A few months ago, I got a call from a fellow cat blogger, Jeanne from Random Felines. Jeanne’s cat, Chanel, has a head tilt and balance issues caused by an ear infection, and she wanted to know how I dealt with the heart attacks. Living with a cat with cerebellar hypoplasia, I knew exactly what she meant by “heart attacks”. You know, that feeling when your heart completely drops, your breathing hitches, and the catastrophe you are witnessing seems to happen in slow motion, yet there’s nothing you can do to stop it? When you frequently watch your cat fall off the back of the couch, slam her head on the corner of the wall, or attempt to jump up onto something only to completely wipeout, you become quite familiar with that feeling.
When we first adopted Sophie six years ago, I had heart attacks on the daily. Usually more than once a day. While I can’t say that I don’t have them anymore, I can say that they happen less frequently. So what are the best ways to deal with these heart attacks?
Figure out what your cat needs help with the most and find a solution.
One way to deal with the heart attacks is to do what you can to minimize them. If jumping up onto the furniture is a struggle for your CH cat, perhaps building or buying a ramp that leads up to your bed/couch/whatever would be beneficial. You can even find cat trees that have ramps leading up to them. Another solution to the bed-jumping problem would be to take your mattress off the frame and put it directly on the floor. Sure, it might not be as aesthetically pleasing, but it would certainly cut down on the bed-jump fails!
If your CH cat is prone to bumping her head, a homemade kitty helmet could help to prevent injury. I’ve seen cat helmets made out of tennis balls, foam padding, and crochet. (Check out this post from Life with CH Cats for some examples.) It may look silly, but if it helps protects your kitty’s head AND helps to relieve those heart attacks we talked about, then it seems like a win-win to me!
If slipping and sliding around on the floor or falling onto the hard floor is cause for concern, I’d suggest putting down some rugs or runners. The foam play mats used in children’s classrooms are also amazing. They help to minimize slippage and also cushion any falls. Plus, the pieces usually fit together like puzzle pieces, so you can create whatever layout you need wherever you need it.
Encourage play and exercise to help your CH cat improve her abilities.
As you may know, cerebellar hypoplasia is a non-degenerative condition; meaning, it won’t get worse with time. On the flip side, it won’t get better either. While the condition itself won’t get better or go away, there are things you can do help improve your CH cat’s abilities. One of those things is to encourage play and exercise. The more active your CH cat is, the stronger she will become, which in turn helps her mobility.
Sophie has really honed her skills over the years because we have been diligent about playing with her and encouraging her to run and jump. She used to not jump at all… then she started jumping, but would miss her target the majority of the time… and now, she nails her landing and successfully jumps up onto our bed or couch more often than not. Sure, she still wipes out sometimes (cue heart attack), but it happens less often.
Realize that your cat is tougher and more durable than you think she is.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched Sophie completely bite it. Hundreds, if not thousands. Some of those falls have been pretty bad too. One incident in particular stands out in my memory…
Our previous house was two-stories. We kept baby gates at the bottom of the stairs to keep Sophie off of them, but those never stopped her. No matter what kind of gate we used, she figured out away over it or through it. Anyway, one day she was bounding up the stairs in typical Sophie fashion – completely uninhibited and carefree – and she made it all the way to the top… for a second. No sooner had she made it to the top than she lost her balance and went tumbling All. The way. Back. Down. I went running down after her, so sure she had been seriously injured. But no. Thankfully, she got right back up, shook it off, and tried to run back up the stairs and do it all again.
All of this to say, your CH cat is more durable than you give her credit for. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be worried about her when she falls. Injuries certainly can happen (chipped teeth are a common CH cat injury). But your kitty can take more than you think she can.
Do you have a handicat? What ways have you found to deal with the heart attacks?