Duo the two-faced cat loves to play and have her belly rubbed but, unlike most felines, she is a Janus cat. Named after the Roman god of past and future, the word Janus indicates the presence of two faces.
Born with four eyes, two mouths and two noses, Duo is now approaching two years old. An impressive feat as most Janus cats rarely survive for long due to their incredibly rare and often life-threatening condition.
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Duo however was lucky, as she was adopted by a veterinarian called Dr Tran who had the knowledge needed to help her through the difficult early stages of her kittenhood. Dr Tran has many years of experience caring for neonatal kittens, so when he got a call back in 2019 from an animal rescue center in Colorado about a kitten who had been rejected by its mother and was in need of help, he was happy to come to the rescue.
He told Meow that "There was little doubt in my mind that I would do all I could to help her survive," and Duo's been in his care since she was just three hours old. And yes, he chose the name Duo because of her two faces.
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It was no small undertaking keeping Duo alive, as Janus cats typically don't live for very long after being born. Dr Tran had to feed her via a tube into her throat around the clock every 2 to 3 hours for the first three months before she started to gain weight. This was while Dr Tran was also working as a full-time vet!
Eventually Duo learnt to eat on her own, using both her mouths! However, this caused a lot of infections in her joined middle eyes as they were regularly exposed to her food. It turns out that two mouths fighting to get at food can be a messy experience.
Dr Tran, fearing for her health and knowing how much pain the regular chronic eye infections were causing her, chose to surgically remove these non-functional two eyes and correct the upturned eyelids of her outer eyes. Pleasingly, she recovered from the surgery successfully and Duo is now free from pain, better coordinated while moving around and fighting fit.
Speaking to Inside Edition, Dr Tran says: "Raising Duo has been an incredibly rewarding experience, and at the same time, incredibly challenging."
He adds: "She may have her disability, she may have her challenges, but she loves life, she loves to play, she takes whatever is thrown at her and makes the best of it.'
What is a Janus cat?
Janus, also known as craniofacial duplication or Diprosopus, is a very rare congenital condition where a cat's body and limbs develop normally, but their facial features are duplicated. The cause of the condition isn't completely understood, but it seems to be due to an overabundance of the bizarrely named Sonic Hedgehog protein.
In mammals, the Sonic hedgehog protein is responsible for controlling left-right symmetry during an animal's early development in the womb, and when it is present at too high a level it causes the face to spread wider than is usual and this can trigger duplication of the facial features. If there is too little then cyclopia results – where only one central eye develops.
In case you are wondering, the Sonic Hedgehog protein IS named after the Sega character. When researchers were testing the effects of the protein on fruit fly larvae they noticed they would become spiky. One of the researcher's children's favorite cartoon characters at the time was the spiky blue hedgehog and the protein was named after the way the larvae resembled Sonic.
What is a Janus cat like?
Janus cats behave like normal cats, but because of their extra features often have difficulty in eating and navigating their way around furniture. Due to Duo's corrective surgery her coordination is almost that of a normal cat, and the only difficulty she has in feeding is when she wants to eat with both mouths at the same time!
How rare are Janus cats?
Janus cats are extremely rare, mainly because many are stillborn, or due to complications like cleft palates they can find eating incredibly difficult. Because of this when they do survive into adulthood they often make the news.
The longest lived Janus cat is Frankie and Louis who made it to the grand old age of 15, despite owner Veterinary nurse Martha Stevens being told he wouldn't live longer than a couple of days. Franke and Louis, or Frankenlouis, became a Guiness world record holder at 12.
Owner Stevens loved the fact that from a distance people wouldn't know they weren't looking at a run-of-the-mill cat. She laughingly told The Toronto Star: “It was funny because people would walk up to him thinking it's a nice, fluffy white cat and they're walking up with a big smile on their face to pat him, like, 'Oh, what a beautiful cat' and I see a look of horror come over their faces when they actually see his face.” She added "Every day I just thanked God I still had him."
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Jamie Middleton is a freelance editor and writer who has been editing and creating content for magazines and websites for over 20 years. As well as writing about the pets he loves, he has helped create websites about tech and innovation like TechRadar.com, Innovate UK and TechSPARK, written programmes for music festivals, books on inventions and architecture, TV listings magazines, and edited publications about cars such as Lexus, Toyota and Jaguar. In his spare time he writes fiction books and poetry - or at least he does when he is permitted to by his cat Pirate, who enjoys the warmth of laptops too much to allow being creative to get in the way.