2017-01-26 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

“Bobbles” is a six-month-old kitten with cerebellar hypoplasia (aka “CH”) at Babylon Shelter. The condition sounds more frightening than it is, especially when a cat’s disability is mild to moderate.

This “Pets” is an attempt to convince you CH kitties, like “Bobbles”, can be great pets. Their symptoms don’t worsen and they have normal life spans. CH cats also tend to be quite affectionate.

What is CH? Cerebellar hypoplasia is a non-life threatening condition that occurs when the cerebellum does not fully develop in kittens before birth. The cerebellum is the part of the cat’s brain responsible for fine motor skills and can affect the cat’s ability to walk, jump, run, judge distance or perform a task with coordination.

Symptoms of CH vary in severity depending on the level of underdevelopment. In some cats, effects will be minor and only occur when the cat is excited or under stress. In others, the symptoms will be always present and may affect the daily routine. Feline CH symptoms appear at birth and may include: stumbling or wobbly gait often referred to as a “drunken sailor” walk; inability to jump to high surfaces; tremors in head or neck; trembling or exaggerated motion of legs and inability to stand. The symptoms do not progress as the cat ages and may lessen if the cat learns to compensate.

What causes CH in cats? If a litter’s Mom was exposed to the virus — or the vaccine — for panleukopenia (aka “feline distemper”) late in her pregnancy, the developing kittens’ brains can be affected. But not every kitten in a panleukopenia-exposed litter will develop CH or at the same severity. The condition can also be caused by prenatal trauma, including malnutrition or toxins.

How is CH diagnosed in cats? To do a thorough diagnosis, other neurological conditions, including rabies, must be ruled out. In shelters where the medical history of a new kitten is unknown, rabies is eliminated by observing the kitten for 10 days. (Only dead animals can be definitively tested for rabies.)

To get a positive diagnose the kitten would need an MRI or CAT scan of its brain but these tests can be cost-prohibitive for shelters, rescues and most owners. A veterinarian familiar with CH should be able to diagnose without these expensive tests.

If a cat develops CH-type symptoms suddenly, the cat does not have CH because this occurs at birth. Epilepsy and some infectious diseases may mimic the weakness presented by CH. A veterinarian will conduct a physical exam, including a blood chemistry profile, blood count, electro- lyte panel, parasite screening and urinalysis to rule out other causes related to infection of the brain, or damage due to toxins in the environment.

What is the treatment for CH? Currently there is no known treatment to cure a CH cat. Many cats learn to adapt to their loss of fine motor skills over time. In some cases, physical therapy may help teach the cat alternate skills that increase mobility and quality of life. Kittens with severe CH benefit from inexpensive pet wheelchairs.

Are anesthesia and spay/ neuter safe for CH cats? Gas anesthesia is best for CH cats because pet patients wake up and recover faster from gas, decreasing the risk of unpleasant side effects. Therefore, spay/neuter can be performed without issue. “Bobbles” at Babylon Shelter is neutered, micro-chipped, vaccinated and FeLV/FIV tested.

What other health issues or conditions do CH cats have? CH cats are more prone to chipping their teeth, and may get injured more frequently from tumbling off furniture. Otherwise, they are the same as a typical cat.

What can owners of CH cats do to help them adapt to their homes? CH cats must remain indoor pets for their own protection. Most vets will not declaw these days, but CH cats, in particular, should not be declawed so they can grip surfaces, climb and get onto furniture. Some owners trim their nails less often so the cats can stabilize themselves. CH cats move better on textured floor surfaces like carpets which limit sliding and provide for softer tumbles. Some owners add memory foam mats for more cushioning. Litter box styles should match the cat’s strengths and weaknesses. Some CH cats need low, uncovered boxes; others do better in a covered box with a lower entrance cut out as the doorway. “Bobbles” has no trouble getting into a high litter box but he is a bit overzealous when digging in the litter so a cover will help him keep his home tidier.

Some CH cats can do stairs well. Stair homes are best suited for mild-moderate

CH cats, with carpeted stairs preferred. Even if a cat has mild CH, staircases with open railings and open risers should have their sides protected (with Plexiglas or a lattice) so a CH cat can’t fall through and get hurt.

When a CH cat has head tremors, owners experiment with different style dishes. Ceramic bowls tend to weigh themselves down on the floor. Some CH cats do better with raised dishes. Larger-diameter bowls work well for water so the cat has a wider area to aim without spilling water or hitting his head.

You can integrate a CH cat into a multi-cat household like any other cat. Go slow to allow them to get used to each other. Some cats get spooked by the jerky, wobbly motions CH cats make. It may take them extra time to figure out their new sibling is not a threat.

For Adoption at Babylon Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: Caring for a CH cat brings out tons of creativity and compassion in the pet parent who’s then rewarded with tons of love from this special, wobbly cat. “Bobbles” 6-582 is affected in his pelvic limbs and has some head tremors. He came to the shelter alone last month. He zooms, climbs, jumps on shelves and purrs when you scratch his neck. “Riley” 16-538 is a small, black Lab mix, and favorite of the volunteers.

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