We adopted Aizo almost two years ago. She was a street cat and I have no idea what she was doing in the early years of her life. She probably didn’t have a lot of contact with humans – or if she did, that contact wasn’t great because she was extremely timid when we first got her. Now we have her trust, but she still hisses at almost any new person she meets. She warms up to people very slowly. Aizo means ‘Be strong’ in Amharic.
Charaka was born in September last year. The litter she was a part of would be Aizo’s last – she was spayed later that year, under the mango trees, without any proper medical facilities (that’s another story). Charaka was one of three kittens. The other two died within a week.
Charaka grew strong. She ate well and played a lot. Then something happened. When she was about three months old, we found her in her usual spot on a blanket on the floor, but she wasn’t able to move. When we tried to lift her up and make her walk, she just collapsed and stared at the wall, somehow depressed, even lethargic. We panicked. It seemed she had lost her ability to walk.
We live in a city where there are no veterinary clinics. There’s one veterinarian in the city that we know of. My biggest concern was that should something happen, something really severe, and the cat would be suffering a lot, how would we put her down gently? Even anesthesia medicine is difficult to find here.
I didn’t expect the situation to get much better. Charaka wasn’t moving and didn’t show improvement. However, we got hold of our local veterinarian who said he had heard and seen how paralyzed or semi-paralyzed cats got better with physiotherapy. He urged us to give it a try but also warned us that this was something that needed commitment. Three therapy sessions a day.
Physiotherapy for cats? You are probably laughing right now. So were many people here. Better just to put the cat down, they said.
But we chose to try. So starting from those days, we had daily exercise sessions with Charaka. She was lying in my lap on her back and I would stretch her front and hind legs, make cat lunges, butterfly movements and various other things. She always enjoyed those sessions. She closed her eyes and sometimes even purred. This we continued for a long time. We didn’t see any immediate results. She was mainly lying on her blanket all day long except for those sessions. We had to bring her food and even help her relieve herself in the toilet. This was round the clock care for the little kitten (and luckily we had some helpers here in our home)!
But patience was rewarded. In January she started taking baby steps again. Little by little it got better. She could get to the toilet and food bowl by herself. She could jump to the sofa if she could first grab the blanket on the sofa with her claws (her shoulder muscles got strongest first during the therapy).
To this day I am not sure what got to her initially. We have heard similar stories of paralyzed cats in this town – maybe a genetic failure? But cat paralysis can even be caused by some trauma, an accident or falling from a high place.
We saw more and more improvements. Charaka could jump and do all kinds of kitty activities. By late February we were beginning to feel sure that she had got her head above the water. She had made it!
And all this with the simple act of physiotherapy! Without getting that tip from the veterinarian I would probably have given up. I wasn’t experienced in cat rehabilitation. Today I recommend it anyone who is in a similar situation. Now we have a Charaka who is a sturdy, playful 10 months old cat with a very strong bond to her owners (and vice versa).
Animals are good teachers.
UPDATE: Apparently people are still finding this post in 2017 and many have emailed about specific physiotherapy movements. I made a short video clip which you can watch here. Again, I am NOT an expert nor a person with any veterinary background. If your cat is paralyzed, take your cat to the veterinarian. We did not have this opportunity in Bahir Dar.