‘Unicorn’ kitten, born intersex, adopted from Oregon shelter


Central Oregon veterinarians are excited about a rare tortoiseshell kitten that was brought into a shelter earlier this spring, and adopted into a new family last Friday.

That’s because the kitten, Cinder, was born intersex, with both male and female genitals.

The Central Oregon Humane Society announced the news about about the kitten on Friday, saying it was like “spotting a unicorn.”

“Even though I’ve only been in the veterinary field for nine years, this very well could be a once-in-a-career moment,” Bailey Shelton, clinic manager at the shelter, said in a news release. “They always talked about how rare male tortoiseshells are back in school, but seeing one in person is something else.”

Due to a stroke of genetics, tortoiseshell colored cats, known for their swirling coats of black and orange, are almost always female. And while Cinder does have some female genitals, including what appears to be a vulva, the shelter said, it does not have a uterus or ovaries, born instead with a pair of testicles (which have since been removed).

Crystal Bloodworth, medical director for the shelter, said now that Cinder has been neutered, it will grow up appearing to be female. However, given its anatomy at birth, the shelter has opted to label the kitten as male.

“To call it a male is tough, but with the binary nature of animals and people’s perception of animals, we chose male,” Bloodworth said.

While rare, incidents of hermaphroditism in cats is not unheard of, the shelter said. Like humans, intersex cats can be born with many variations of both male and female genitalia. This cat likely has three chromosomes, XXY, with two Xs that allow for the tortoiseshell coloring and a Y that allows for the testicles.

Cinder was brought into the central Oregon shelter in April, part of a litter relinquished by a local cat owner. The kitten, presumed to be female, was taken into a foster home and named Cindi. Veterinarians discovered the male genitals during a routine spay surgery, after which the cat was renamed Cinder.

Perhaps owing to the cat’s rare genetics, there were several families interested in adopting Cinder, the Human Society of Central Oregon said. On Tuesday, the shelter announced that Cinder had been adopted into a new home.

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