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Two-faced Cat Lives for 15 Years! It’s Not Fiction

Posted December 10, 2014 in A Vet's Life

Louie was a cat that couldn’t purr. Frank was a cat only able to see out of one eye and did all of the eating. Both shared the same head and body. News broke recently on Telegram.com (Kim Ring) that the world’s oldest two-faced cat, Frank and Louie of Worcester, Massachusetts, died at the seasoned age of 15. Yes, you read that correctly, a cat with two faces lived to be 15. And yes, there have been other cases of cats born with two faces, like this one from National Geographic about a cat named Duecy. So what’s the story with two-faced cats?

What causes a cat to have two faces?
Frank and Louie, as their guardian, Martha Stevens, called them, were the victim(s) of a cruel genetic aberration known as “diprosopus,” which literally means “two-faced” in Greek. Two-faced mammals are most commonly referred to as “Janus twins.” “Janus” denoting the Roman god Janus depicted with two faces to symbolize beginnings and ends. It’s important to note that Janus twins aren’t conjoined twins. Conjoined twins are the result of fusion or incomplete separation of two embryos. Janus twins, according to Genetics Home Reference, are thought to be the result of a genetic mistake caused by abnormal activity of the sonic hedgehog protein (SHH) during development. If you’re wondering, yes, the protein was named after the videogame. I don’t get it, either. 

SHH is significant in determining how facial features are spaced out and patterned. If too much SHH is secreted, the face becomes wider and can result in duplication of eyes, noses and mouths; then cats such as Frank and Louie are born. Most animals with diprosopus are stillborn or die shortly after birth. This is typically due to massive internal organ and brain abnormalities (SHH is also involved with normal brain development). 

Frank and Louie’s outermost eyes were functional, reports Kim Ring. The middle shared eye was thought to be blind and nonfunctional. Chances are Frank and Louie suffered at least some mental challenges secondary to diprosopus, based on studies of other animals and humans, like this one found on RSNA.org. Most surviving Janus twins apparently only have one brain so both faces of the two-faced cat would’ve most likely shared all activities, thoughts, and feelings. 

Frank and Louie were fortunate they shared a mouth (Louie was born without a lower jaw), esophagus, and probably a trachea (windpipe). A two-faced pig, Ditto, lived to adulthood but died of aspiration pneumonia after food from one mouth was inhaled while breathing through his “other” muzzle. Surviving as a two-faced cat is tricky business. Had it not been for the commitment and constant care of her dedicated guardian, the chances of Frank and Louie surviving 15 years would be nearly zero. The story of the two-faced cat is a testament to the power of the human-animal bond, plain and simple. 

When I encounter stories such as Frank and Louie, the two faced cat, two things stand out to me: 

  1. How most stories focus on the “monster,” “shocking,” and “freakish” nature of the condition
  2. How incredibly caring most pet guardians are, even when faced with overwhelmingly uncertain odds.

Frank and Louie’s guardian, Martha Stevens is a hero in my book. She took a gamble in 1999, while on staff at Tufts, on a kitten thought to have only a few days to survive. She hand-fed, loved, and provided a safe and warm home for 15 years. She endured innumerable gasps, gawks and criticisms. She proves once again in the power of love to triumph over all odds. In the end, I’ll bet Martha gained so much more than she ever gave Frank and Louie. That’s how love works; you get what you give. I’d like to give Martha a hug and my sincerest condolences. I’d also like to thank her for reinforcing the role our pets play in our lives. Rest in peace, Frank and Louie. You were loved.

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Ernie has more than 20 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a well-known veterinarian, media personality and author. He is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.

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The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author's and do not necessarily represent the beliefs, policies or positions of all veterinarians, Pet Health Network, IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. or its affiliates and partner companies.