So, our little foster cat (likely to be permanent cat since really, who wants to adopt a cat with a history of an unknown neurological disorder that doesn’t like to be touched?) Murray has almost fully recovered from what we thought would be a terminal illness. You can read about his adventure here and here (and here) if you are so inclined. We took him to three doctors and no one had a very convincing explanation for what was happening. Except that it was neurological and it was getting worse. Poor little guy just laid in his little bed by the heater for over a month. But, we treated him with a homeopathic thing (which we were a little skeptical about – how could those three little tablets somehow heal a progressive neurological condition that was causing him not to be able to walk?). But, one week later, we noticed a marked improvement. Two months later he seems almost as good as new – maybe a little on the slow side but he was never the brightest bulb in the bunch. Although sometimes our alternative health vet seems a little just like “well, just keep and eye on [whatever cat is sick]” and just give them [fill in homeopathic remedy] thus far, we have fostered over 50 cats and kittens in five years and no one has died or had to have even a really expensive treatment. Phineas was the most expensive – he had to go to an eye specialist and other stuff for $500 (which, by the way, was covered by an animal loving reader of this blog!!!) and he ended up just fine and in a super loving home with only slight reduced vision. So three cheers for alternative medicine. Of course, can I prove that the homeopathic treatments work? No, but it does seem to correlate that within a week of the treatment the little cuddle monsters get better. For more information on alternative and complimentary veterinary medicine, please visit the American Holistic Veterinary Medicine Association,The Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy or The Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture. You can also find practitioners in your area on those sites.
Things are not good, not much worse, and they are also not conclusive. No one can even tell us if cerebellar hypoplasia is progressive or not. Our theory is that if it happens in utero when the mama cat is sick or if she is given a distemper shot (and this seems to be the claim), and it causes lack of development of part of the brain of the kittens, that it seems impossible for that to somehow “kick in” at age nine months as it did with Murray. How did that part of his brain function the first nine months when he was walking just fine and then all of a sudden worsen in the matter of a week? So, our theory is that doctors and people on the internet (whose doctors have diagnosed their cats with cerebellar hypoplasia) tend to use cerebellar hypoplasia to refer to a range of neurological problems that cause similar symptoms when the actual causes are very varied and unknown. So one doctor says it is CH, our alternative doctor is sort of like “try this homeopathic medicine and see what happens” and none of the doctors has any suggestion about the next steps, short of trying various natural remedies or doing a $1200 MRI. We don’t feel up to (and the shelter also doesn’t think we should) try to get a third opinion given the already substantial costs and tests we have already run that all came back normal. He is declining slightly – his walk gets worse and he sometimes looks a little hunched over – but he also still eats well, gets up and hangs out, and spends a lot of time following our other cat Gustav around trying to get him to cuddle him. We still hope that he will plateau and be just fine. If he worsens a lot more, we may try to go to another vet. We hope that the homeopathic, natural stuff will start to work. Keep him in your thoughts.
I wrote a day or two ago that our little foster cat Murray is having a hard time walking. We took him to the vet, and it could be worse, I suppose, and we might find out that it is. The vet has determined that Murray has cerebellar hypoplasia. I think. I thought that the vet made a very quick diagnosis and could not adequately explain why Murray’s walk has gotten much worse in the past few days since CH is supposed to be nonprogressive. The alternatives are not good either. So we can hope that it is CH which simply means that Murray will walk funny his whole life, but I have a feeling it will be worse. Poor little guy. Our shelter really likes the vet we go to, and he charges us only half price, but I’ve never had good experiences with him. He is super-quick to diagnose and always 100% sure of his diagnosis. And has been wrong in the past. The result is that usually we end up paying out of pocket to get a second opinion, which several times has been important for our little kitties, but if the vet would just listen better and not be so sure of himself, we wouldn’t have to do that. Sigh. Let’s just hope that, for Murray’s sake, he is right. I hope we’ll know more tomorrow after phone consults with other vets. :(
Murray said to thank you for writing nice comments about him and that he appreciates the support.
So, we took in a foster cat named Murray last summer after another foster home said that he was impossible to tame. He was found on the streets of Dorchester, MA as a kitten and all the cuddling of him didn’t seem to work like it did with other kitties. He is the only kitten we’ve ever had to wear gloves with because of biting. But he has improved. He even purrs sometimes when we pet him when he is half-asleep and he ADORES our semi-outcast cat, Gustav who none of the other cats like so well.
June passes, as does July. Come Christmas, Murray is still happily living with us, only letting us touch him when he is sleeping or eating, of course making it impossible to adopt him to a permanent home.
Wolfgang says to me, “Murray is such a cute little dum-diddle-dum.” Just sort of wandering through life, not knowing how good he has it, maybe not the brightest cat ever, and with this funny little waddle where his legs sort of fly out in every which way. But he loves Gustav so much and snuggles up to him and is clearly a happy little guy, enjoying eating a lot, and taking 8 naps a day.
Come mid-January, we are saying, “Gosh, do you think something is wrong with Murray’s legs? His walk does seem to get worse.”
And come yesterday, Murray was running away from me and he legs got all tangled up and he fell. Maybe just a slip?
Then eating his breakfast this morning, his legs were slipping out from under him. The vet said it isn’t an emergency, and tomorrow will be just as fine as today so we take him in tomorrow. I’m not sure if this is because they were just too busy and figured it is so dire, what difference does a day make? (Preliminary internet searches don’t paint a promising picture of back leg problems in cats.) But we can only go to this one vet because he only charges the shelter we volunteer for half-price, so we just wait until tomorrow.
As I was trying to lure Murray out from under the bed to check on him, I realized how much he has taught me. Wolfgang and I are just so worried about him. We want to make sure he isn’t in pain. Enough to eat? Does he want to rest in the nice warm cat bed by the heater? We want everything to be okay with him and for him to live a happy, good life. And it just made me think about all the animals that have sweet little personalities just like Mr. Murray who suffer so much and never get the sort of love and kindness that Murray has been able to get – Murray brings out the love in us – the caring, the compassion, and the selflessness. No small task to bring that out in humans which, in some respects, have a spotty record of caring, compassion, and selflessness, this human included! But, Mur says, “Hey, even though you were planning on going to a class at 1:30 tomorrow, this is the only time the vet could see me so you’ll just have to not take that class.” In their own ways, animals and other dependent creatures (like human children) call us to be our best selves – to care for those who need caring for, to attend to suffering, to give love.
For me, care for Murray and care for the suffering of other animals that have the ability to suffer are such important parts of my faith and my life. I know I am not a perfect and it is just a little part I can do. But, as much as it hurts me to see Murray’s little legs, I am so happy to be able to care for him, take him to the doctor, and give him extra treats. I just feel like so often we say, “Oh, what can we do about all the suffering of the world? All the misery?” And our little animal friends are sometimes teachers to us if we are wiling to listen.
So thanks Murray for letting me love you. And thanks for reminding me to love all animals the best I can who suffer just like you do with your little legs. I hope it is nothing and the vet makes you better.
10. Get your kitty a scratch board. Most of them come with catnip. It helps meet their need to scratch (helps your furniture, too) and they love it. Our kitties use them sort of like comfort blankets – when they are stressed or upset, they run to the scratch board, do some scratching, and then lay on it. (By the way, if you have considered declawing your cat (and thus he or she would have no need of a scratch board), this would rank very high on the list of ways to be NOT a better cat parent. You can read more here.)
9. Take at least 10 (if not more!) minutes a day to give your little cuddle bunny your undivided attention. I find that mindless petting is appreciated, but not sufficient. Just take some time to say “You are my focus.” Rubbing, gentle combing (if they like that), playing, mixed with sweet talk (“Yes you are the queen of the household!” or “Who is the smartest cat ever?”) goes a long way and is greatly appreciated.
8. Don’t let your cat outside. It may seem like they love the outdoors and would feel restricted inside, but explain to them that cats that go outdoors have a significantly shorter lifespan than indoor cats – surely they would prefer to live longer. They may meow at the door for a while, but they’ll get used to it and appreciate that they are not hit on the street, mauled by a possum or raccoon, the object of a prank by local kids, or whisked away by a coyote. I grew up with cats I LOVED that were outdoor and if you would like to hear one of my many horror stories about the way our outdoor cats met their ends as an inspiration to keep your kitty inside, let me know.
7. New toys. The old ones get boring. I highly recommend feather sticks* and things that sparkle.
6. If it is important to you that your kitty live as long as possible, consider feeding him or her good food. It is more expensive, but so much better than regular brand name foods that you get at the grocery store (unless you shop someplace like Whole Foods). Brands our holistic vet suggests are Pet Promise, Pet Guard, Wellness and Inova, and our cats like them all (more or less). If you buy mail order, bulk orders from places like www.petfooddirect.com can help save money. Watch out for the 22% off coupons sent to people on their email list ever few weeks and order only when you have one of those. Some people go as far as feeding their feline friends raw, fresh food, including thawed frozen mice, but this is a bit too much for us. (Note: Some people argue that cats can be healthy vegetarians. We are not convinced and not willing to risk our kitties’ health to test this out.)
5. Consider what vaccines are essential for your kitty, depending on whether or not he/she is indoor only, and is exposed to other cats. Over-vaccination has become a problem and appears to reduce lifespan and sometimes cause tumors. Ask your vet to check for antibody titers before vaccination boosters. You may not need to vaccinate as often as you think or with as many vaccinations as you think.
4. An occasional can of tuna goes a long way. Just don’t let the little monsters get too spoiled or else they won’t eat their other food.
3. Most cats like having a friend, especially if they spend a lot of time home alone. Introducing a new kitty can be tricky, but worth it. Read up on it before you do the big introduction. And, of course, always adopt from a shelter or from someone who is giving up his or her kitty – never from a breeder or pet store.
2. Keep that litter box super-clean. Cats have sensitive noses and no one likes to use the restroom while having to navigate around old poop!
1. Learn about cats. They have feelings, instincts, and ways of being that are way different than humans. Understanding them better will help you be a better cat parent.
Brought to you by Henry, the happiest cat in Washington D.C.:
*Re: the feather sticks – I am not sure of where the feathers on these toys come from. I am guessing that birds are not raised and killed for these feathers, but I am guessing they are actually from birds. Which can’t be good. Bonus for someone who can find a feather stick with either synthetic feathers or from lovingly raised and unharmed birds. Which brings up the issue of mouse toys with real mouse fur. We have gotten these second hand from friends with kitties and the cats do like them a lot. But we don’t buy them. While I don’t love the idea of real mice fur on toys, this is not the hill I will die on. Do as your heart leads you.