A cat charity in the United Kingdom was surprised to discover that a homeless kitten they took in was neither male nor female.
Veterinarians originally thought Hope, the tabby and white kitten, was female when the animal arrived at the Cats Protection rescue center in Warrington, England, according to a blog post from the organization. Upon examination, veterinarians realized the cat had no internal or external sex organs.
This rare condition is likely a case of agenesis, the absence or failure of organ development, says Fiona Brockbank, Cats Protection’s senior field veterinary officer, in the blog. She and her colleagues have never seen a cat with this trait, and Brockbank also has not found any documentation of a cat born without sexual organs in scientific literature, reports The Telegraph’s Joe Pinkstone. This has lead veterinarians to think Hope may be the world’s first documented case of a gender-neutral cat.
“There’s an outside possibility of some ectopic ovarian tissue hiding away internally but we think this is extremely unlikely,” Brockbank says in the blog. “This is so rare that there isn’t really a commonly used term for this condition, but it is effectively sexual organ agenesis.”
Hormonal imbalances have caused lionesses to grow manes, a trait usually reserved for male lions that have reached puberty, and there are some uncommon instances of cats being born with both male and female sex organs, known as hermaphrodite cats. But having no sex organs at all is extremely rare, reports IFL Science’s Eleanor Higgs.
Brockbank says in the blog that the cat charity spent time examining Hope to ensure they could normally urinate and defecate before putting them up for adoption. Lisa Carver, a multidisciplinary health researcher at Queen’s University in Canada, tells Newsweek’s Jess Thomson, “it seems that the cat is able to engage in bodily functions (urination is especially relevant in this case) and is otherwise healthy, which suggests that the prognosis for a healthy life is good.”
Goran Strkalj, an anatomist and biological anthropologist at Flinders University in Australia, tells Newsweek that Hope won’t have the ability to reproduce, but that’s likely to be the only effect of this condition as long as the kitten has no health issues.
Though Hope is the first kitten with no sex organs that the cat charity has seen, a hermaphrodite kitten named Bellini was admitted to a Cats Protection rescue center in St Helens, England, in 2016, reports Lily Wakefield for Pink News. Bellini was soon adopted alongside their sister named Daiquiri.
Hope was described as playful, and the kitten easily charmed the staff at the rescue center in Warrington before being moved to another Cats Protection center in Tyneside, England, per the blog.
Beni Benstead, the manager of the Cats Protection center in Tyneside, says in the blog it has been exciting to discover Hope’s unique anatomy. The shelter staff have never seen a case like Hope and aren’t likely to ever again, Benstead says. “Hope has been a delight to care for, and it is fantastic that they are now ready to be adopted,” Benstead says in the blog. “We know they will bring someone many years of fun and companionship.”
After being cleared for adoption, Hope has since been taken home by Jessi Bennett, an animal behaviorist at Newcastle University in England who works part-time at Cats Protection, reports the Telegraph. Bennett has since renamed Hope, giving them the name Beans. Bennett tells the publication she has been looking for a companion for her other cat, Morbius, and the energetic kitten was perfect.
“I thought we would be a great match, but I didn’t realize the rarity of what they had,” she tells the Telegraph. “We did know about it, but we didn't realize that this was the first known case. I didn’t choose the cat based on that… We are quite happy having our little gender-neutral cat.”