Living with Specially-abled Cats

Rusty Rainbolt

handicats

May 3 is Specially-abled Pets Day, a day that celebrates special needs companion animals and encourages families to adopt them.

Just as people live with different physical challenges, specially-abled cats can live happy lives despite amputation, blindness, deafness, cerebellar hypoplasia, and other impairments. At shelters, they are often the last cats adopted and the first ones euthanized, so fostering or adopting a special needs kitty certainly saves a life.

With a little planning, a challenged cat can safely integrate into your home. Not only do handicats (handicapped cats) make wonderful companions, they don’t struggle with human hang-ups about missing limbs and disabilities. They don’t worry about their appearance or that other pets will tease them.

Amputees

Some bully threw a black kitten named Peg from a moving car. A Good Samaritan scooped her up and Peg soon found herself in foster care.

The veterinarian shook his head; Peg’s shattered leg couldn’t be saved. I was Peg’s foster mom and worried about how the kitten would manage on only three feet. Dr. Granville Wright smiled. “Don’t worry. In cats, a fourth leg is a redundancy. Within a few days, she won’t miss it.”

He was right. A week later, she moved around the house as easily as our other cats. Her most profound disability was not her loss of a limb, but her lack of socialization. Since we didn’t have a waiting list for families wanting three-legged, unsocialized black kittens, I adopted her. She’s been no more trouble than my four-legged cats, and she doesn’t jump on the kitchen counter.

Like most amputees she quickly started experimenting with balance. I have three tripods; they can do almost anything other cats can do. Without that pesky limb getting in the way you can hold them so close to your chest you can feel their hearts beating. Awww.

Blind Kitties

Believe it or not, Dr. Robert J. Munger, a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist in Dallas, assures prospective families that visually-challenged kitties make great pets.

Blind kitties, especially when they first come to their new homes, may bump into furniture. A little foam or padding wrapped around furniture legs reduces unnecessary headaches. And putting a little dab of perfume on the legs of the furniture allows visually-challenged cats to maneuver without smacking into objects.

Dr. Munger had two warnings: never move a blind cat’s litter box and don’t move the furniture. Blind kitties may jump up in your lap, but they don’t like to be picked up. When returned to the floor, they lose their bearings.

Because blind (also deaf) kitties startle easily when sleeping, families with mischievous kids don’t make ideal homes. When startled out of a sound sleep, these kitties may bite. Humans can safely approach visually and hearing-challenged kitties by patting the cushion next to them or tapping on a wood floor.

Blind cats (or any special needs kitty, for that matter) should only go outside under human supervision. They can’t see hazards, so you must prevent them from falling into the pool or off of a balcony. But an outside cat enclosure or a yard with a cat fence might be just what the kitty ordered.

Blind kitties prefer catnip toys and toys that make noise, like balls with bells and paper sacks that make crinkly sounds.

Deaf Kitties

Deaf cats are great around well-behaved kids because they can’t hear the shrieking and screaming that may cause hearing cats to cower under the bed.

People can communicate with their deaf pets using vibrations and visual signals. Hearing impaired cats can learn to respond to hand signals similar to those used to communicate with working dogs. At close range, sharp hand claps might provide enough vibration to get the cat's attention. Turning a flashlight on and off in the cat’s direction, can be used to call your kitty, especially if the flashing light is followed by a tasty treat.

Deaf cats seldom hide when they arrive at their new home. They aren’t afraid of the vacuum cleaner and they’re often the life of the party because they’re not afraid of the noise.

Some deaf cats are quite vocal. They may call out with greater volume than other kitties because they can’t hear their own voice and they don’t know how LOUD THEY REALLY ARE. Other hearing impaired kitties don’t talk at all.

They should also be kept inside because they can’t hear things that would warn a normal kitty to stay out of the way like a car horn, a person shouting, or a barking dog.

Cerebellar Hypoplasia (CH)

CH kitties are wobbly and they look like they’ve had a little too much catnip, but they’re affectionate and most of them can use a litter box just fine. CH is most commonly caused by a kitten’s mother contracting or being vaccinated for panleukopenia (feline distemper) virus while pregnant, or a kitten being infected with the virus. It causes jerky or uncoordinated movements when they walk. They can do just about anything a normal can do, only not as fast and not in a direct route. Pillows or carpets will become the kitty’s safety net should he wobble his way off a windowsill. CH cats do need a low-sided litter pan that won’t tip over and stable bowls too.

Currently I have amputees, visually-impaired, hearing-impaired, and a CH kitty. They need me and I need them. There are so many advantages to having handicats. They teach children valuable life lessons including acceptance of others who may be different. They give unconditional love. Because they are often ignored in favor of “normal” cats, you are most assuredly saving a life. Open your home to a specially-abled cat. You won’t be sorry; in fact, I promise you’ll be blessed.

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