In the never anticipated sequel to ‘My dog has unilateral neglect’ I am here today to tell you ‘Our cat has a phantom limb’ *!
*I feel it’s important to clarify right now we are capable of raising animals who don’t develop neurological conditions, currently we also have a relatively normal Labrador in our care and a large black cat!
This is Seres.
Let me give you some background.
Seres is technically my boyfriends cat. She was bought just before he went to university in 2008. She is a 8 year old Bengal, and she is beautiful and I have decided she is now my cat too!
Shortly after Jake started at university, in the Autumn of 2008, Seres was involved in a RTA (road traffic accident), his parents went to the trouble and great expense of having her rear left leg surgically reconstructed with metal pins and plates put in to try to ‘save her leg’. The same surgery that I myself was to have the human version of just 7 years later, following a ski related accident, also in my left leg (at a much cheaper cost I might add!).
For 6 years Seres lived with her ‘rebuilt leg’, she never placed it on the ground when she ran and she could not bend it properly, so it would always stick out on strange and uncomfortable looking angles when she sat or lay down.
She went on to become a mother during this time, having a small litter in the summer of 2011, all beautiful, healthy and slightly mad bundles of fur and in 2015 she was neutered.
Despite the hormonal changes pregnancy and neutering might have brought about, I would describe her as a relatively ‘unfriendly cat’, not necessarily mean, or vicious but not the most welcoming of attention or giving. Compared to Esme, the overly friendly, tending towards needy, domestic black cat of Jake’s sister, Seres appeared cold and uncaring. Which, to be fair to me seemed like a ‘typical cat’, having grown up in a household of dogs. She would swipe out and hiss at Hector, the lumbering and aged yellow Labrador, if he just walked near her and she did not care to sit on anyone’s lap, ever.
Fast forward to January 2016. I was awaiting a second operation on my broken leg a year post my skiing holiday disaster, to decompress the sural nerve, as I’d been left with serious nerve damage which led to hypersensitivity and unpleasant sensations in my calf.
The day before I was due to travel to London for this operation I came home from work to find Seres standing by her food bowl with her ‘bad leg’ raised up not touching the ground and twice the size it should have been!
I rushed her to the vet (despite her protests at being touched) and made them take an X-Ray. Their initial advice had been to prescribe her pain killers and bring her back in two days if it hadn’t improved (thankfully, I could not have done this because of my own impending operation, hence asking them to X-Ray it right away). The vet returned from X-Ray looking shocked, Seres had shattered her tibia and had a spiral fracture running up her fibular! Best guess was another RTA.
We had two options, the X-Rays could be sent to ‘specialists’ who without insurance would charge up to £3000 or more to try to ‘rebuild’ the already once before ‘rebuilt leg’ if it was even possible, or she could have it amputated for a lot less (quoted £500, ended up more like £1000- but still better than upwards of £3000!) .
Now, I don’t want you thinking the cost was the main reason we opted for amputation. My boyfriend was quite prepared to call the bank and see how much he could borrow to try to ‘save her leg’. What swayed the decision in the end was my sudden realisation that for the past 7 years Seres might have been in the same kind of pain, or worse that I had been in the last year from my accident and nerve damage. I asked the vet if it was possible that she too had permanent nerve damage and was told it was highly likely. And that was it. Decision made. We both went into surgery on the same day. We picked Seres up a day later and she and I convalesced together in my bedroom for the following two weeks.
Cats are amazing. By the end of those two weeks she was cleared to go back outside. She showed no signs of infection, she’d healed and had her stitches out 7 days earlier than I managed and the hair on her stump was even beginning to regrow.
She has adjusted to her amputation better than we could have ever imagined, I suppose it was a relief really after 7 years dragging a useless and possibly painful leg around.
She has become a totally different cat. I don’t know if it was in part down to the two weeks in a bedroom together in recovery, where she was bribed with Dreamies for cuddles and sat watching “youtube videos for cats” and episodes of Archer with me, or maybe it’s entirely due to the absence of the pain she’d been in previously, or maybe it’s a bit of both. Either way, she is much kinder to Hector, only swiping at him now if he does something more deserving than just walking past her. She runs, boy does she run, she runs so fast it’s amazing to see! She enjoys cuddles (as much as any cat really can) and she willingly comes over to sit on our laps and fall asleep, she is the cutest, sweetest little killing machine alive.
Yes, ‘killing machine’, the only serious downside to this is that she now regularly chases and kills voles, mice, birds and rabbits in the garden, sometimes the rabbits are the same size as her!
I suppose another negative is that she also appears to have developed a phantom limb. Thankfully, this is evident only in the way she will try to scratch her face with her missing leg. She shows no signs of pain in her stump, or discomfort at any other times, which is reassuring. I do my best to massage her hind quarters as she is putting so much additional pressure on her remaining leg and massage was recommended for my nerve recovery also.
I have managed to capture her phantom limb scratching on video a few times now. What I find most interesting is that she leans her whole head and body into each other as if she can actually “feel” something, and often she’ll stand up when she’s done and shake her head in a way that suggests she’s managed to satisfy the itch!
So we now are the proud owners of a cat who has one of the most expensive missing limbs imaginable, and she imagines it!