Hermaphrodite cats are very rare. A British vet in Plymouth says that such a condition is only seen, a maximum of, a handful of times during the working life of the average veterinarian. An alternative and probably preferred word for hermaphrodite is ‘intersex’.
‘Marbles’ is a black-and-white random bred cat, and one such cat. I’ll call Marbles ‘she’ in this article because she was adopted as a female. The couple who adopted her, Claire Gibley, 46, and Tom Minns, 25, noticed that she was amorous towards their other cat Bella. As that behavior did not add up, they asked a vet’s opinion.
The vet diagnosed her as an hermaphrodite cat. This means she has both male and female reproductive organs due to a chromosomal abnormality.
The question the couple have is what to do next. It seems that the vet has advised them the Marbles will have to be one sex or the other by removing one set of reproductive organs.
The choice is made on analysing the predominant sex of the cat and then removing the ‘secondary’ reproductive organs. A genetic test is carried out to see if Marbles is essentially a ‘she’ or a ‘he’. Marbles is infertile. Fortunately, the name is neutral so it will not need to be changed.
As mentioned, hermaphrodite cats are rare. Another example, from 2005, is a ginger cat owned by Carol Gravley. She emailed Sarah Hartwell (a cat geneticist) about her cat. Carol explained that he developed testicles and was neutered. Then a few weeks later he was spayed because she showed signs of being in heat (estrus).
In this example, the cat was judged to be a ‘functional female’ with the physical reproductive attributes of a male. She is now described as having the physical appearance of an ‘abnormal female’.
Sarah writes that there is a range of reasons why a female cat has testicles. Tissue testing is required to decide whether it is ‘chimerism’ or a chromosomal abnormality. Chimerism is rare in which the chromosomal population of a single organism is mixed.
This is a complex subject and there are wide range of sex abnormalities once of which is described as XX Hermaphrodite (sex reversal). This is inherited and can be due to a Y-chromosome gene being on an autosome instead of on the Y-chromosome. The cat is female genetically and appears ‘intersex’. There is some testicular tissue ‘in one of both gonads’. The amount of masculine appearance depends on the amount of testicular tissue.
Some groups of animals such as some species of snails are normally hermaphrodites. Either party can play the role of male or female.
Sources: Mirror online newspaper – Featureworld website – Wikipedia – Messybeast.com