Category Archives: Pets

Our Cat Has a Phantom Limb.

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.

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Seres the three legged Bengal

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.

Seres before her amputation – Click for video

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.

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Demonstrating the way she’d sit pre amputation, ‘bad leg’ hanging off the edge.

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Four legs, but not happy. You can tell by the state of her fur to be honest.

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.

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Taking care of each other. Seres with her stump and stitches, my leg bandaged and raised after the decompression.

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!

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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!

Seres demonstrates her phantom limb- Click for video

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So we now are the proud owners of a cat who has one of the most expensive missing limbs imaginable, and she imagines it!

For more pictures and regular updates please follow Seres’ future adventures on instagram @three_quarter_kitty and twitter @3quarterkitkat Instagram- Click here

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Barley Eating – Video

My mom managed to capture the last 30 seconds of Barley eating. I think it’s interesting how she’s trying to completely clear her bowl (in the side that she is already eating from) so one might suggest she is still feeling hungry when she walks away from the bowl, presumably because she ‘thinks’ it is empty!

The saga continues…

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Barley’s forgotten her food again. Hemispatial neglect symptoms in dog continue.

More images of Barley eating, these are from the 6th September, this time she didn’t eat her whole bowl and again ate only from the right hand side.

So the left hemispace neglect symptoms seem to still be present. I’m working on getting a video and mom has said she’ll try to get the vet to maybe get a scan of barley’s brain so will post those if/when they happen.

Have been in touch with a researcher in my dept at Royal Holloway who forwarded the info on to a researcher at UCL’s NIC. He seems very interested in it, and pointed out that Balint induced neglect symptoms in a dog in his early studies on neglect.

Again, anyone with any information that might be useful please get in touch with me. I should get back to writing up my research project, draft is due in next week and I’ve not written a great deal so far.

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Update: Apparent symptoms of neglect in Barley

It’s difficult for me to write with 100% accuracy about her progress as I am at university 80 miles away from home so am relying on interpretations from emails/photographs and updates via the phone from my mom (who is being incredibly helpful, so big thanks is due!).

But Barley’s most recent progress seems quite promising. My mom said she’d noticed Barley’s ‘fussy eating’ (as she calls it) about 2/3 weeks ago after what was likely to have been another stroke since her first major stroke just over a month ago, which left her with a strong left side weakness which she is now recovering from. The photo’s she has sent today indicate that if she is showing  signs of neglect or another similar neurological condition that these  symptoms are beginning to subside. However, I still think that they way in which she is eating is still very interesting, see the below photos for an illustration.

There seems to be a definite right side preference for the food bowl, (image one) and she clears a whole half almost down a straight line bisection before she moves across to the second ‘half’ of the bowl on her left hand side (image 3). The fourth picture seems to indicate she has changed position slightly, as in the previous photos she is standing right in front of the bowl and in this image she seems to be at it’s side. Again I’ll stress that I do not know precisely how she is eating, I keep trying to get my mom to work out video on her photo so we can have a more accurate step by step portrayal of this.

The fact that she’s managing now to eat her entire bowl without promting is a nice postive sign, I suppose as cool as it is that she’s showing these signs of a neglect I do really want her to get better and make a good recovery. I’m not all about ‘the science’.

I’ll end with this image of Barley being looked after by our new Puppy called Moya (who’s in training to be a dog for the disabled for my mom who has a degenerative spinal condition. I love Moya, she is awesome even if she ate my teddy bear last time I went home!)

Thanks to all of you who’ve seen the post about Barley and have shared it around. If anyone has any suggestions as to how I might better test for neglect signs other than with her food bowl please don’t hesitate to put them forward! I’m also not sure how long neglect can last in a dog when it hasn’t been induced medically for scientific research purposes. So I’d be most grateful for any info from those with veterinary science backgrounds or experience with such things as well. All other information about this condition that anyone may have would be really great to see too!

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My dog has unilateral neglect!

So I really thought that I’d written a post about Unilateral Neglect before but apparently I’m just imagining that! Perhaps my confusion is because I did write an essay about it for the first course I took last year, and hence forth I’ve become all muddled and confuddled that I can no longer differentiate from the work I ‘have to do’ and the blog posts I enjoy doing…

Anyway, this is the most perfect time for me to write about unilateral (or hemispatial) neglect, as my dog appears to be displaying the symptoms! Brilliant isn’t it? I shouldn’t be this excited but I can’t help it.

Meet Barley:
She is a 16 year old Whippet x. Lurcher who used to spend her days chasing bunnies and sometimes catching them, but now just potters about the place and would rather just stare at a field of rabbits and keep walking than bother to do anything about them. A few months ago Barley had a stroke, she suffered severe left side weakness and although has gained a lot of mobility back still has a slightly wonkey head. I believe she is still having small strokes and that she must have had one about a fortnight ago that affected her posterior parietal cortex. My reasons for suspecting this are outlined below, after my brief explanation of unilateral neglect symptoms in humans.

Okay, so here goes the ‘science’. Hemispatial neglect can occur following damage to the right or left posterior parietal cortex, most commonly occurring however in the right and usually as a result of a stroke. The form of neglect can be both extrapersonal, representational and/or personal. In right hemispherical damage the effects tend to be longer lasting and more severe, though most patients do recover over time.

Extrapersonal Neglect

In cases of extrapersonal neglect patients fail to be aware of objects on the contralateral side of their lesion, in most cases this means that they neglect objects in the left side of space. For patients to be diagnosed with hemispatial neglect no other explanation such as a motor or sensory deficit can be present (Vallar, 1998). This form of neglect can involve near space (or peripersonal space) or far space, or both. Often patients will recover over time from hemispatial neglect syndrome. It’s common for these patients to fail to draw the left hand side of a picture, as illustrated below, or for them to even eat food only from the right hand side of their plate and not realise that there is still food on the left to be eaten.

Figure illustrates the left side neglect of a patient.

Representational Neglect
In these cases patients neglect the contralesional space in their memories and imagination of places, objects and people. Representational neglect is far more common to right hemispherical damage and is found in conjunction with the extrapersonal visuospatial neglect described above (Bartolomeo, D’Erme, & Gainotti, 1994).

Personal Neglect
Personal neglect differs in that the patient fails to recognise or use parts of their own body that are on contralateral side of their brain damage. Patients are reported to be unaware of their own limbs, claiming for example that the left leg attached to them belongs to somebody else and is not theirs. This form of neglect is less common than that of extrapersonal neglect, and may involve additional regions of damage. Right personal neglect following a left sided lesion is extremely rare although some cases have been reported (see Peru & Pinna, 1997).

Now of these three forms of neglect I believe it is quite likely that my dog Barley is suffering from extrapersonal neglect following some sort of damage to her Posterior Parietal Cortex in her right hemisphere. The photographs below show my reasons for thinking this is likely. (Thanks go to my Mom for taking these photographs and emailing them to me!)

First image

Number One. Bowl still relatively full of food.

Number Two. Barley eating her food.

Number Three. Barley thinks she has finished eating.

It is pretty clear from these images that she’s really neglecting to ‘see’ the food that is in her left visual field! If mom turns the bowl around so that the food is then on the right hand side of the bowl she continues to eat, albeit a little confused as to where this food has magically appeared from but still.

I hope that these images and experiences of Barleymow have helped illustrate this neurological disorder well, and I will keep tracks on how Barley is doing over time and write about anything new or interesting that happens.

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