Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I would like to ask a question about our kitten, Belle. When Belle was six weeks old, something terrible happened to her and me: I was feeding mum and the 7 kittens and even though I was trying to be careful, I took a small step backwards onto Belle. She was badly hurt, unconscious and with blood coming out her mouth and nose, so we rushed her to the emergency clinic. They x-rayed and treated her and we got to bring her home. We were told to keep a close eye on her and keep her separated from the other cats for a few days. Then she came down with an upper respiratory infection. After recovering from that, she finally had her six-week shots, Advantage, and deworming. The result of all this is a 12-week-old kitten who weighs just 2 pounds, has tremors and possible partial seizures, is not as advanced physically in terms of coordination as she should be, and is quite cranky. All the other kittens have found homes, but Belle is staying with us. Will she get better as she gets older? Will she stay tiny? Did i somehow damage her pituitary? What is causing the tremors…the brain damage? A toxic reaction to her shots or the deflea meds? She is the prettiest, sweetest wee thing… could all of this get worse as she matures? Apart from the guilt, I worry all the time about her quality of life.
Siouxsie: First of all, Nancy, we’d like to ask you to try not to beat yourself up over what happened to Belle. It was an accident. It was in no way a deliberate act of malice. You did all the right things: you took her straight to the emergency vet for treatment, you took very good care of her after her injury, and it’s obvious that you care a lot about her and want her to be all right.
Thomas: It’s not at all surprising that Belle is still so tiny. She’s had a lot to cope with in her short life, with the injury and the upper respiratory infection. She had to devote all her energy to healing, so there wasn’t much left for growing.
Dahlia: I’d like to reassure you that even a tiny kitten can grow to full size. I only weighed 3 pounds when I was 5 months old! The vet told Mama I’d probably never get bigger than 6 pounds, but now I weigh 7 pounds and I’m just as big as a regular-sized adult cat.
Siouxsie: Talk to your vet right away about Belle’s tremors, because they could result from a toxic reaction to flea medication. The active ingredients in Advantage and other spot-on flea treatments are neurotoxins, and an overdose can cause neurological symptoms in a cat. We’d suggest you avoid giving her any further flea treatments until you have a conversation with your vet.
Thomas: Belle is so small that even the kitten-sized dose (for cats that weigh less than 4 pounds/2kg) could be more than her body can handle. If you have treated her recently, wash any remaining “flea goop” off her neck with a warm washcloth.
Dahlia: Belle may never fully recover from any brain damage she suffered during the accident, but as she gets older and healthier, she’ll learn to compensate for her lack of coordination.
Siouxsie: We’re pretty sure her condition won’t get worse as she ages, as long as her problems aren’t caused by epilepsy or some other seizure-inducing brain injury. But even epileptic conditions can be kept under control with medical treatment.
Thomas: Keep in mind that disabled cats really aren’t aware that they have disability. They don’t spend hours wondering why they can’t do things that other cats can: they live their lives, every day, in the present, grateful for the love and comfort they receive at the hands of their caretakers.
Dahlia: As long as you make any necessary accommodations to meet her special needs, there’s no reason why Belle’s quality of life should suffer as a result of her disability.
Siouxsie: You should definitely talk to your vet about your concerns about Belle’s quality of life. He or she will be able to give you an idea (although not a definite prognosis) of what kind of long-term quality of life Belle can expect.
Thomas: Your vet will also be able to tell you what signs indicate that a cat is suffering. Generally, these symptoms include severe pain, inability or lack of desire to eat or drink, and depression.
Dahlia: Keep your eye out for subtle signs of pain such as stiffness or overreaction when you touch a certain part of Belle’s body. Low-grade pain that doesn’t interfere with quality of life can generally be managed with special accommodations like heated beds, steps leading to high places Belle enjoys so she doesn’t have to jump to the floor and aggravate any painful place, and holistic or cat-safe pain medications.
Siouxsie: I confess I’m a little creaky these days. My hips get sore, especially when it’s cold and damp out. But Mama can see when I’m achy and she helps me feel better. She gives me glucosamine and chondroitin treats and she puts me down gently if she needs to move me. I even get to sleep under the bed covers if I want. I guess it’s not so bad being a 14-year-old cat!
Thomas: So, Nancy, even if Belle never quite gets to be as agile or as big as other cats, we’re sure she’ll enjoy a good quality of life with you as long as you accommodate her special needs and make sure to talk to your vet whenever you have questions or concerns.
Dahlia: Good luck to you and Belle both. Please let us know how things turn out.