TALES OF RADIAL HYPOPLASIA KITTIES
The following are accounts written by owners of Radial Hypoplasia (RH) cats, also known as Twisty Cats (or Twisty Kats).
THE STORY OF ROO
I am a volunteer at a cat rescue society in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I was searching the internet for resources for our website www.meowfoundation.com and found your information about radial hypoplasia and the cat named Crooked-Legs (see photos at bottom), who looks so much like my now deceased cat Roo I was literally left breathless at my computer.
I include my story of Roo for your information and because your sentence stating "So far nothing is known about whether the cats have internal abnormalities as well" is why I wrote a letter to the American publication Cats Magazine after reading the Twisty Kats Scandal article. This letter was never sent to Cats Magazine (note: the magazine had gone out of business).
As you can see from Roo's photos and story, she and Crooked-Legs are very similar in looks and abilities. Reading about Crooked-Legs limitations was Roo's story repeated. I do not know how Roo came to the animal shelter so I can not pass on to you any background information on health or environment. I was so alarmed by the fact that someone could choose to breed Twisty Cats and be proud of it, I felt I had to write Roo's story for her sake. Roo only lived to be 5 years old - a very short life for a cat as we both know. I truly hope Crooked-Legs is having a long healthy life and that Roo's heart problems were just unfortunate gene combinations. I also hope that a so-called breed of cats is not at risk of having the same health concerns.
The first time I saw Roo I cried. I thought she'd broken both front legs and healed crookedly without veterinary care. But she was born this way.
Roo looks like the cats described in The Twisty Kats Scandal article. She is small, with short bent front legs, fused front paws with nails that don't retract, large back legs with an extra toe on each foot, and a long thin tail with a nub at the end. To investigate the world, Roo stands on her back feet with her front legs close to her chest, looking like a black and white baby kangaroo. She walks on her elbows with her rear end jacked up. She can only sit with her front legs curled under her chest.
I adopted Roo from the animal shelter when she was almost 2 years old. At her first check-up my veterinarian (Dr. Joanne Krahn at the Calgary Cat Clinic) said Roo was in good health but had a heart murmur. That did not worry me at the time as my first cat had lived many years with a heart murmur.
At home, we noticed Roo had difficulties jumping down (not up), and walking on smooth floors. We "Roo-ized" the house immediately ... folded carpets placed for soft landings; more area carpets for traction; a new scratching post with wider, longer and more platforms; and furniture placed to make ladders. For example, when Roo climbs off our bed, she jumps from the bed to a chest, and then down to a folded carpet on the floor.
At first, we would sometimes come home to a cat with bent or broken eyebrows from landing face first. But she learned quickly to get around our house. To reach her favorite top spot on the scratching post, she taught herself to come down the multiple levels by jumping with a half twist to swing her heavy rear end around to the landing spot. With her combination of crooked, fused paws and front nails that do not retract, she sometimes got stuck to the scratching post so we had her nails trimmed professionally on a regular basis. Soon Roo and her cat "sisters" settled in and the household routine was established.
Roo cannot live a full cat life. She often needs to be carried, lifted and rescued in every-day situations. She gets left out of activities with our other two cats and sticks close to me. The sound of her walking is enough to break your heart - thump, drag, thump, drag.
But all seemed well until a year later when Roo experienced two episodes where she had problems breathing. Right there at the vet appointment, I came across the article DNA for Play? The Twisty Kats Scandal discussing breeding cats with deformities by Vickie Ives Speir in Texas. I sat there with my mouth hanging open - how could anyone chose to breed cats like my little Roo who has to put up with so many limitations? To do this to an animal on purpose was incredible.
Still in a daze after reading the article, we went in for our appointment. When Dr. Krahn listened to Roo's heart, she noticed a significant increase in her heart murmur. An x-ray showed Roo has an enlarged heart. An ultra-sound was performed shortly afterwards by Dr. Drew Van Ne Kirk (Calgary North Animal Emergency) resulting in more bad news. Roo has a list of congenital heart defects as well as the enlarged heart and heart murmur: leaky valves, thickened walls, an aortic outflow obstruction and a hole in her heart. My heart felt like it broke at those words. My little survivor had even more to contend with.
The veterinarians thought Roo only had about 6 months to live, and then she would likely die of congestive heart failure. I was a mess of emotions. My denial, anger, sadness and eventual acceptance of Roo's poor health, plus the outrage that someone was deliberately creating a breed based on a physical defect was overwhelming. Numerous times I tried to write a letter to the editor of Cats Magazine but each time I felt like I was writing Roo's eulogy and could not do it.
I still keep asking myself, are Roo's heart problems connected to her other physical problems? Or was Roo just born with a bad combination of genes? Is Vickie Ives Speir breeding cats with weak hearts and short lives? I haven't found the answers to my questions but I want to tell Roo's story to your readers.
Incredibly, after almost two years of periodic "episodes" Roo's health has started to deteriorate. Roo is a very sweet and loving cat and we are extremely bonded. I wish she could have a long life with us but that will not be her fate.
The more I re-read the Cats Magazine article on the Twisty Kats, the angrier I become. Roo's deformities cause her enough difficulties in life, but to intentionally inflict this on an animal is horrid. I was impressed that Cats Magazine took a stand on this controversial subject. I hope that with continued pressure breeding of cats with deformities stops. I only wish Vickie Ives Speir was more interested in the quality of life for a cat, and less "interested in the genetics".
I originally wrote this when Roo was still alive. Unfortunately she passed away in August 2002 of congestive heart failure. Our hearts are broken at the loss of our little Roo
THE STORY OF HEIDI
This article has been edited together, with permission, from an ongoing correspondence. Sadly one of the cats, See Too, died in an outbreak of infectious enteritis.
I have decided to send Heidi's story to you by email, but to do it in instalments. I have a question before I do that: "do they have internal problems or is it usually just the feet and leg problems?" Heidi had never had health problems but has always been touchy about her hind quarters; in other words, don't pet her by the tail or touch her in any way on the rear and don't scratch her at the base of the tail like a lot of cats like.
She is having some problems now, I'm not sure what. A few days ago we noticed her drinking a lot of water at one sitting, but weren't too alarmed. This morning I noticed her sitting in the cat box for a long time, but couldn't tell is she had done anything. I have found 2 days in a row some peculiar messes on the floor. I thought it was that, but this morning there was blood looking stuff in small amounts of the other.
We have 2 neutered cats that have the urinary tract problems and who had to be catheterized to get rid of the stones and other plugs. That is what Heidi acts like, however this stuff looks like it could have come from the rectum instead.
Heidi's mother was a semi-wild cat born on our property. We live in the country a ways and have always had lots of cats - they keep the majority of the snakes away. It's not unusual for us to have some that have not tamed down. Heidi's mother was one of those. We could reach out and touch her but not really pet her. I believe this cat may have had a litter before though we have never had anything like Heidi's problem.
I have often wondered about our "See-Too" cat(listed at the vets as C-2) . It started out as C.II short for Colonel II. But "See-Too" is a much better name-it really describes his personality. I call him my "low-rider" like the fad in automobiles. His front legs are pretty short, but not so much that he is deformed. He is one that has the urinary tract problem so he has been at the vets a number of times and the vet has never mentioned the legs. He was the only cat I had ever seen with front legs that short however.
We knew that the mama cat had had some kittens somewhere. She brought two kittens to the back porch one day and then left. They were less than a month old - eyes open but not moving around much. I put them in a box but left them outside. I kept going out and looking at them to make sure the fire ants weren't getting to them. The mama didn't come back, so at night I took the kittens inside, but did not feed or give water. I was afraid that if she did come back she wouldn't take them back if I messed with them too much.
By morning they were very vocal, I had kept them warm, but warm doesn't fill the belly. When I started out to feed them, I saw that the mama had come back, but was acting very scared, no doubt wondering where her babies were. However, if I hadn't interfered, the fire ants would have had them by then so I thought she was a tad ungrateful! At that point I was upset with her anyway, because when I saw Heidi's legs I had thought the mother had laid on them and broken them. And then for mama to just run off - I considered her a very irresponsible mother!
I stayed behind the door as much as possible and scooted the box out. Mama started to run, but came back when she heard the babies who were very vocal at that point. To my surprise and relief she jumped into the box and started taking care of them. I have bottle fed many babies, but not that young for some time. The every 2 hours was something I didn't want to have to do, but would have done if mama hadn't come back. When I started out to feed again about an hour later (I wanted to give her time to feed them good before I went out) they were all three gone.
Mama showed up to eat most days and when I could sneak a hand to her tummy, I would check to see if she still was nursing. She was, all those weeks until she brought them back to the house again. My heart was broken by Heidi's legs, when I picked her up that day; they almost dangled like they were broken.
I felt like both kittens were surviving by the way the tummy felt on the mama. I still thought mama had laid on her and didn't really know what kind of shape she would be in when mama brought them back to the house. She always brought them to the house after they were weaned. It was the only litter we had at that time, so when I heard kittens under the house early one morning about a month later, I knew she had brought them back.
When I went out to feed the rest of the cats I found the male dead by the feed pan covered with fire ants. I disposed of the body and wouldn't have seen Heidi (then unnamed) but I heard her screaming. It wasn't the usual cat sound. I've never heard her make the same sound since!. I got a towel, put it over her head and around her tiny body. She was terrified and tried to get away from me, but I knew I couldn't let her get under the house, besides she couldn't walk well and just sort of fell around. As soon as I wrapped her up and held her close to me she was still.
I first took her into our bedroom and put her on the bed to look at her closer. I had not done anything the first time because I didn't want my scent on her any more than necessary. I was totally perplexed at her front legs, but didn't know enough detail about a cat's skeleton to know what was wrong. I had to go on to work, but knew I couldn't leave her behind in the bathroom (has been our nursery, hospital etc!) besides, I didn't know what she could do. The way she sort of fell around when she walked frightened me. The carrier was way too big, so I emptied the rest of the litter from a Tidy Cat Litter box, put some holes in the top, grabbed a handful of cat food and away we went.
She fit in my open hand, so the litter box with a rag in it was perfect, it was really cozy. I carried her back and forth in the box until she got strong enough to crawl to the top and get out, I then started using the carrier. That first day, I put newspaper down, turned the box on its side so she could use it as her bed, put down a bowl of water which I changed to a jar lid really quick because she couldn't stand at the bowl very well as her balance was not developed. I didn't get much work done that day! She slept a lot, but when she did get up her legs seemed to be very weak.
At that point I did not know what to expect, as to what she could do. She has always had difficulty with the water bowl, but now we have an automatic waterer less than 2 inches high it's easier for her. When she eats, she doesn't eat like our other cats. She uses her tongue to sort of scoop and uses her whole mouth like we use our hands picking something up - she extends both her upper and lower jaws then pulls the food together and in.
Since it takes her longer to eat and one of the new rescuees chases her, I sometimes take her food to a middle bedroom-her room. She can go under the door which is about 2-3 inches. Bud can't get under there, but See Too lays flat on his back and pulls himself in there to eat her food. He isn't even supposed to have that kind! See Too has short front legs, but with his legs everything is normal except the length.
In the beginning it seemed the only thing wrong with Heidi was that one of the joints on both legs was bent wrong. She seems to have each bone but they are just really short. From the shoulder to the next joint seems pretty normal, then short to the next joint which is the one that bends the wrong way, then to the next is really short, then her feet are really small, as are all the bones in her front legs compared to her hind legs.
She grew stronger quickly and began running under the door of the bathroom at the store. I began putting up a barrier instead of closing the door and later put the barrier so she could have the run of the office as well as the bathroom. We did that until she began jumping to the top of the barrier! I couldn't keep her in where I wanted her to stay so I began leaving her at home during the day. We had gotten control of the ants coming into the house, so it wasn't so dangerous any more.
We had great fun with her at the house. The first few times she jumped off the bed we nearly died thinking it must surely hurt, but in fact she has never acted like it hurts to jump from chairs etc. She is really cautious with higher things and expects to find a way down or be put down. We had to make her a "hill" up to the top of the bed so she could come and go off the bed with out us putting her up and down. It was like watching a baby progress as she began doing the things most cats do automatically.
Her little paws are turned in sort of like "pigeon-toed", so it was a real challenge for her to learn to clean herself with her paws. The side that she licked was not the side that made contact at first. She soon began turning the foot to match the licked spot with her face.
She never had problems with the litter box and did not ever have an accident. Paper worked well for about a week, then I had to fix a really low box. It made a really great litter box though she uses the big one now without any difficulty.
One game she really liked was catch. On the bed we would toss a wash cloth into the air and she would jump to get it, clasping it with both paws. We began calling her Leapin' Heidi. It was like she thrived on the praise we gave her as she leaped so high and caught them. The jumping and catching seemed to strengthen her co-ordination and her legs. Of course the front are not really strong now, but she does really well.
When she walks, she of course walks on the long part of that bone and waddles, because the problems are not the same in both legs. When she runs she hops going front to back like a rabbit. Most of the time when is on all fours, she is actually on three as she holds one leg up to herself. She stands on the long part of her hind legs (toe to hock) a lot, or sits on her rump, with her front paws folded to her chest. Her shoulders may have something wrong, although we're not sure. Her bones protrude a little, making it look as though she needs a training bra, but it's not really noticible.
Eventually she got too curious about the other cats in the house and escaped from the bedroom. At first we grabbed her and put her back, but eventually we began watching her with the other cats and things seemed to go ok. They were curious, but did not pick on.
I talked to our vet about Heidi this morning. He had not seen one like Heidi before and was horrified when I told him about the Twisty Kat breeding. When I put her in the carrier, she did everything in her power to destroy the thing. I don't know how many flips she turned. At that point I was nearly as upset as Heidi! Dr Neal said she had urinary tract infection and I also have an appointment to have her spayed. I'm not nearly as nervous about that as I have been. Dr Neal said she had a good strong heart beat and everything else seems ok from an outside examination. I am going to have him really look at her legs and joints while she is under.
STELLA (CROOKED LEGS)
I haven't seen Spiers' Twisty Cats in the flesh, only in photographs. However, I have had first hand experience of a cat with this type of deformity. 'Crooked Legs' (who was later named Stella) was born in a colony of severely inbred feral cats and luckily her deformity was less severe than that observed in the Twisty Cat. Once her quality of life was assessed she was spayed so I will never know whether her deformity was a birth defect, caused by environmental factors, or an inheritable condition.
Crooked-Legs was mobile though there were limitations - she could not run or play in the same way as other cats. She could not cover up her own faeces in a litter tray. There were concerns about the claws on her front paws because she could not use a scratching post. She liked to rest with her front quarters elevated on a ledge and she often sat up on her hindquarters like a rabbit; this probably put less strain on her spine and was a more comfortable resting position. In addition she had a slight cranial deformity which might have been linked to the forelimb deformity. However, her forelimbs were not useless flippers and the vet's opinion was that she could expect a happy, healthy life in a good home with owners who were aware of her limitations and problems. However curious we were as to the nature of her deformity, the welfare of Crooked-Legs and of a potential future generation was paramount so she was spayed. She was judged as a one-off and not as a potential new and novel breed.
BUNNY AND HER "BUNNY BOXES"
I wanted to share with you a couple of pictures of my cat with radial hypoplasia, Bunny. She is well adapted (well other than having a temperament like a rattlesnake) and gets around the house well. I've built her leaning boxes (I call them Bunny boxes) for her to lean on. I am appalled that people are actually trying to deliberately breed cats with this problem.