Tag Archives: Neuroscience

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’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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Insert [Mindblowing sounding claim from ‘Science’ with a hint of something more sinister] Here.

‘Scientists have found’, is my least favourite opening to any newspaper report about recent findings, or proposed research plans. This very sentence just sets my mind a whir, which scientists? who are they? where are they? why? and you can usually guarantee that they will get little mention by first name, unless they’re mothers all called them ‘Researchers’. You can also be pretty sure that if the wild claim in the headline has the words ‘brain scans reveal’… there will undoubtedly be a generic image of a brain scan showing nothing at all but random activations. Sometimes these images from scans don’t even match the method being used, for example a random PET scan image is used when the article is about fMRI! This infuriates me beyond belief. Why also do they insist on always asking for the opinion  of ‘an expert’ who is just some other random researcher from a completely different University who doesn’t know the study being reported or hasn’t even heard of the people conducting it.

Also a lot of the time the results of graduate/nae even some undergraduates studies are used and written about as if they are real actual science. I don’t know about anyone else and their experience of undergraduate research projects but they are far from the stringent approach you’d get with say a PHd or actual researchers work. Half the time we rely on our mates to be test subjects and when they run out, its not unheard of to just re test the same people, or even yourself! Also you can’t always guarantee that another undergrad student taking your test is of sound mind and body that morning, particularly if it’s following a heavy union night! I know of at least one case where a girl turned up to do a sensory based experiment and admitted after she was high! Cause that won’t impede the results at all… sure.

Not to mention the fact that these projects are far from the peer reviewed quality you’d see in any journal.

And one final gripe I have about the way the news report scientific findings is that it is nearly impossible to find the original source of the information because they don’t include any references to the paper they are reporting, and sometimes won’t even mention the researchers names!

Just something to try to rectify I guess, but I fear it means changing the public perception of what is a newsworthy scientific finding, cause if it’s not going to make me rich, live longer, cure cancer, cause cancer, read my mind or invade my privacy, apparently I don’t want to know about it.

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