Houdini, the Adored RagaMuffin

author Lisa Rowe                       Heavenly Muffins

RagaMuffin kittenOver the 21+ years of breeding I have had several special needs cats.  One cat that I currently have is Houdini.  Houdini was born in August 2016.  He has a sister Wini that has no issues and went on to have beautiful babies for another breeder.  Houdini was born with a condition called cerebellar hypoplasia.  Some people may refer to this as wobbly cat syndrome.  Cerebellar hypoplasia is a non-life threatening condition that occurs when the cerebellum does not fully develop in kittens while in utero. The cerebellum is the portion of the cat’s brain responsible for fine motor skills and can affect the cat’s ability to walk, jump, run, or accomplish other tasks involving coordination. Cerebellar hypoplasia is generally not a well-known condition and can therefore be mistaken for other diseases by veterinarians who have not previously encountered the condition.   My vet knew about this condition but only from reading about it in vet school many years ago.  He had actually never seen a CH animal in his practice until Houdini.


When Houdini was born it was a tough delivery and we had to go to the vet.  The vet knew right away what the issue was or suspected it.  His condition was listed as guarded and he told me that he may not make it if he could not nurse.   Houdini’s sister would not let him nurse and kept stealing his nipple.  Since he had a head tilt and was smaller than his sister he could not nurse on his own.  He started to lose weight.  He also would not take a bottle or syringe.  Since I did not feel comfortable tubing feeding him I did the only thing I could.  I held him up to a nipple every two hours and let him nurse as long as he wanted.  I slept beside him and kept an alarm going so I could get up and let him nurse.  As he got bigger I could go to every 3 hours.  It was a long 4 weeks.  At 4 weeks old I decided to see if he would take KMR mixed with some kitten food.  I had to hold him up to the bowl but he started eating and drinking.  At that time mom stopped letting him nurse and I switched him to KMR and wet kitten food.  During this time he could not sit up without falling over or stand and walk.  I started doing physical therapy with him to help strengthen his back legs.  One thing about this disorder symptoms do not worsen or progress over time, but may diminish as a cat learns to compensate.  So I knew if I could strength his muscles as he grew he had the possibility of being able to walk and do things on his own.  As he grew he got stronger and compensated for his uneven gait.  His sister helped him learn how to walk, run, play and use the litter box.  By 6 weeks he was walking by himself and eating and drinking on his own.  By 8 weeks he was wrestling and playing with his sister and running super-fast.  By 12 weeks he was using the litter box.  He made such great progress when I took him in for his first shots the vet was amazed at how well he was doing.  He continued to improve and do well.  He cannot jump or climb but he walks, plays and still runs super-fast.  He can use the litter box on his own and eat and drink just fine.  He loves to cuddle and if he wants up in bed with me he just meows and I pick him up and cuddle with him.  He was neutered just fine.  Ketamine is a big no to be used for CH kitties because it causes them to have even more balance problems after surgery until it is completely out of the system, so no ketamine was used on Houdini and he seemed like nothing happened.  He will be 4 in August and has gotten so much stronger and better at walking and keeping his balance.  CH kitties really do learn to compensate for any balance issues.  He has two flat scratching posts that he uses all the time, not to mention tons of cat nip toys he loves.  He is one spoiled, happy, healthy kitty.


A little more about Cerebellar hypoplasia.  This affects more than just cats.  It can affect dogs and other animals even livestock, any animal that has a cerebellum.  In humans it would be considered cerebral palsy.  Cerebellar hypoplasia is typically caused by some type of trauma (caused from a fall or other similar incident while the mom is pregnant) or infection (usually panleukopenia in cats and parvo in dogs) that occurred while the mother was pregnant. This can be caused from malnutrition (this is seen typically in stray cats).  This can be congenital as well.  It also usually does not affect the entire litter (but can if it is an infection and each can be affected to different degrees).  This is not hereditary, so cannot be passed down by the parents to offspring.


There are many different levels to this condition.  It ranges from mild to severe.   Mild usually has a slight wobble or unsteady gait, moderate usually have trouble climbing and jumping, severe usually falls over while walking/standing or some cannot not walk at all.  Many of the severe ones that cannot walk have little walkers made for them to help them get around or strengthen their muscles.  Houdini is considered moderate to severe only because he cannot jump or climb and at times will tip over if he walks too slow,  but the older he has gotten the less he tips over because his muscles have strengthened enough that he can keep his balance now.


While many shelters choose to euthanize cats that suffer from cerebellar hypoplasia, it is important to note that the disease is not a death Ragamuffin catsentence and affected cats can make excellent and loving companions for those willing to provide an appropriate level of physical support.


I did a lot of research and joined groups and learned all I could to help him do well.  I had a long discussion with my vet about this condition and the prognosis for a good quality of life.  I am glad that I did my homework and did not give up on him.  He has no clue he is different than the other cats and does well.  He seems very happy and at almost 4 is healthy and loves to play. The key to helping any cat with special needs or an injury is to do your research, get second opinions if needed and decide if they will have a good quality of life when all is said and done.  Luckily he is in no pain and compensated well for his lack of coordination and has no other medical conditions.  Never be afraid to take a special needs cat as long as you know your limits on what help you can and are willing to provide them to give them a great life.


If you want to follow Houdini on Facebook and keep up to date on how he is doing you can go to https://www.facebook.com/HoudinitheCHkitten/