Lil Bub is probably the second most celebrated Internet cat after Grumpy Cat. Her name is a great success. Her appearance is characterised by her diminutive size and a tongue which is perpetually hanging out. She also has extra toes on each paw, no teeth and an undersized jaw. It has been found that Lil Bub owes her unique appearance to a rare genetic disease known as osteopetrosis.
My research, on the US National Library of Medicine website tells me that osteoporosis is a bone disease that makes bones abnormally dense and prone to breakage in humans. I believe that it is sometimes referred to as brittle bone disease. The disease also stunts growth hence Lil Bub’s small size.
In the case of Lil Bub we are told by owner Mike Bridavsky, in a conversation with the Conscious Cat’s Ingrid King, that by the time she was 18 months of age osteopetrosis had left her almost completely immobile. Apparently Lil Bub has relied upon electromagnetic field therapy to improve mobility.
Smithsonian.com says that Lil Bub is the only known cat on the planet who suffers from feline osteopetrosis. She’s described as the only “validated” case of feline osteopetrosis.
The only treatment for osteopetrosis in humans is a bone marrow transplant. Lil Bub’s symptoms are similar to those exhibited by humans with the same condition.
The research on Lil Bub’s DNA was funded by a crowdfunding campaign launched in 2015. There were almost 250 donors who contributed in all US$8,225 to the project which was nicknamed “TheLilBubome” after the word “genome”.
The extra toes are due to a mutation of the so-called Sonic Hedgehog gene (SHH gene) according to Smithsonian.com. Not sure how this squares up to the usual cases of polydactylism. The SHH gene ‘functions as a chemical signal that is essential for embryonic development’.
Is it worthwhile, in this article, to touch on the ethical issues? I will do it very briefly. Is it fair to make a celebrity out of a cat who suffers from a very serious and debilitating condition which affects her stature, mobility and bones? No doubt she gets very good treatment and care. I simply question, without passing judgement, whether it is fair and ethical to celebrate a cat under these circumstances. I suppose the testing question is whether we would do the same thing with a child? We would not. That explains a lot about the human to cat relationship.
No matter how people dress it up, Lil Bub is ‘only a cat’.
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