It’s possible to care for felines with Cerebellar Hypoplasia. They just need a little extra love.
Text and Photos by Stef dela Cruz, MD
“Maki has his own rhythm. He walks (and jerks) to his own beat.”
Maki. It’s the nickname that 43-year-old construction company manager Anna Sumayod lovingly picked for Makisig, a cat she rescued. Although a doting fur-mom to Makisig, Anna was quick to add that it was Jeselyn Papa, an English online instructor and Anna’s partner, who first rescued and cared for Makisig.
Having 23 cats and one dog, Anna and Jeselyn were no strangers to rescuing animals. However, with Makisig, things were different. She did notice that the kitten seemed to be paralyzed.At the time, she didn’t know Makisig had cerebellar hypoplasia (CH).
“When he was really little, he couldn’t even lift his head up, couldn’t nurse from a bottle well, and was so plagued by spasms that we thought he wouldn’t make it,” Anna recounts the time she tried to resuscitate Makisig. “We wrapped him in a blanket and kept him warm with hot water bottles. [I did] mouth to mouth and [did] gentle massages to his chest.”
She didn’t allow her fear to get the best of her. “I was crying all the time, [fearing] that I might do something wrong. But I couldn’t stand seeing him in pain.”
“We found out about his condition through internet research. I just Googled “wobbly cats” and I [gathered] enough information to ask our vet if (cerebellar hypoplasia] was indeed Maki’s condition.”
After posting about Makisig on Facebook, someone contacted Anna to share her own experiences as the fur-mom of another cat with cerebellar hypoplasia. “[She] gave me a list of questions to ask my vet.”
5 Things You Should Know About Cerebellar Hypoplasia
Do cats with CH know that they’re different? Anna says they probably don’t. “Maki doesn’t. He doesn’t think that he is sick because he doesn’t really feel any pain.”
Feline cerebellar hypoplasia is a non-progressive, non-contagious disorder resulting from an underdeveloped cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls coordination and balance. This occurs when the normal development of a kitten inside his mother’s womb is affected, such as by feline panleukopenia virus infection.
Cats with CH have different signs and symptoms affecting their balance and movement, such as jerky movements, tics, tremors, and gait issues.
If you have a cat with CH, no need to fret! What cats like Makisig need, Anna said, is understanding and some TLC. “Maki is an independent cat. He is very makulit and determined to be just a regular guy. He wouldn’t let his being different hinder him from roughhousing with his kitty siblings and his [dog companion] Ate Martha.”
“It is not easy but everyday, we learn.”
If you have a cat just like Makisig keeping you company, here are a few things you should know to ensure that your furry friend stays happy and healthy.
1. Not all cats with CH are alike
Some cats with CH have wobblier gaits than others. Depending on the severity of their symptoms, they may need extra special care or almost none at all.It helps to remember that a cat with CH isn’t sick or in pain. He’s just uncoordinated.
2. Capable of living long, healthy lives, they don’t need to be put down
When Anna went to the vet with Makisig for the first time, she was given the option of putting him to sleep. “We were told that it was a lifetime condition and if we wanted to, we could [put him to sleep].”Anna didn’t have any of it, choosing instead to care for Makisig and overcome challenges by educating herself about CH.
3. As kittens, they will need round-the-clock care and attention
When Makisig was little, Anna and Jeselyn looked after him 24-7. While Anna worked in the morning, Jeselyn looked after Makisig. In the evening, they swapped places. This went on for about six months.
“He couldn’t control his bowel movements in the beginning. He could drown [drinking from] a bowl of water.”
“He was looking straight at me and wanted to come to me, but he couldn’t walk straight. [He walked in a curved line.]”
While Anna worked in the morning, his partner looked after Makisig. In the evening, they swapped places. This went on for about six months.
“Little by little, the tremors disappeared.” Makisig also learned to stand on all fours without assistance. He learned to walk in a roundabout manner and drink without drowning.He also developed his own “method” of using the litterbox. “We realized he was getting stronger because [he no longer smelled awful]!”
4. Cats with CH don’t get worse – in fact, they may get “better”
As a kitten, Makisig often soiled himself. “At first, he couldn’t eat properly and needed help in using the litterbox. [That’s because] he couldn’t stand. He stayed in our bed most of the time. When he was awake, he had to be propped up by pillows.”
“If he wanted to play, he would walk a few steps and then stumble. [He would] run smack into walls and doors.
”But now, Anna often forgets that Makisig is a differently-abled cat because he learned to adjust with time. “He could compensate for whatever he lacks in terms of walking regally like most cats do. [He learned to] sit still for a long time.”
5. Playtime and exploration helps them develop new skills”
It was really heartbreaking to see him as he struggled to right himself and get to where he wanted to go. Now, Maki is a neutered, healthy, and happy cat. He can climb trees and even stays in the ceiling hunting for cockroaches and mice!”
A cat with CH needs his claws to explore his surroundings – make sure not to trim them.
He also eats, plays, and sleeps just like the rest of his siblings. “Based on our research, Maki is as ‘normal’ as any other cat.”
Proud of how Makisig never showed signs of giving up, Anna said, “He is a cat who can teach us lessons in perseverance and resilience.”
This appeared as “Wobbly with Love: Caring for a Cat with Cerebellar Hypoplasia” in Animal Scene’s May 2015 issue.