Caring for little Sparkle, our special needs kitten, has been a bit of a challenge these last few weeks. She’s very loved and utterly adorable. She’s also caused a lot of anxiety and set us on another steep learning curve.
Pictured above is her at her cutest, alongside the scales and our record of her weight. She gained nicely, then levelled out, then plummeted, then up again, and down again. We think she’s about 11 weeks now, but about the weight of a 7 week old. Her ability to eat and eat independently seems to vary by the day. We move between syringe, bottle, spoon and hand feeding her. Sometimes she seems able to lap milk and even eat a little solid food from the dish … other days she can’t. As with her walking it appears to be about muscle co ordination. She can chew a bit, and can swallow, but can’t seem to manipulate the food into her mouth. We’ve hopefully packed feeding bottles and formula away several times only to unpack them again in desperation.
Just over a week ago it was starting to look as though we were getting there. She’d eaten well without much help and had put on some weight. She was even moving around more confidently and had attempted to jump onto the sofa. I starting thinking ahead to getting her vaccinations done, advertising for that special adopter … maybe to take her and her friend Karis too.
A couple of hours later she was snoozing gently against me on the sofa whilst I worked on the lap top. Suddenly there’s movement against my leg and life goes into slow motion. I turn to look and her legs are paddling, mouth foaming, she starts crying and then her bladder empties. All the cats in hearing distance rush to see what’s happening. I realise it’s an epileptic fit. I want to gather her up and comfort her but she’s somewhere else and oblivious. I put her on the floor on a blanket so she won’t fall or hurt herself and comfort the other worried cats instead. It lasts an eternity that is all of 2 minutes in non-panic time.
On one level she seemed to recover quite quickly. The fit was over within a couple of minutes, and within a few more minutes she was moving around and eating. On another level though, it was a bit of a game changer. It wasn’t entirely unexpected. We had second hand info when she came into rescue that she may have had a fit a few days previously. I’d hoped it was a mistake though and someone had just confused her tremor with a fit. There was no doubt about this one though. The provisional diagnosis had been cerebellar hypoplasia (CH) which isn’t the best thing to have but we’d read a bit and it seemed that with care, and albeit an unusual gait, these cats can get along fine. We joined a facebook group for CH cats which was supportive and hopeful. However then we read that CH cats don’t normally have epilepsy 😦
Did she get louder and more unsettled after the fit, or was it just me who was more anxious and interpreting things differently? For a kitten with weakness in almost every other aspect, I can testify that there is nothing at all weak about her voice. She can yell as loud and long as 6 other kittens put together. It’s as well really since she needs to summon help for most things – if she’s hungry/thirsty, needs help getting into the litter tray, or moving around. Working out what she needs isn’t easy. After we’ve checked she’s not trapped somewhere, bottom is clean, doesn’t want food /bottle, put her on the litter tray, its seems she just wants company / cuddles / comfort. Thankfully some of the other cats have helped with this, but in the end, I made a sling out of an XXL size T shirt so she could still cuddle but I could get on with things.
Before the fit we’d made an appointment for her to start her vaccinations, and still took her for it. It was obvious that wasn’t going to happen though. She wasn’t well enough or big enough, and what was worse, appeared quite a bit less well than at her previous appointment. The picture was made worse by the fact that I’d had about 5 minutes turn around time between getting in from work and setting off to the vets for her appointment … and when I got home she’d done a pooh and then sat down in it 😦 There was just time to giver her a quick bath but not time to dry her. Even the healthiest kitten looks like a sick gremlin when it’s wet.
The conclusion from the vets is that we’re in a bit of a grey area. It doesn’t look hopeful that things will improve. At the same time Sparkle doesn’t really meet my criteria to help on her way to rainbow bridge. She’s growing but to some extent that’s artificial because we’re having to hand feed her. I came home from the appointment feeling sad but determined that we would do our absolute best to help her to live her life to the full, for however long she was able to live it.
Sparkle seemed to embrace this idea, and despite appearing on death’s door at the vets, launched into a game with Karis chasing a ping pong ball and each other’s tails as soon as we got home.
It’s frustrating and upsetting that her abilities seem to change. What works well one day doesn’t the next, but might the following day. Having said that I do think that there’s been some learning on both sides, and a bit of a sense of my getting the hang of what works with her. It’s complicated by the other cats. I put her food down to wipe her face, turn back to the dish and someone else has their head in it. I take her out of her bath (washing up bowl) to dry her and while I’m getting the towel round her someone else is tipping the bowl up on the floor. We’ve had some days where she’s crying persistently and falling over a lot. Nothing but cuddles will make it right, and one nightmare evening even cuddles wouldn’t work. The last few days she’s eaten well (with help), walked as well as I’ve seen her walk with few fallings over, done her best to use the litter tray (determined to try to throw herself like a high jumper into the adult ones, and refusing the kitten sized ones), played with her mouse, interacted with the other cats, laid on my lap purring and washing her hands (she can’t really co ordinate the wash the rest of herself).
Sparkle has given a lot of cause for reflection on life, quality and quantity of life. She’s taken a huge amount of physical, mental and emotional energy over the last few weeks. She’s also given a lot of love. We’re doing our best to live in the moment with her without too much hope or fear for the future.