Just because a pet has special needs doesn’t mean she won’t make a phenomenal pet. That’s the mantra of Lil Bub, an internet-famous cat who serves as a “spokes-feline” for the often-overlooked shelter pets who tend to require more TLC than the typical picks of the litter.
The tiny cat, who was adopted by Mike Bridavsky in 2011, was born with several genetic mutations that make her extra special. But she hasn’t let her differences slow her down.
The famous feline has been the subject of a documentary, runs her own web series and is a published author. She even has her own fund with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), which benefits pets with special needs.
Most recently, in April 2019, Bub the Cat teamed up with Scoop Away litter to have her face grace the boxes of a limited run of cat litter, all in the name of funding animal welfare initiatives.
Pet Central caught up with Bridavsky to hear how this little cat came to make a big difference in the lives of others.
How did you find Lil Bub?
Bub came into my life late summer of 2011. I had just moved into a new apartment [with] my four cats, and my friend sent me a photo of this very unusual looking cat, which fascinated me.
She was discovered as the runt of the litter in rural Indiana. She was found by my best friend’s girlfriend’s sister’s roommate’s boyfriend’s mom in a tool shed. [They] bottle fed her, then she bounced around with another friend. They messaged me because I was known for taking in misfit cats.
I had to meet her. I knew she would require special care—she weighed half a pound at 8 weeks old, but we fell in love immediately and I took her home 15 minutes later.
What makes her so unique and special from other cats?
Well, one thing is she’s from space, so that’s already unique and special. [laughing]
She is polydactyl on all of her paws, which means she has an extra digit on each of her four paws, which is rare in and of itself, but to [be] polydactyl on both the front and hind feet is pretty strange.
She also only weighs about 3 3/4 pounds fully-grown.
Lil Bub is the only cat in recorded history to be diagnosed with osteopetrosis, which is a very rare genetic bone condition; it’s sort of the opposite of osteoporosis. Her bones become harder and twisted [as she grows older], and she has almost no marrow cavity, which has affected her mobility. There are about five different forms of osteopetrosis, but fortunately Lil Bub has one of the least life-threatening forms of the disease.[As a result of her condition,] her teeth never grew in, [and] she has an underdeveloped lower jaw, which causes her tongue to stick out. Her eyes are like three times the size they should be for her skull.
All these [anomalies] add up to this really fantastic-looking creature.
Each one of these traits is exceptionally rare, so to have several in one living animal is [a] geneticist’s dream. [Recently], a team of geneticists sequenced her entire genome and made some really interesting discoveries.
What did they find out?
They found out that none of Lil Bub’s genetic anomalies are linked; they all are unique to each other. And they were able to trace back to determine that she is a descendant of Hemingway’s cats, which were all polydactyl. They also were able to determine the chromosomes responsible for her bone condition and exactly what type of osteopetrosis she has.
When you got Lil Bub, you were aware that she might require some extra care. Did you take her to the vet right away and come up with a plan?
The first thing I did was call my mobile vet, Dr. Arthur Woodruff. Up front he said, “This is the weirdest cat I’ve ever seen in my life.” Those were his exact words. [Then] he said, “You’re probably right. She’s so unusual on the outside, it would only make sense that there would be something unusual about her on the inside as well.”
But we didn’t know what that would be. We did tests and her results were normal. She was [a] very healthy, active kitten.
It wasn’t until she was about a year old, shortly after she started getting famous, that I noticed she was having a hard time moving around. One time I came home [and] she couldn’t walk at all. That’s when I got really scared, and we took her to a specialist.
He did X-rays and determined that Lil Bub has osteopetrosis. We got lucky that he was able to determine this [because] it’s been diagnosed in humans, rats and cows, but never in a cat. For that reason, the specialist had no idea what to do about it.
We felt helpless. Based on the limited amount of information that this specialist knew, he said Bub [had] maybe three to six months left to live. It was a pretty tough spot, but I wasn’t giving up.
They gave her pain medicine, but it was making it worse, so I tried anything I could. Reiki was offered as something that could work, [so,] I found a Reiki practitioner who would come every day. Bub really loved the treatments and was responding to them. I saw the light come back into her eyes, and she was starting to move a bit.
Then we discovered a [wearable] device called the Assisi Loop, which uses pulse electromagnetic field therapy [to treat pain and inflammation]. You turn it on and it sends electromagnetic pulses [to the target area] for 15 minutes. And that is what really saved her life, honestly.
As soon as I put it on [her], Lil Bub started twitching aggressively. I panicked, thinking something was going wrong. She was spinning in circles because her muscles were twitching so severely. It turns out [her reaction] was from the blood flow; [the device] encourages blood flow.
Within a week of using the Assisi Loop, Lil Bub was able to stand up for the first time in months. A few weeks later, she was able to walk. We were told she would stop eating within months, and now she’s climbing stairs, running [and] jumping. It’s pretty amazing!
It’s been seven years, and we give it to her every day.
How does Lil Bub help other pets in need?
Bub has been an advocate for animal awareness, specifically for special-needs pets, for a long time. When Bub became famous, I thought that was her mission in the first place.
Special-needs pets are the hardest to adopt and the first to get euthanized. The [hardest] thing is getting the word out about what it means to care for a special-needs pet and to make people aware that special-needs pets make wonderful pets. So we developed Lil Bub’s Big Fund, which was the first national fund for [homeless pets with] special needs. It’s a partnership with the ASPCA.
Editors’ Note: To date Lil Bub has helped raise $427,615 dollars for her Big Fund.
You and Lil Bub recently teamed up with Scoop Away to raise awareness about homeless and special-needs pets. Tell us about that.
You can probably imagine that Bub gets asked to do a lot of stuff. What made Scoop Away Litter stand out was that they were so drawn to Bub because of her work with raising awareness and money for special needs pets. They wanted to join us in our efforts and help us raise money for the fund. We thought it was a perfect opportunity to get this messaging out to a much broader audience of pet parents.
Editors’ Note: As part of their partnership, Lil Bub is featured on limited editions of Scoop Away boxes. In exchange, Scoop Away has donated $5,000 to Lil Bub’s Big Fund. Lil Bub boxes are available while supplies last.
How has Lil Bub opened your eyes as a pet parent to special-needs pets?
I’ve learned a lot about what people think about special-needs pets and how people aren’t aware of, in some ways, how easy it can be to care for them. We tell people that even if you adopt a healthy cat, she eventually will develop special needs.
Senile cats fall under the category of special-needs pets. Your cat can get sick, your cat can get hurt. You need to be prepared for anything, because whether you adopt a pet with special needs from the start or not, eventually they probably will develop some special needs.
Bub helps take the stigma away from it or the fear. She is sort of the extreme. She requires a lot of care and many vet visits, yet she is a published author and a talk show host and more. In fact, at every shelter we’ve worked with, special-needs adoptions have gone up considerably following Bub getting the word out about it.
At the same time, it’s important for people to know that caring for a special-needs pet might not be for everyone. The last thing we want is for someone to adopt a special-needs pet just because they look cuter, [especially] if they don’t have the resources, the money or the right personality to care for a pet like that because there’s heartbreak involved.
Bub will not live as long as a typical cat, so those are all things to consider. I think our job is to make sure we get the word out about it and encourage people to make the right decision.
What is Bub’s personality like around the house?
First of all, she’s one of the sweetest cats. She loves human contact. A lot of cats do, but hers is very specific. If you lay down on the ground, she will waddle up, lay down on you, start purring and take a nap.
She can get a little playful if you really get her going, but to be perfectly honest, her favorite things are to eat and to sleep. She’s living the American dream!
She lives with her brother Spooky. [Spooky] came with my wife, Stacy, so when we moved in together [about six years ago], they moved in together.
Spooky is rambunctious, and he’s huge. You can fit four Bubs into one Spooky. And Spooky basically sees Bub as a toy.
This very smart cat also knows that if [he wants] us to get him something, he just needs to bop Bub on the head. When we say, “hey, stop it,” then he knows he has our attention and we feed them. It’s been a tumultuous relationship for sure.
Has he grown on her at all?
Yeah. They’ve coexisted for almost six years now, so it’s like the odd couple. It’s heartwarming, but they’re always fighting.
What are some of Bub’s favorite toys and treats?
Her favorite toy is her own mind. She’s very intellectual and likes to meditate. Without a doubt, her favorite treat is yogurt, particularly Brown Cow yogurt … She goes crazy for it.
We [also] make what I call Bub Soup, where we take wet food and mix it in with water. [Because Bub’s] jaw is underdeveloped, she can’t really get to the kibble.
Lil Bub is a published author, hosts a show and is featured in many media outlets. What are some of her greatest moments?
“Lil Bub’s Big Show” started as a web series. It’s a talk show hosted by Bub [where] she interviews guests, including Whoopi Goldberg, Michelle Obama and Andrew W.K.
She [also] starred in the documentary “Lil Bub & Friendz,” which debuted at Tribeca. She got to meet and be held by Robert De Niro. How many people [can] say that?
Bub the Cat is a published author and her debut album charted on the Billboard charts—she’s pretty excited about that. And she’s got her face on millions of Scoop Away litter boxes. She was in a Hollywood movie, “Nine Lives.” She’s [even] in a Christmas movie called “I’ll Be Next Door for Christmas.”
You’ve said Bub got famous by accident. How did this happen?
I didn’t try to make her famous; this was before the celebrity pet world was such a big deal. I just took pictures of her and shared them on my Facebook page like I did with my other cats. But she obviously was special, and I knew it. I was enamored with her as [much as] people are when they have their first child; I couldn’t believe she existed.
A friend suggested I start a blog, which I thought was silly but also [believed] this cat deserved a blog. So I created The Bub Blog [for] fun, sort of ironic and silly, but also to honor the most amazing creature on the planet: Bub. It just grew and grew from friends sharing with friends.
Then one of the photos went viral. That led to Buzzfeed writing an article, which led to “Good Morning America” asking us to come on, which led to Vice wanting to do a documentary. Serendipitously, Grumpy Cat got famous a few months after that, which let Bub fulfill her destiny as an undercat.
As things continued, we’ve done so much stuff. I made a rule that I don’t actively pursue any opportunities, and I still don’t. It all has to be on Lil Bub’s terms and must have a charitable aspect to it, whether it’s awareness or raising money for special-needs or homeless pets. I [also must] have full creative control over anything we do. Bub can’t defend herself, so it’s my job to make sure everything meets her highest standards. And it’s kept going like that for seven years now.
Nicole Pajer is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and the proud owner of a Doberman who never runs out of energy and a rat terrier who excels at breakdancing. In addition to Chewy, she writes for The New York Times, Parade, HuffPo, Woman’s Day, Billboard, and more. Keep up with her adventures on Twitter @NicolePajer