At the end of February, 2012, PKR received an email from Williamson County Regional Shelter asking for our help. They were completely overloaded with feral cats. One of these cats was Elizabeth Taylor, a beautiful tortoiseshell with big yellow eyes. Elizabeth was pregnant and the shelter was no place for her to have her kittens. Like most feral cats she had very little experience interacting with humans and was terrified at the shelter.
PKR took pregnant Elizabeth into its foster program. She finally had a peaceful, comfortable environment to relax in with nutritious food and prenatal supplements to support her throughout her pregnancy. One month later she delivered three beautiful kittens – two orange (Flounder and Triton) and one blue and white tuxedo (Sebastian). We quickly realized that these were three very special kittens.
Sebastian was smaller than the others and was having trouble nursing. At first we thought that Elizabeth wasn’t producing enough milk. So we started supplement feeding the kittens whenever Elizabeth left the “nest”. Elizabeth was a very good mother and extremely protective of her kittens so snatching them away from her to bottle feed was very stressful for her. Fortunately Sebastian quickly got the hang of things and, once she began shoving her brothers out of the way to get to mom, we realized that bottle feeding wasn’t necessary any more. Everyone was happy…especially Elizabeth Taylor. That’s what made the unexpected loss of Flounder so devastating. No one is sure what happened. He appeared healthy, was eating well and weighed the most of all three kittens. Of course we kept a very close watch over Triton and Sebastian for the next few weeks, constantly checking for signs of illness or distress.
As Triton and Sebastian grew we began interacting more with them. We noticed that they were having trouble balancing and that their heads would move rapidly back and forth in a trembling motion. The vet diagnosed the kittens with a disorder called Cerebellar Hypoplasia (CH). CH affects the kitten’s cerebellum growth which can cause mild to severe difficulties with coordination, balance and fine motor skills. During pregnancy the mother can contract bacterial infections or viral infections such as feline panleukopenia that result in the disorder. However, the disorder can also be caused by malnutrition, poisoning or injury to the mother during development of the fetus.
Most people assume the disorder is painful and/or contagious which is why so many CH cats are needlessly euthanized. Though this condition is not treatable, it does not prevent a kitten from living a fairly normal life. CH kitties are particularly affectionate and form strong bonds with their humans. They will repay the extra care they receive with years of love and devotion.
Triton and Sebastian are no exception. They are truly two of the happiest kittens we have ever had in our program. Though they have difficulty with balance and coordination they have absolutely no idea that they are different. They love to play with their toys, wrestle each other and snuggle together at the end of the day.
Triton’s symptoms are characterized as moderate meaning he is able to walk and run but not jump. Because he lacks full motor control, when he moves he tends to tumble forward on to his head or walk backward instead of forward. However, with a lot of determination and a little practice, Triton has now mastered walking and running on the carpet. He loves to chase shadows and pounce on catnip mice. He tells everyone, with little chirping meows, that he is having a wonderful time. He is also learning how to use the litter box and is eating on his own from a raised bowl that makes it easier for him to reach his food. Triton is very smart and catches on quickly, but would much rather play than spend time learning basic cat etiquette. When he finally settles down in your arms, Triton will stare at your face with his deep blue green eyes as if he’s trying to say, “I know it hasn’t been easy but thank you for loving me and giving me the chance to grow into the cat I know I’m meant to be”.
Sebastian’s symptoms are characterized as severe meaning she will probably never walk on her own. Her legs are strong but her brain cannot communicate to her body how to stand on them. However, just because she isn’t up on all fours doesn’t mean Sebastian can’t participate in kitten activities. She loves to play with her feather toys and catnip mice, and keeps her brother in line with a few swift kicks. She talks constantly and is not afraid to tell you what’s on her mind. What Sebastian lacks in motor skills, she more than makes up for in smarts and she even outshines Triton when it comes to learning the basics. She must be propped up in order to reach her food but she was the first one to actually eat on her own. She has started to use the litter box without assistance. It is rare for a severe CH kitten to be able to learn how to navigate a litterbox. So we were amazed and extremely overjoyed when Sebastian showed us how smart she truly was. As the foster described it, “Sebastian crawled in to the litter box, did her business while laying down, used her front paws to throw litter between her back legs and then air dived out of the litter box”. She bumped her head on the landing but was extremely proud of herself and received much praise for her efforts. At the end of the day, after so much physical activity, Sebastian loves to curl up in a blanket on her foster’s lap and purr herself to sleep, dreaming of the tomorrows she might never have known under different circumstances.
We recently introduced Sebastian and Triton to two other foster kittens and the results have been remarkable. Triton, because he is more mobile, will mimic the other kitten’s movements resulting in a noticeable improvement in his coordination and balance. Sebastian enjoys the camaraderie of new playmates and is motivated by the energy of the others to keep her little legs moving, unaware that she is also building strength and maintaining flexibility. We are extremely pleased with their progress and hope that each new adventure will benefit them both physically and emotionally.
We consider ourselves very fortunate that Elizabeth and her kittens found their way to PKR. Typically we focus our rescue efforts on cats with no other options, usually shelter cats at risk for euthanasia because they are pregnant or feral or have behavior issues. We have never fostered cats with special, physical needs and we are grateful that we have learned so much about a relatively unknown disorder from our two miracle kittens.
We realize that there are only a handful of exceptional people willing to take on the challenges of special needs pets. So until we find perfect matches for Triton and Sebastian, we would like to ask their friends and fans to participate in their care by donating goods and/or services to PKR. Funds for vet care top the list but the kittens also need donations of food, puppy pads, kitty wipes, raised food bowls, warming disks, blankets, shallow pet beds and anything else that will keep them happy and comfortable in their foster home.
While researching CH, we found a video of a severe case CH kitten secured into a special, homemade cart that allowed her to walk upright on her own and eat from a raised bowl. We are hoping to find someone willing to donate their time and the materials to build a custom cart for Sebastian so that every day she can greet her world standing tall…and then chase her brother around the house until she catches him! Please see the link below for the cart video. Don’t forget to watch Sebastian and Triton’s video and other CH videos to learn more about other happy CH kitties and the people devoted to them.
We know special kittens like Triton and Sebastian inspire great acts of kindness so we have tried to make it as easy as possible for people to offer their support.
- To sponsor Sebastian or Triton or make a one-time donation to their care please go to our Sponsor-A-Pet page and sign up today!
- To donate food and supplies for delivery from their Amazon Wishlist please click here.
- To drop off supplies or donate your services please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- To inquire about adopting please email email@example.com with any questions you may have. To apply for adoption please fill out our cat adoption questionnaire on our Adopt page.
CH is neither progressive nor degenerative nor painful and should never be a death sentence for those cats affected by it. In fact, Triton and Sebastian’s coordination and motor skills will most likely improve as they grow and develop and hopefully they will live long and happy lives. It has been our privilege to care for them and learn from them. So believe it is our duty to educate and inform the public about Cerebellar Hypoplasia so that other CH cats and kittens will have the chance to amaze, exasperate, entertain and love the people who are lucky enough to know them.
Learn more about CH at: http://www.chkittyclub.com