FELINE MEDICAL CURIOSITIES: FACIAL DEFORMITIES
Hydrocephaly, Cleft Palate, Anomalies of the Eyes and Ears, Two-Headed/Two-faced Kittens
Copyright 2001 - 2005, Sarah Hartwell

Note: Contrary to suggestions on some bulletin boards, the images here are not photoshop. With the exception of those labelled as artist's impressions these are photos of medical conditions. Offsite links to images on these pages is not supported - bandwidth costs money!

WHISKERS

Many cats have impressive whiskers. The longest whiskers belong to a female Maine Coon called Mingo, owned by Marina Merne of Turku, Finland. In July 2004, one of Mingo's whiskers measured 6.8 inches (17.4 cm). Admittedly, not many owners have bothered to measure their cats' whiskers.

Rex-furred cats frequently have curly whiskers as well as curly fur. Usually the whiskers form long, looping curls although in some Rex breeds the whiskers are so brittle that they break easily, leaving the cat with short stubble.

ODD-SIZED EYES

Sometimes a cat is born with one eye larger than the other. The accompanying photo (from Tim Becvar) shows one such cat. The cat is called Darth Vader (but nicknamed "Bigeye") and comes from Portland, Oregon. The mismatch in eye size can be mild or very pronounced. Occasionally one eyeball may be absent. This assymmetry may extend to the whole face with one side of the face being smaller or less developed than the other. The term for tiny eyeballs is micropthalmia - one or both eyes may be affected.

ANOPTHALMIA

The peculiar shaped face of this five week old black-and-white kitten is due to hydropcephaly and anophthalmia.

Young Persian-cross cat with anopthalmia.

 

Anophthalmia means "no eyes". The kittens above have empty eye sockets. The black-and-white kitten above was born at a cat shelter in England. Unfortunately he had hydrocephaly in addition to anopthalmia and as his condition deteriorated (progressive neurological symptoms) it was necessary to euthanize him. There are many, perfectly contented blind pet cats and blindness alone would have caused the kitten no problems as a pet in a safe environment. The Persian cross cat was another case of anophthalmia, this time with no other abnormalities. It is apparently a happy, healthy indoor pet. Note: Some apparently eye-less cats have microphthalmia, where the eyes are present, but are tiny and (depending on the severity of the micropthalmia) may be partially functional.

Kat Loftus provided this photo of 8 year old Ghost who was born without eyeballs. Ghost was found wandering around Seattle with his mother and another kitten when he was about 1 month old. They were all taken to a no-kill shelter (which is probably why Ghost wasn't put down immediately.) Ghost and the other kitten Sammie were both adopted when they were around 2 months old. Having been blind from birth, Ghost copes well with his condition. He is extremely affectionate, needs constant attention and acts more like a small lap dog than the average cat. He is also very large at 17 pounds, but is not fat. Blind cats compensate with more acute hearing and seem to be more aware of vibrations in the air (perhaps through their vibrissae). Ghost can catch flies out of the air and loves supervised trips outdoors. His right socket is always red and pussy though this doesn't seem to bother him much. His owner, Kat, keeps the socket clean and sometimes her other cats will clean them for him as Ghost doesn't do it for himself. In spite of his somewhat alarming appearance, Ghost is a happy, healthy cat and not distressed by his empty sockets. Note: Many vets will stitch the eyelids together over an empty socket, this protects the socket and improves the cosmetic appearance.

HYDROCEPHALY

Hydrocephaly means fluid accumulating inside the skull. It causes a distinctive domed appearance. While the kitten is young, the skull grows increasingly domed or bulbous to accommodate the fluid. The tall forehead is characteristic of the condition. Later, the skull cannot stretch and the build-up of fluid causes pressure on the brain, increasing brain damage and eventually death. Nicknamed "the dog-faced kitten", the black-and-white kitten (in the section above) was put to sleep at about 8 weeks old because of increasing fluid pressure and poor prognosis. In hydrocephalic humans, shunts are used to drain the fluid; at present shunts are not available for cats with the condition.

Some case of hydrocephaly do survive. "Moon" (pictured left) was a hydrocephalic kitten with hare lip and cleft palate and is owned by Leila in Sao Paulo, Brazil, who sent these photos. According to Leila, Moon was found abandoned at 4 months old. He has undergone surgery to repair his hare lip and cleft palate and, at the time of writing, was a year old and doing well. I believe this to be hypertelorism (wide face) rather than hydrocephaly as the head is wide, rather than domed.

DUPLICATED EARS

In December 1978 a cat with four ears was reported in Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA. The deformity was first studied in 1957 and is called, unsurprisingly, "four-ears" because the cat has a small extra pair of "ears" or at least extra ear flaps. In the cats studied in 1957, the eyes were reduced in size and the jaw was slightly undershot giving the head a peculiar shape. The kitten's growth and eventual size were normal, but the cat seemed to be relatively inactive and lethargic. Researchers believed that the functioning of the brain was also affected. The Four Ears trait is a recessive condition and therefore remains hidden unless a kitten inherits two genes for the trait. The fact that it is so rarely seen suggests that kittens which inherit two genes die in the womb.

Not all Four Eared cats die before birth, so perhaps it is another gene with variable expression. A four-eared cat was exhibited at a British cat show in the late 1990s and apart from the smaller, extra ears it was apparently quite normal.

As with many physically similar traits, there may be several different genetic mutations. The Chattanooga and 1957 cats may have had a different deformity to more recently reported four-eared cats which are otherwise normal. Alternatively, there may be a single mutation with variable expression - different degrees of deformity ranging from cosmetic through to damaging. In humans, there have been cases where extra auricles (earlobes) were present below the normal ear but did not have an ear canal. reported forms are: additional "lobes" to ear flaps, additional ears not connected to normal ear flaps. The exact placement/alignment of the additional ears may also differ.

A secondary set of smaller ear flaps (pinnae) is set behind functional ears. and not connected; there may be rudimentary middle ear structure (artist impression).

Secondary smaller flaps set to outside of main ear flaps. Usually the main ear flaps and secondary ear flaps are connected and in some cases are simply lobes of the main ear flap.

Pinnae are lobed; extra ear flaps at right-angles (in some cases back-to-back) with normal ears, do not appear to be mobile independently of main ear flaps. Normal middle and inner ear structure associated with main ear flaps and not duplicated (extra ears sometimes have "blind" openings). The cat is reportedly physically and mentally normal and the extra pinnae could be cosmetically removed.

In March 2004, a six-month old cat with four ears was put up for adoption at an animal shelter in Murnau, southern Germany. Lilly was born on a farm in Bavaria and has an extra pair of slightly smaller ear-flaps behind her normal ears. This unusual trait is a rare gene mutation; the extra ears do not have any hearing ability. The front ears are completely normal. None of Lilly's littermates were affected. Many farm cats in the area are not neutered. Lilly has since been adopted by a family who already had cats from the same shelter and who did not intend to exhibit her as an oddity.

In March 2004, the Russian news agency Pravda reported an unusual kitten born to two ordinary domestic cats in the Samara Region. The kitten had seven ears instead of two. At first, the owners noticed the kitten had three ears: two normal ears and a third one inside one of the normal ears. The kitten was named "Three". Several months later the owners discovered additional ears when they bathed the cat. The supernumery ears were normal in appearance apart from being very small and poorly developed. The cat had two small ears inside a big one and two ears on its cheek. The seven ears give the cat no problems - in fact it seems unaware of them. It is claimed to have especially good hearing, but mostly when called for meals!

The female ginger kitten below (unnamed at the time of writing) was born in Brackley, England in summer 2004 and has one set of normal ears and a second set of smaller, fully formed pinnae. She also has the small eyes and undershot chin seen in the Chattanooga cats, but unlike them she is intelligent and very lively with no sign of brain damage. She has 2 littermates with the normal complement of ears, but is the boldest of the litter. Her parents are described as "town cats" and it is unknown whether they were related or inbred. (Photos copyright Adam-l)

In October 2004 I received an update from Adam: "Her name....Bug-a-Lugs. Seems to fit not just her physical characteristics, but spot on for her personality too. She is still extremely lively and intelligent, always watching what's going on and talking, insisting on being taken for walks, chasing her tail and bouncing off walls. I would suggest that she is actually abnormally intelligent, which would support the belief that the affected allele has an effect on the brain (albeit in a positive sense in her case). Her pupils are almost always fully dilated, giving her a staring look. They do, however, respond to bright light. I guess that this could be due to either an abnormality in the eye or the brain. She has grown but, I suspect, will always be a fairly small cat. When she runs down stairs, with her 4 ears horizontal from her tiny head, I swear she looks like she could get airborne. Could this be the next stage in feline evolution, catching birds on the wing?"

Adam also mentioned another 4-eared kitten which indicates a genetic, rather than a developmental, trait: "And one last piece of news. She now has a rival, another 4-eared cat has been born to the same mother! This kitten has now gone to a home in Brackley."

This 4 eared cat is tabby-and-white Gizmo from Lafayette, USA whose story was released on October 19, 2004. He was a barn cat, probably descended from dumped cats, and was rescued by the Bowen family. His intriguing deformity is probably due to extensive inbreeding according to Dr. Sharon Ellman-Murray, DVM. Gizmo has been adopted as NCISN poster kitty promoting responsible spay and neuter to prevent overpopulation. Although Gizmo's deformity is endearing and not harmful, inbreeding can lead to more serious problems. Gizmo's photo and information were kindly provided by Dr Sharon Ellman-Murray. Unlike the other 4-eared cats shown here, Gizmo's extra ear flaps appear to be inside his normal ears and facing in the opposite direction. The additional ears do not have ear canals associated with them. Following a veterinary exam, Gizmo was reported to be completely normal in all other respects and has a normal sister. He is active with no sign of mental retardation.

In addition to multiple ear-flaps, some cats have been born with no external ear structures. This has been seen in a Persian cat and may have been associated with inbreeding for the modern ultra-type. The cat's middle and inner ears were intact and it was not deaf. Lack of out ear affects a cat's ability to pinpoint sound - something cats do by swivelling their ear-flaps much like radar detector dishes. Many of the ear-less cats around are due to removal of the ear-flap because of skin cancer caused by over-exposure to strong sunlight (especially in pale coloured cats as these lack protective pigment).

Two mutant ear forms have been fixed as breed traits. One is the Scottish Fold, where the ears are folded forwards. The other is the American Curl where the ears are curved backwards as though windswept. A "lop-eared" variety of cat (the Sumxu) once existed in China, but is now extinct. Fold-eared cats have occurred spontaneously in Essex, England and The Hebrides, Scotland. A curl-eared cat occurred in Australia. These are detailed at Curled, Curved and Folded Ear Cats . The type of cat known in China in antiquity as "four-eared cats" were not four-eared at all; the name derived from the long ear furnishings of long-haired cats which gave them the appearance of having extra ears inside their normal ones.

TWO-HEADED/TWO-FACED KITTENS

More striking than extra ears are extra faces; often in the form of two heads fused together. This "Janus" condition may be a form of conjoined twin where the fertilised egg does not completely split in half. More recently, it has been attributed to disrupted embryo growth due to a protein called "sonic hedgehog" which causes excessive widening of the face to such an extent that 2 muzzles are formed. While there are lots of photos of afflicted kittens, I have found no x-ray images or photographs of the skulls of two-faced kittens. It would be very interesting to see how the bones have developed and the duplicate features have formed. Although kittens are born with folded ears and usually (but not always) with the eyes shut, most taxidermy of two-faced kittens shows pricked ears and eyes open for artistic effect.

An undated account (possibly between 1900 - 1920) comes from Bromhead, Saskatchewan, Canada. It lived for only a short time and the mother apparently adopted a rabbit after the twin-faced kitten died. A two-headed Red Persian kitten was born in El Paso, Texas, in September 1946. The kitten survived for 5 days, apparently suckling with one head while its mother washed the other. It is likely that the second head was not functional. The mother cat was said to have been inconsolable when her special kitten died. There are undated reports of a two-faced kitten called "Xerox".

 

A two-headed kitten (undated) dubbed Gemini was born to Dan Lizza's cat in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Gemini had two faces and two muzzles at right angles to each other. The other 3 kittens in the litter were normal.  From all accounts, the owner intended to rear the kitten though there were no further details. In mammals, this sort of deformity almost always results in death because of brain abnormalities. A two-headed, four-eyed kitten was born in July, 1991 in Brighton, Illinois. It lived for just two days. Despite having two mouths, it had only one oesophagus (food-pipe).

The most complete report is that of a grey kitten called "Image" (above) born in Bensalem, Bucks County, Pennsylvania in June 2000. Image had two sets of eye, two mouths, two tongues and two noses. It was given a good prognosis for survival as long as owner Sandra Pyatt fed it with two eye droppers since it tried unsuccessfully to nurse from the mother with both mouths. Dr. Anil Rastoggi, of the Croydon Animal Hospital, drove over to the Pyatt home to examined Image and found him to be in generally good health. He believed it could survive because the double features posed no health problems, but admitted he had only ever read about this "genetic mutation".

Examination showed that it had only one head and two ears. It had two complete faces, but only one mouth connected to an oesophagus and the rest of the kitten seemed normal. Despite one mouth not being connected, both mouths tried to suckle. Reports suggested that Image mewed from both mouths, but with only one oesophagus, one trachea and one set of lungs this would be impossible. Image died four days later and the owner apparently intended to donate Image's body to the Philadelphia Mutter Museum of Medical Oddities.

There was some doubt in veterinary circles over the authenticity of Image's story since the vet named in reports seemed ill-informed about conjoined twins, calling it a genetic mutation rather than a congenital (developmental) defect and apparently being unaware of the lethal brain abnormalities associated with the condition. However, the photos are genuine. In cases of conjoining there is generally a "mirror image" effect and this is sometimes cited as evidence for faked images. In human conjoined twins that have been dissected after death, the internal organs are also mirrored.

In July 1979, a stray cat in Montreal produced a litter of kittens which included a two-headed kitten. The two-headed kitten later died. By coincidence, another two-headed kitten was born in Indianapolis that same month. Named Tom and Jerry by its owner, it later died. Its littermates were normal. Both are more accurately called two-faced kittens. Like Gemini, they had a single skull which split into two muzzles.

On August 22nd 2001, I received an email from Thomas Ross of Livonia, Michigan, USA. Tom's 2 and a half year old cat Carlyle had given birth to 4 kittens on August 19, 2001, her 3rd litter. 3 of the kittens were normal but the 4th (the last born) was a 3.36 oz, 2-faced kitten which Tom and his wife named "Shadow". Shadow had one skull and brain, but 4 eyes, 2 noses, 2 mouths but only 2 ears. When he mewed, both mouths moved but the sound came from one mouth only. In all other respects, the kitten was formed normally.

When Tom wrote to me, Shadow was not doing well, having been abandoned by the mother cat. Tom researched the curiosity on the Internet and he and his wife Maralee did what they could for the kitten. However they realised that the kitten's prospects were poor: "Nature was probably taking its course," Ross said, "Maybe the mother realized it wasn't going to live that long." Shadow lived for only 4 days.

Shadow's story was reported in Tom's local Observer newspaper. Photos copyright 2001, Tom Ross

Dr Ben Yamini of Michigan State University's Animal Health Diagnostic Lab (ADHL) said the congenital malformation likely occurred early in the embryonic process. Without examining Shadow he could only guess at a cause, but some viruses or exposure to certain toxic substances (known as teratogens, meaning "monster causing") can cause birth abnormalities. In 25 years, Dr Yamini had encountered other unusual cases such as two-headed calves, but had never seen this particular defect in a cat. Ross contacted a Philadelphia Physicians College staff member, who may be interested in examining Shadow's remains which were being kept in the family's freezer. Ross wanted a hospital to use Shadow's remains for research. For the record, Shadow was not the first unusual cat in the Ross household - they once took in a kitten which had an extra paw on one leg. (Information and photographs of Shadow courtesy of Tom Ross.)

These photos and accompanying information have kindly been provided by Jean Jahoda, a breeder of Persians. In this case, the angle between the two muzzles is relatively small and there is a single central eye; there appears to be a hare lip (and possibly cleft palate) on each of the two muzzles. Jean described the sound of the two muzzles crying at birth as especially bizarre. (Description & photos copyright Jean Jahoda)

Jean writes "On July 28th, 2003 the following kitten was born alive. It died within minutes of its birth. This kitten shared a placenta with another perfectly normal kitten. By shared we mean that each kitten's umbilical cord was attached to the same placenta. The normal kitten is a male. This kitten was a female. As can be seen, the kitten has two ears, two noses, two mouths and three eyes. The center eye was open at birth. The other two eyes, as normal, were closed. The kitten was alive and crying. Immediately after the umbilical cord was removed it died. Look at the mouths and you will see full teeth on the bottom of each mouth. Kittens don't normally get their teeth in until 3-4 weeks of age."

On 8th March 2005, a two-faced kitten was born in Lake City, Florida, USA to a cat owned by Teresa Morrison. "Deuce" had two muzzles (two mouths and two noses) and four eyes. Unlike many of the two-faced kittens reported here, Deuce was able to nurse from its mother using one mouth. The other mouth did not appear to function. The veterinarian had not seen any similar cases first hand, but believed that if the kitten did not have brain abnormalities and managed to survive the first 48 hours, the prognosis was said be good. To date, no kittens with this abnormality have survived beyond a few days and the only two-faced mammal known to have survived into adulthood was Ditto the pig.

Some American lines of Burmese cats are genetically prone to head abnormalities due to breeding for a domed skull (European Burmese are more oriental in shape and apparently free of this defect). As seen above, the upper part of the muzzle and roof of mouth are duplicated and the area above the muzzle is incomplete. There is only one lower jaw and tongue. The ears and eyes are malformed. The skull doesn't close completely, leaving a protruding area of brain covered only with skin and not protected by bone. It is necessary to humanely destroy any kittens that don't die at birth.

Because such deformities invariably involve brain damage, it is merciful that the kitten died within moments of birth. Although "two-faced" or "two-headed" kittens survive only a few days, a two-snouted pig called "Ditto" (2 snouts, 2 mouths, 3 eyes) survived to maturity. Several genetic disorders cause extremely wide-set eyes (hypertelorism). One such disorder is due to mutations in a gene that normally limits the activity of a protein called sonic hedgehog. A lack of sonic hedgehog causes cleft lip. Hypertelorism syndrome causes very broad noses, noses with two tips, or even two noses. Once the face of the embryo widens beyond a certain point, whole structures (e.g. nose, mouth) are duplicated. Ditto, a Duroc pig born in Iowa, had two snouts, two tongues, two oesophagi and three eyes. It may have started out as two twin embryos that fused, but because the duplication was confined to the face and forebrain it is most likely that it grew from a single embryo with a very wide head. Ditto died in 1998 and his head is preserved in a jar at the University of California, San Francisco. Ditto died of pneumonia, apparently caused by inhaling food into one snout while the other snout was eating. Two-faced individuals caused by sonic hedgehog aside, statistically, conjoined twins are more often female than male. This is because a female embryo is more likely to split into twins than a male embryo. Sometimes the split is incomplete, leading to conjoined individuals.


Taxidermy exhibit of a two faced kitten (one head, two faces due to the "sonic hedgehog" protein).


Taxidermy exhibit of a two headed kitten (one body, two complete heads - if genuine, this is conjoined twinning).

CONJOINED KITTENS

For othe types of conjoining see Conjoined Kittens

CLEFT PALATE

Kittens born with cleft palate and associated hare lip frequently don't survive because they are unable to suckle properly. Instead of reaching their oesophagus, the milk goes straight back out of the nose. Such kittens must be tube fed in order to survive and the cleft palate must be surgically repaired. Hare lip is often seen with cleft palate cases, and Merlin (below) is showing his hare lip. Merlin's owner is Alisha Pierce, NC, USA who sent Merlin's photo to Messybeast.com. She says "I noticed there was no mention of cats surviving after birth with cleft palate and hare lip. I have such a cat, he's about 7 years old now. None of the veterinarians I've been to had ever seen a cleft palate survivor. I've never found any studies on their survival, or even a photo of a cat such as my Merlin."

Cleft palate means that the hard and/or soft palate failed to fuse while the foetus was developing. This leaves one or more holes in the roof of the mouth connecting the mouth and nose. The degree of cleft ranges from tiny holes to a large central fissure running from the front to back of the roof of the mouth to the front of the jaw. In severe cases, it also affects the upper jaw line and causes hare-lip. In some cases, the hard and soft palates are completely absent. A hereditary cause is suspected in cats with short, broad faces. Most cleft palate cases appear to be random and are probably due to disruption of foetal development in the womb e.g. the pregnant mother is exposed to drugs, chemicals or radiation, the mother has metabolic disturbances or an infection during pregnancy.

In kittens with cleft palates, milk is forced through the holes and into the nasal passages. It trickles or bubbles out of the nostrils during and after feeding and may cause suckling kittens to sneeze. This reduces the amount of milk reaching the stomach (causing malnutrition) and diverts milk into the airways (causing respiratory problems or drowning). The bigger the hole, the worse the problems. To allow the holes to heal or be repaired, the kitten must be tube fed. Small holes often close over in 1-2 weeks, but larger holes or fissures must be surgically repaired. Smaller holes are repaired by grafting a skin flap over the hole. If surgical repair is feasible, the affected kitten must be tube fed until it is robust enough for surgery. Soft palates can be repaired at 6-8 weeks old; hard palates can be repaired at approximately 6 months old. Where the cleft is extensive, or the palates are completely absent, euthanasia is necessary.

In some dog breeds, cleft palate is an autosomal recessive genetic condition. Little is known of the mode of inheritance in cats, but breeders are advised not to breed from affected cats that survive the condiiton.

SHORT PALATE

Another mouth deformity reported to me was a short soft palate in a female Siamese cat. The cat developed normally until the age of 6 months when the palate did not completely develop. The roof of the mouth is covered, but it stops short of the top of her throat. When the cat eats, bits of food get into her nasal cavity and must be sneezed out. The cat easily becomes dehydrated in the summer and is susceptible to nasal infection, particularly in the winter, as a result of food and water entering in the nasal cavity. To prevent water from running in her nose, the cat drinks from a rodent's drinking bottle, rather than from a bowl. Apart from these problems, she is healthy and was 9 years old when I received the information from her owner, Shana Vanbebber.

Congenital shortening of the soft palate occurs in kittens and is very similar in its effects to cleft palate. Treatment is usually not practicable. Apart from this, I have found almost no information on the condition. I haven't come across the problem before and my best guess is that it may be linked to the long facial shape of the Siamese cat in the same way that palate problems are most associated with varieties with short, broad heads.

ABNORMALITIES OF THE TONGUE

In 2004, the Malaysian "Star" newspaper reported the case of a Persian kitten born with two tongues. Named Pha Pathan (Thai for "luck"), the kitten had two tongues apart from white bristle on its palate. The owner, Noraini Abdullah, of Taman Beseri Jaya (near Kangar), found the kitten was unable to suckle. Looking in the kitten's mouth, she found a second tongue located on top of the first. It was born in May 2004 to a female called Ping Pong and has three normal litter-mates. The Veterinary Services Department gave Mrs Abdullah a syringe to feed the kitten with. (Photo by: Bernamapic)

Delores Whittington of Dobson, NC, USA also has a cat with 2 tongues. "Five Toes" (so named because she also has polydactyly) is a healthy black female Burmese mix who was 4 years old in 2005. Dolores has had Five Toes since she was a kitten and notes that the parents and littermates all have the more usual complement of only one tongue. Five Toes had no trouble nursing and did not need to be hand fed. She was weaned normally. She learnt how to use both tongues straight away and has no trouble eating, cleaning herself or breathing. Dolores believes this may be due to both tongues being the same size. Five Toes can use both tongues at the same time, but can also use the both separately as well. Because she had no difficulties, Dolores didn't notice the extra tongue until very recently when she noticed Five Toes using both tongues separately to lick her chin and nose! Thinking Five Toes had injured her tongue, Dolores took her to a vet in Mt Airy. The vet pronounced Five Toes fit and well and wanted to see the tongues for himself so he touched the end of Five Toes' nose and saw her flick out both tongues! Even Dolores' husband didn't believe that their cat had 2 tongues until he saw Five Toes lick herself with both tongues (being half asleep at the time, this apparently came as quite a shock to him!).

Two tongues at work together.

Two tongues at work separately - one for the chin and one for the nose.

I know of one case of a cat born without a tongue. It survived to adulthood (I have no information, but assume syringe or tube feeding was required to compensate for suckling problems). As an adult, it drinks by sucking water rather than lapping, though it finds a rabbit's water bottle easier to use than a bowl. It is able to eat mashed soft food. Absence of the tongue means it cannot groom itself and is liable to become unkempt. Its owners compensate by grooming the cat with a damp cloth.

 

 

ANENCEPHALY (ABSENCE OF FOREBRAIN)

The following information and accompanying images have been provided by Joen Seddon In December 2004 for the benefit of other breeders encountering gross deformities in kittens. Joen's tortoiseshell queen produced a litter of 4 kitten following a difficult labour. The first kitten arrived after approximately 3-4 hours after bearing down. The queen had lost a great deal of fluid (more than usual) before the first kitten arrived. The kitten was born tail first with the sac already broken. On first sight, the kitten was found to have extremely bulging eyes and no eyelids. Closer inspection indicated that there may have been eyelids (or skin) present, but they were completely transparent and the eye ball was completely visible. The pupils were large. The tongue was enlarged and everything from the bridge of the nose upwards appeared to be collapsed or absent. The kitten lacked a forehead and fontanel. The ears were approximately at nose level and facing outward rather than upward. On the top of the head was a small opening revealing a membrane. The kitten appeared very strong, but showed no interest in feeding.

After the remaining kittens were born, Joen removed the deformed kitten (and was surprised that it was still alive) to see if it had any instinct for food in spite of apparent lack of the forebrain. It had a good deal of strength, but lacked the co-ordination to initiate feeding, however it took kitten formula from a small dropper. Though it became excited at being dropper fed, it showed no sucking ability. When placed directly at the mother's nipple, it showed interest in feeding, but could not grasp the nipple and was only able to lick at it with its enlarged tongue. The inside of the mouth was badly deformed. The rest of the body appeared entirely normal and the weight was 200 grammes. At 9 hours, it was active and looked "like a bat". Joen decided to let nature take its course. The kitten survived only 20 hours. After 12 hours it began crying loudly, probably due to inability to feed (because it lacked a forebrain, it lacked the ability to feel pain; the crying was a reflex and did not indicate suffering (this has been studied in human cases of anencephaly)).

The mother cat did not treat the deformed kitten any differently from the three normal siblings. The surviving kittens are described as "normal, hefty and spunky" and also 200 grammes (approx). Oddly, the anencephalic ("lacking forebrain") kitten was also spunky, though the absence of the cerebrum meant the kitten lacked consciousness (feeding reflexes and breathing are due to the more primitive parts of the brain). Joen's photos were taken shortly after the kitten died and there are signs of dehydration. The eyes were even more pronounced in the hours after birth.

The mother had difficulty birthing the deformed kitten, but the remaining 3 kittens were birthed more easily. The mother had previously only been bred 3 times (all planned) with the same male and had produced a single kitten on each of the previous occasions. The latest 4 kittens had been conceived while her previous singleton kitten was only 3 1/2 weeks old and had been sired by a stray tom when the female escaped from the house. It was not realised that the queen was pregnant for a month. The cause of anencephaly is unknown, but human cases are linked to the mother's diet and vitamins, particularly to folic acid deficiency. Gross neural tube deformities due to genetic causes have been reported in the Manx breed, but the kittens are usually reabsorbed early in gestation or arrive as partially reabsorbed ("mummified") kittens. It is therefore possible that the previous singleton litters were due to defective embryos being reabsorbed and that the female carries a defective gene.

Anencephaly is a neural tube defect that occurs when the cephalic (head) end of the neural tube fails to close early in gestation, resulting in the absence of a major portion of the brain, skull, and scalp. Affected individuals are born without a forebrain i.e. the largest part of the brain comprising mainly of the cerebrum which is responsible for thinking and coordination. Lack of cerebrum explains the kittens inability to co-ordinate and suckle. The remaining brain tissue is often exposed (not covered by bone or skin) and matches Joen's description of a visible membrane. The braincase does not form properly and this distorts other features, in this case the lidless prominent eyes and the placement of the ears. According to human medicine, anencephalic newborns are usually blind, deaf, unconscious and unable to feel pain. Some individuals have a rudimentary brainstem, but the lack of a functioning cerebrum makes consciousness impossible. Reflex actions such as breathing and responses to sound or touch may occur. In humans, the condition is found more often in females than in males. Affected individuals are usually stillborn, those that survive birth die within hours or, at most, a few days.

MORE ANOMALIES

If you have come to this page directly from a search engine, please check out FELINE MEDICAL CURIOSITIES for the full index of topics including

BOOKS ABOUT ANOMALIES

If you are interested in medical curiosities, books worth reading are "Mutants: on the Form, Varieties and Errors of the Human Body" by Armand Marie Leroi and "Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine Vols 1 and 2" by George M. Gould & Walter L. Pyle. The Gould & Pyle books were published in 1896 and are in the public domain. You can download text-only versions of Gould & Pyle from several websites so don't waste money on text-only versions of the book; but if you want the versions with photos, consider the Kessinger editions. The Leroi book explains why and how some deformities and anomalies happen - the mechanism is the same in cats as it is in humans.

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