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Special Needs Cats: Cerebellar Hypoplasia

Jan 18, 2012 · Updated May 19, 2017 · ·
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  1. Anne
    Why would someone adopt a cat who cannot walk, climb into a litter box or hear? That’s easy—the cat was a gift - from Princess, the Mama Cat.

    When Paulette saw a white cat with one yellow eye and one blue eye at Animal Control, she tried to talk herself out of adopting. The cat was still there two days later and taking that as an omen, Paulette brought Princess home with her. A few days later, Paulette was surprised to see skinny little Princess give birth to four kittens, one black and three white.

    Rev is the black cat. He’s jaguar-like in his looks, very handsome but a little skittish. The white kittens all have a neurological problem—cerebellar hypoplasia or CH.

    What is cerebellar hypoplasia?

    The cerebellum is the part of the brain that works with balance, coordination and control of movements. If the cells do not mature normally before birth, cats can have varying degrees of balance and coordination problems, especially when walking or jumping.

    Pixie

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    Given the options of keeping the kittens, adopting them to CH experienced owners or euthanizing them, Paulette decided to keep them. Pixie has the worst case. She is also deaf due to a genetic defect often found in white cats.

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    Although Pixie can pull herself from place to place, her legs will not support a walk to the litter box so she gets baths. Pixie does not like baths. Paulette keeps Pixie on washable medical grade absorbency pads. Pixie has learned to yell (loudly!) when the pads need to be changed. With little control over her neck muscles, Pixie had trouble drinking from a bowl. A rabbit’s water bottle would let her drink, drop by drop. Pixie bypassed that and created her own solution. She pulls herself to the cat’s communal water fountain, sticks a paw in and splashes. She then drinks from her paw or the puddles she’s created. In Pixie’s mind, getting wet while drinking is different than getting wet while taking a bath.

    Egypt

    Mostly skin, bone and ears when first seen, the emaciated cat reminded Buffy Martin Tarbox of the art pictures she’d seen of Egyptian cats. Told the cat wouldn’t live to be a year old due to CH, Buffy adopted her anyway and was determined to make the most of their time together. She named the cat Egypt who fooled everybody and lived to be fourteen years old. Egypt could walk but used puppy training pads since her back legs wouldn’t support the climb into a litter box.

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    Egypt couldn’t jump but meowed when she wanted to be lifted onto the couch or bed. Her sweet disposition overcame her disability. Buffy says, “Whenever she would fall down, which was often, Egypt always found a way to get herself back up. We will definitely consider another special needs cat. Egypt taught me that no matter what happens in life, you always can find ways to pick yourself up and move ahead.”

    Floppy Cat

    If you’ve watched a toddler learn to walk, you’ve seen the bow-legged stance they take to keep their balance as they take off at high speeds. Floppy Cat did the same thing. With all four legs splayed out wide for a better center of gravity, tail straight up to act as a rudder, FC would head in the direction he wanted to go—and weave and wobble his way, zig-zagging along, toppling over now and again, but getting there in the end.

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    Floppy Cat’s person, Kari Kay, wrote a children’s book about his adventures. FC teaches children that different is not a bad thing—it’s just different. On her site, you can see video of Floppy Cat making his way across the yard.

    Adopting a CH Cat

    If you’re considering adopting a cat with CH, keep these things in mind—there are varying degrees of coordination and balance difficulties with this disease, some adjustments will need to be made like a litter box with a low entry or the use of pads, and most importantly, CH does not affect the personality of the cat. Cats are remarkably adaptable and, given a chance, will prove different is not a bad thing, it’s just different.


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    Jcatbird purraised this.

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  1. Jcatbird
    Awesome! It’s gratifying to know that these kitties are loved like all others. As mother to a special needs child and having had special needs fur babies it’s good to know that others are loved as much as mine have been. Advocating for them is important. I was very glad to find this here.
      Furballsmom purraised this.
  2. Anne
    @Wendy D
    Articles are our "evergreen" content and thus less interactive by nature. You are more than welcome to start a thread about your special cat in the forums, possibly the cat health forum, where it can be a dynamic conversation with other members.
  3. wendy d
    I see that this page hasnt been active in some years. I have SO enjoyed your stories! I have a CH cat, and she is my first one. She is the grey kitten in my picture. I have been so torn about what to do with this kitten. She has downgraded dramatically in the last 2 months. After reading all of this, I am going to dig my heels in and use some of the suggestions I have rad about!
    THANK YOU ALL, AND GOD BLESS YOU!!
      Jcatbird purraised this.
  4. seven7cats
    I share my life with a cat who has cerebellar hypoplasia. His name is "Charlie Brown," he is a brown mackeral tabby, and he is a SWEETHEART. He turned 12 on April 1, and I adopted him when he was 1 year old because I saw his picture in a newsletter and fell in love with him. His CH is not as serious as it is for "Pixie" or "Egypt," and he does get around very well and is able to use the litter box. He amazes me with his ability to actually get up on the bed or couch by launching himself with his back legs. He can easily lose his balance, however, because his back end carries most of his weight; and if the weight goes toward the back, he tumbles from wherever he is. I watch him when he's elevated so he doesn't go crashing to the ground. When he isn't up to doing that, he can pull himself up with his front legs, which is one reason I do not clip his nails. When I adopted "Charlie," I was told that one or two of his siblings also had CH; they were all born with it because their mother had distemper while she was carrying them. I feel absolutely blessed to have "Charlie" in my life. He actually has a very strong maternal instinct and gives my other cats baths and watches out for everyone. Every night he sleeps right next to me, and I awaken in the morning to find him wrapped around my arm or right next to my face. And you can hear his purr in the next room! When I first adopted him, he was a very adventurous 1-year old and took a tumble down my carpeted stairs (and scared the life out of me). Fortunately, he did not get hurt. I thought of getting a baby gate, but I read another blog where someone said that did not stop her cat. He is so smart though. He learned from that experience and never went near the top of the stairs again. Everyone who meets "Charlie" just falls in love with him; he is so sweet. He has huge eyes, and sometimes he just sits there and stares at me. Other than the CH, he doesn't seem to have any other health problems. That was a concern when I first met him as I didn't know if his condition would shorten his life. I completely understand when people encourage adopting "special needs" animals. The love they give back is incredible, and they are all so memorable! BTW, I share my life with 4 other cats besides "Charlie." My screen name is "Seven7Cats" in honor of other cats I've lived with who have since departed but whom I will never forget. Animals are the best!
      Jcatbird purraised this.
  5. rosiemac
    Awwww bless their little hearts. These stories are so moving but lovely at the same time
  6. cathyc
    Several years ago we took in a pregnant stray. She had five kittens of which two survived and we ended up having to bottle feed them. For those of you who have bottle fed kittens you know it's job. By the time we were weaning them we were totally attached to them. It was also at this time it became apparent that something was wrong with one of them. It took awhile but "Teddy" was finally diagnosed with CH. We were told by the vet that she probably wouldn't live long because hers was pretty severe and that we should euthanize her. I couldn't do it and decided to just let nature take its course. I tried to treat her as a special needs kitty but she wouldn't have any part of it. She was determined to do what she wanted to do. She couldn't walk well at all and mostly scooted and she certainly couldn't jump. However that little girl could climb. I lived in a townhouse apartment for the first few years of her life and you can't imagine my surprise when I came out of the shower one day and went into my bedroom and there she laid in the middle of my bed. I was totally shocked that she managed to get on my bed and then it dawned on me not only did she climb up on my bed she had also climbed up two flights of stairs to get to it!! I moved from that apartment because of her. I was terrified she would break her neck on those stairs and nothing I did would keep her off of them. Baby gates didn't deter her at all. She would climb to the top then just drop to the other side. She started having seizures one day and I really think it was from all the knocks to her little head but fortunately they were controlled by medicine. At this time I tried to keep her contained in a play pen to keep her head protected. That was a joke. She climbed out of that in about 2 minutes. That's when I decided to just let her be the "normal" cat she wanted to be with a few concessions. I kept pee pee pads out for her since she couldn't get in the litter box and a thick rug under a bar stool which is where she took her meals. She was the sweetest most loving cat I've ever had and I feel blessed to have had her. She passed away a couple of years ago and I still miss her terribly. Oh and btw that vet was wrong. She lived a lot longer than he ever thought she would. She died about 2 months before her birthday and on that birthday she would have been 18yrs old.
  7. ericsmom1000
    As one who has taken in the cats no one wants -- the old ones, the special needs -- it is heartwarming indeed to read of these special people who adopted CH cats. We need more like them. Cats who are not considered "normal" need homes, and we know that the odds of them finding that forever home are zero in kill shelters. Everyone wants the cute kitten -- plenty of those -- too many -- during kitten season, but no one wants the special needs or older cats.
    One of the saddest stories I ever saw was about a 12-year-old German Shepherd mix named Agnes. She was at a no kill shelter in upstate New York. The shelter contacted the local media to try to find her a home, but no one was interested. She died less than a year later of heart failure, and was buried on the shelter property. I think she died of a broken heart. She knew no one wanted her. This was part of a PBS documentary, and I never forgot it. To see her body wrapped in her favorite blanket as she was lowered in the ground was heartbreaking. I would have taken Agnes in a minute. Nearly 20 years ago, I took in a German Shepherd mix from a Los Angeles City Shelter who had marble-sized tumors all over his body. He was dumped in the street by his previous owners. I named him Joey. A shelter worker ridiculed me for taking that dog, referring to him as an "it." I made sure she didn't have a job after that, because the shelter employees knew I did rescue work, and didn't take kindly to anyway who made fun of my choice to dog and/or cat to take home. Needless to say, I made a big stink about this stupid woman, and the next time I went to that particular shelter, she was gone -- terminated.
    Joey lived for only a month, but he died surrounded by his lovng family, instead of being tossed in a barrel with the other euthanized animals. I have his ashes.
    Those of us who love animals need to work harder to get older and special needs animals placed in forever homes. In many ways, it's like getting older (above age two), special needs and sibling group children adopted. Everyone wants the infants.
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