought that no more than 100 people would like the snap, but mom knew he would make a splash.
“Atchoum was so cute!” Côté tells PEOPLE. She received the feline as a gift last July from a coworker at the Quebec veterinary hospital where she works as a groomer. “Differences are beautiful in living things.”
Atchoum, who was born with hypertrichosis (a rare condition that causes excess hair), is otherwise healthy, says Côté – but he requires a lot of care, including regular brushing to prevent matting of his hirsute coat.
“This is a cat that is very high maintenance,” says Dr. Karen Halligan, Chief Veterinary Officer for The Lucy Pet Foundation based in Thousand Oaks, California. “But I recommend that people brush their cats every other day even if they don’t have a condition – wouldn’t you rather have the hair in a brush than all over your house? It also helps spread the oils and most of them enjoy it.”
For anyone who might be put off by Atchoum’s slightly menacing look, Côté says her lovable 9-month-old pet is simply hairy – not scary. “He is affectionate and funny,” she says.
And he seems to love his newfound fame. Côté adds, “When I answer the fans on social media, he loves following the cursor on the computer screen and even tries to catch it.”
For more on Atchoum, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on stands now