When the National Kitten Coalition found this kitten living among a group of feral cats, she was scarily thin. But while the kitten was in the care of its staff, they noticed that her lack of weight wasn’t her weirdest ailment. No, the oddest thing about her was the change that occurred to her face.
The National Kitten Coalition is a non-profit organization that aims to increase the survival rates of rescue kittens. Indeed, the organization warns that “kittens too young to eat on their own or too young for adoption are one of the largest groups of animals euthanized every year in animal shelters across the United States.”
Its ultimate goal, therefore, is to lower these numbers through education and training. And to do this, it guides people such as animal shelter workers on how to provide good, cost-effective care.
The coalition does not provide aid for kittens, besides educating those further down the line of care. However, it does state that “many of [its] staff and volunteers foster for shelters and rescue groups.”
Susan Spaulding is a co-founder of the organization. She works as an instructor and the director of its neonatal program. Her profile on its website explains that Spaulding set up the coalition after she became frustrated with the lack of training or real-world experience available to animal professionals caring for kittens.
To rectify this lack of knowledge, then, she started doing her own research. Now Spaulding specializes in newborn orphaned kittens and those that need specialist care. And that includes the odd little kitten with a condition affecting her face.
When the Kitten Coalition found the poorly looking kitten, the group was implementing a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) project in Gainesville, Virginia. The kitty was living among other feral cats and did not appear to have a mother.
Speaking to Scribol, Spaulding says the kitten had “a large gash on her left side and two puncture wounds on her right side.” The group also found the animal some way away from the main group of cats. From this, they assumed that “an animal had carried her off and for some reason dropped her.”
The three-week-old kitten was then taken into care and named Gaia. Although the puncture wounds had healed on the surface, some large abscesses underneath told a different story. Gaia also had a slight upper respiratory infection (URI), which caused her to sneeze, cough and appear somewhat drowsy.
And although the gash down her left side healed relatively quickly, the abscesses on her right took longer. Spaulding tells Scribol, “In the meantime, for some unknown reason, she began losing her hair and had some severe diarrhea.”
It was this loss of hair that created the dramatic change in Gaia’s face. Spaulding told Love Meow, “It was touch and go for about a week, and she became our ‘alien’ when she lost a lot of her hair.”
They were also unsure what was causing the loss of hair and other symptoms, such as weight loss. So Spaulding put Gaia on the “Fading Kitten Protocol” in an attempt to bring her back to health. This regime aims to re-establish a kitten’s immune system and has seen a 90 percent survival rate.
Happily, then, the kitten’s immune system became stronger, and she was soon eating solid food again. And after about two and a half weeks, the fur that she’d lost from her head and belly had grown back. It was clear that Gaia was feeling better.
Yet although all of her hair has now grown back, Gaia will always look a little different from other cats. For one thing, she has a half-tail that tapers into a corkscrew shape at the end. Secondly, she is polydactyl on her front paws.
You see, most cats have five toes on their front paws and four on their back. However, as a polydactyl cat, Gaia has extra toes on her front paws, likely the result of a genetic mutation passed down through a dominant gene from her parents.
While the trait of having extra toes can occur in any cat, it is more prevalent in certain areas of the world, including in parts of England and the United States. The fact that polydactyl cats are so diffuse may be down to them being popular at one time on ships. Indeed, sailors liked to think that they brought good luck.
The genetic mutation can make cats appear to have a thumb – albeit one that is not opposable. So we don’t need to worry about cats running off with our milk, like the ones in a famous Cravendale commercial.
Interestingly, in the 1930s a sea captain gave author Ernest Hemingway a kitten with the mutation. The moggy, Snow White, went on to have many polydactyl kittens, too. Some of their relatives now live at the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West, Florida. And today, polydactyl cats are sometimes referred to as “Hemingway cats.”
Luckily for Gaia, then, the condition is usually not detrimental to a cat’s health. In fact, in Gaia’s case, it adds to her quirky appearance; the extra thumb appears to give the kitten an adorable, mitten-like hand.
With her fur all grown back, her bright blue eyes and her cute mitten feet, Gaia surely won’t struggle to find someone to love her. And Susan Spaulding agrees, telling Scribol, “She is still in foster care with me but [is] almost ready to return to rescue to start looking for her forever home.”