Kitten’s plight points to need for vaccinations

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Jen MacLellan says she’s not quite ready to post videos of Wobble, who at eight weeks is an adorable kitten with piercing green eyes and soft reddish-tinted brown fur. 

Wobble, who Jen and her daughter are fostering, likely has moderate cerebellar hypoplasia (CH), said veterinarian Dr. Kirsten Oliver. The condition is also known as spastic cat syndrome and wobbly cat syndrome, names that gives more indication of how this condition affects cats. While Wobble is not in pain and can continue to live with CH in the right home, seeing how she attempts to stand, eat and play can look very sad, MacLellan said.

“It’s dramatic,” she explained. “She’s lucky she survived because she really had trouble latching on to her mother to feed.”

Wobble gets intention tremors when she goes to eat, Oliver explained. Tremors occur when CH cats focus on something and become more severe with their attempts to focus. She’s also ataxic: she sways side to side and her legs splay out.

“She doesn’t stand straight and tall like a normal kitten,” Oliver said. 

“The suspicion is that her mom was infected with feline panleukopenia. It’s a viral infection that when the mom has it, she passes it onto her kittens either in utero or postnatally,” said Oliver. “With feline panleukopenia, it’s extremely common for kittens to get cerebellar hypoplasia.”

A cat’s cerebellum, the part of the central nervous system that deals with involuntary movements, is maturing and developing up until birth and even in the first few weeks after birth. This, the website Veterinary Partner noted, leaves the cerebellum vulnerable to toxins. The feline distemper virus, also known as the panleukopenia virus, can cause CH if the mother cat is infected with it. 

The good news is that CH is not painful for Wobble and she can live a happy life in the right home with owners who know how to manage her condition. Ideally Wobble is adopted into a single-floor household with no stairs she could have issues with, and one where there is someone who can be present rather than her being alone for the day Oliver said. She will also need supportive care, which will include play and rehabilitation.

“I’m ridiculously invested in her, so if I found something I’d drive her pretty much anywhere for the right kind of place. She deserves a chance,” MacLellan said. 

While her cerebellum will not recover and she will never walk normally, Oliver said with rehabilitation Wobble could learn to walk and build her muscles and balance. 

MacLellan is looking forward to a rehabilitation visit with Wobble, essentially a physiotherapist but for cats. Up until now, she has gotten a plethora of support from online spaces including Facebook groups and TikTok, and hopes to start sharing her own content to pass on the knowledge she’s learned about caring for a kitten with CH. 

Wobble has already improved from the time she came to them, when she could not even keep her head up. Now she’s building strength around her head and can stand with support, but cannot walk. “It’s tough, it’s sad but it’s also very inspiring,” MacLellan said. “She’s determined, she’s incredibly feisty, she’s not giving up. She loves cuddles, she purrs.” And MacLellan is totally in love with the little cat. 

She hopes this example of Wobble’s care and experience helps dispel some who might believe the BCSPCA readily euthanizes animals when in actual fact that occurs very rarely and only in severe cases. 

CH is also preventable, and MacLellan hopes this message is heard by the community and especially cat owners. The cat colonies on the island definitely carry the virus and pass it around from pet to pet. “If your cat is going outside and it is unvaccinated, it is exposed to it. But it’s the babies that suffer,” MacLellan explained. While adult cats generally survive the virus, if they are unspayed and going outside on the island they could become pregnant and pass the virus to their unborn or newborn kittens, with these devastating results.

Distemper is extremely common, with Veterinary Partner stating virtually every cat will be exposed to the virus to some extent. By vaccinating female cats for distemper, as long as they are not pregnant or nursing kittens under the age of two weeks, the condition will be prevented in any future offspring. 

Kittens are vaccinated as part of their core kitten vaccination series, the FVRCP. There are slight risks that cats could get an injection site sarcoma from any kind of injection, Oliver said, a kind of cancer that could very rarely develop in their early years, when they are older or may never develop.

“Because we know that injections can sometimes cause or lead to these sarcomas, we want to be really careful that the risk of the disease that we’re vaccinating against is high enough to warrant that vaccine,” Oliver explained. “For me, all of my kittens, it’s worth the risk. Every single kitten I see should get FVRCP.”

MacLellan also works at the BCSPCA as an animal care attendant, but her time fostering Wobble and her cat family are volunteer. MacLellan also shares photos of the cats she and her daughter foster through their Instagram account saltykittycats. 

The BCSPCA on Salt Spring is in desperate need of foster families, MacLellan stressed.

“We need them for senior or injured cats requiring a safe place to heal or adjust to medications, wild born kittens needing socialization as well as the wee ones just needing care before they are old enough to find forever homes,” she stated via email.

Commitments can range from 24 hours to four months, with six weeks being the average. All expenses and supplies are covered by the BCSPCA. 

To inquire about fostering, contact the branch at 540 Lower Ganges Rd. by calling 250-537-2123 or emailing saltspring@spca.bc.ca.

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