Like other kittens, Bettie Bee has four paws, one tail and two ears. But in one way, she is an oddity: she has two noses, two mouths and three eyes. She is a rare two-faced cat, or “Janus Cat.”
When a house cat in Eastern Cape, South Africa, birthed three kittens, it was clear that one of them was unique. While otherwise apparently normal, this special kitten’s double face made it difficult for her to nurse, which meant she was at risk of starving to death. The cat-owner brought the strange kitten to a nearby cat rescuer who is known for taking in special-needs cats.
The rescuer, who wishes to remain anonymous, started tube-feeding the kitten. She wrote in an email to Newsweek that she “can feed either mouth, both are functional, both lead to the stomach.” Because so many people wanted to see the kitten, the rescuer started a Facebook page for Bettie Bee with pictures and updates.
The kitten appears to have a condition called craniofacial duplication, or diprosopus. While two-headed animals are usually forms of conjoined twinning, two-faced creatures form differently in the womb.
A protein called Sonic Hedgehog Homolog (SHH) signals genes to control for facial width, among other things. If SHH acts abnormally, the face becomes too wide, and parts of it start to duplicate, and you can end up with varying degrees of craniofacial duplication. The opposite of this condition, where the face is too narrow, is called cyclopia because it results in the animal having just one, large central eye, like a cyclops.
Pet-owners, parents and farmers have observed this phenomenon in a wide variety of animals, including cattle, pigs and humans. It’s a proportionally rare condition, but in cats it’s common enough to have its own name. “Janus Cats” are named after a Roman god with two faces.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Bettie Bee is the fact that she’s thriving. Craniofacial duplication can deform a brain or make it difficult to eat and breathe, so animals affected by this trait often die in the womb or shortly after birth. Complete duplication is also highly associated with organ deformities. However, the rescuer says Bettie Bee seems to be doing just fine.
“She is thriving, growing like a normal kitten,” the rescuer wrote to Newsweek. “She has been to the vet when she was one day old. We decided it’s best to take her back for scans etc when she is a bit bigger.”