A two-faced cat was born on a farm east of Albany Wednesday morning.
Not that the kitten is cunning and deceitful. It literally has two faces on one head.
“We didn’t know it was anything that cool at first,” said Kyla King, who looks after the barn cats that frequent her property.
A 1-year-old cat started giving birth to a litter of kittens around 5 a.m. Wednesday in a makeshift kennel in King’s backyard. King periodically checked on the mother, seeing four newborns around 7 a.m., then five, and finally six little ones appearing.
But the last one confused her.
“I came back out and looked again,” she said, “and I was like, ‘Ah!’”
The gray, tabby-coated fuzzball had two mouths, two noses and four eyes atop one head.
King's husband, BJ, broke the interesting news to Facebook that afternoon on Albany Happenings, a private group run by city residents. The post garnered around 1,700 reactions and over 800 comments in less than a day.
His photos and videos showed the kitty, whom the Kings named Biscuits and Gravy, eating from both mouths and breathing from both noses. Biscuits is the right face and Gravy, evidently the stronger of the two, is the left.
To make things simple, the King family has been referring to it — the sex is unknown — as Biscuit.
The birth defect Biscuit is believed to have is called diprosopus, or craniofacial duplication. It’s very rare, according to Oregon State University veterinarian Jennifer Warnock. Cats with this condition are often referred to as Janus cats, named for a Roman god with two faces.
The disorder is believed to be caused by an overactive developmental protein known as sonic hedgehog (or SHH), named after the popular video game character. The gene responsible for SHH controls the width and placement of facial features. Too much SHH can result in duplicate or larger-than-usual features.
“We don't know why these happen,” Warnock wrote to the Gazette-Times, “… but in veterinary medicine we see it most in cattle and sheep. Normal development in the uterus is a very complex process and sometimes that process can go awry due to chance.”
That chance can be caused by genetics, environmental pollutants, infections and more.
Those did not include COVID-19 or 5G radiation, as some Facebook group members suggested or joked in the post’s comments. Much like Biscuit’s faces, there were two sides to group members’ responses.
Positive comments ranged from Biscuit being “strangely the most adorable kitten I've ever seen” to having “more faces to love” and being a gift from God “to remind us that we are all special and different, but still deserve love.”
More critical notes included Biscuit being a “poor little one” who’s “too creepy looking” or suggesting that the two-faced enigma “must be a politician.”
Either way, many commenters asked if Biscuit was going up for sale. One person even offered $500 for the kitten. The Kings said their family is too attached to let Biscuit go, but they’ll be giving away its brothers and sisters once they’re big enough.
“I was excited,” said their 9-year-old son, Owen.
Many Janus cats don’t live past a few days, which the Kings said they’ve explained to Owen and their 4-year-old daughter, Finley. Either way, the Kings agreed, they’ll care for Biscuit as long as they can.
The oldest known cat with the same congenital disorder was Guinness World Record-holder Frank and Louie. The Massachusetts cat died in 2014 after a full life of 15 years. He was lucky, though, because the condition did not badly alter his vital organs.
Biscuit has not been seen by a vet just yet, but Warnock said a physical exam would be crucial if Biscuit lives longer than expected.
“It's important to identify if this little guy has anything like that that would make him sick or cause him suffering,” she said. “How many brains? How many working airways? Does he have a cleft palate? That will tell us a lot about which functions each (face) can do.”
Until they can get Biscuit to a vet, King said, she’ll be facing some sleepless nights to make sure the kitten is properly cared for. Biscuit’s mom has already begun rejecting her deformed offspring; in the wild it’s normal for the weakest baby to fall by the wayside. So King has been snuggling with and tube-feeding Biscuit.
Warnock said people shouldn’t be too quick to judge Biscuit’s book by its cover. Biscuit has a bit of a bobblehead because its faces are too heavy and its body is growing a bit more slowly than those of its brothers and sisters. Other than that, Biscuit seems to be doing just fine.
“If a two-headed kitten wants to eat, nap and play, even if he's not as coordinated or ‘pretty’ as a standard model cat,” Warnock said, “why shouldn't he be given the opportunity to do so?”
Reporter Nia Tariq can be reached at email@example.com.