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Ask the Cat Doc: How to Encourage a Cat with Cerebellar Hypoplasia to Play

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Welcome to our regular “Ask the Cat Doc With Dr. Lynn Bahr” segment! Once a month, Dr. Bahr answers as many of your questions as she can, and you can leave new questions for her in a comment.

Dr. Bahr is a 1991 graduate of the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine and founder of Dezi & Roo, a company that designs, manufactures, and sells solution-based products that enhance the lives of cats and their owners. She volunteers at numerous animal-related charities and causes and serves on the Fear Free Advisory Board, the Parliamentarian of the Society of Veterinary Medical Ethics, the Cat Committee of the Pet Professional Guild, and the Alley Cat Allies’ Feline Forward Task Force.

Dr. Bahr is co-author of Indoor Cat: How to Enrich Their Lives and Expand Their Worldavailable from Amazon.

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For more information about Dezi & Roo and their unique and innovative cat toys, please visit Dezi and Roo on Etsy.

We only had one question last month, about a kitty with cerebellar hypoplasia, also know as wobbly cat syndrome. If you’re not familiar with this condition, it is a neurological disorder that causes sudden jerky movements, uncoordinated motion and loss of balance. In a CH cat, the brain does not develop properly. This can happen when the pregnant mother has the feline panleukopenia virus (feline distemper) and passes it along to her unborn offspring. CH is neither contagious nor painful, and with some accommodations, cats with this condition can have full and happy lives.

How to encourage a kitty with CH to play

Hi Dr Bahr,

I am a first-time cat mom to my all-black humane society buddy and I just love him to pieces! I stopped drinking on February 12, 2021 and completed 3 months of inpatient rehab. I wanted a companion pet, but I knew a dog was out of the question. I decided on a cat and had no idea of what was in store for me! I fell in love with his pic and knew I had to adopt him! The people at the adoption place didn’t know exactly how old he was because he was found with his mom and siblings in a barn. I picked him out when I got there and then went to wait in the room for us to be introduced. The lady put him on the floor so he could explore, and I saw right away that his walk was off. They lady explained that the little guy picked up an infection from his mom called Cerebellar Hypoplasia, which makes him walk funny. So, I’m looking down at this fuzzy, feisty little fur ball take a few steps, his legs would give out a little, but that did not stop him at all! He was moving as fast as those little legs would carry him, he’d stumble over a bit, then get right back up! My heart melted! I picked him up and thought he might get upset because he wanted to play, but it was almost as if we knew each other already! He put his head on my chest and started purring and he hasn’t stopped! I told the lady that as soon as he started walking, I was sold! It’s okay that he doesn’t move as well other cats; I was going to make sure he lives his best life! He reminds me of mindset I had when I first got home from rehab; no matter what knocks you down, it only wins if you don’t get back up. So, get back up! I’ll have had him for 1 year on October 1 and he’s doing really well! What I’m wondering is, what kinds of things can I let him do that will make up for that fact that he can’t go outside unattended? The weather is getting better and i want to let him go outside, but with his walking and coordination issues, he won’t be able to get himself out of a bad situation or defend himself. He doesn’t really enjoy toys for very long, if he pays attention to them at all! I want him to be to enjoy being a cat and also be active as possible. Thank you so much and I’m excited to find out some ways to keep my buddy happy and healthy! His name? Well, I had a name all picked out because he'[s technically MY buddy. I got home and told my husband “This is my new buddy.” I was gonna tell my husband the name, but he watched him walk and he says “Wobbles. His name is Wobbles.” Perfect! – Angela Fulghum

Hi Angela,

Who rescued who? It sounds like you and your wobbly boy are a match made in heaven and I am so happy for you both. I appreciate you wanting to find more ways to play with him and have a few suggestions.

Since mobility is an issue, you may want to try games that involve scent. Using materials like silvervine, catnip, and even food or treats, hidden around the house or in food puzzles is an easy way to encourage him to use his nose to seek and find things that taste or feel good. There is even an online course teaching Nosework and you can learn more about it here.  Bringing scents from the outdoors, like branches, leaves, and safe plants inside for him to smell and play with is another way to appeal to his sense of smell and give him a fun activity to engage in.

Opening windows for enrichment will allow Wobbles to experience a bit of the outdoors and I encourage you to do so frequently. And, if possible, take him outside for supervised, short periods of exploration. You may even consider building an enclosure (catio). In my book, Indoor Cat: How to Enrich Their Lives and Expand Their World there is a simple tutorial on how to construct a quick and inexpensive window unit that anyone can assemble.

Have you tried wand toys to encourage your boy to play? If not, I recommend you try a few to see which ones catch his attention best. My favorites include the Wiggly Wand by Dezi & Roo, Da Bird by Go Cat, Bamboozler by Boinks, or Purrfect Leather Bouncer by Vee Enterprises. Make sure that you and Wobbler play with these safely on a carpeted surface to help him keep his balance and avoid injuries.

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How to properly play with wand toys

A common mistake people make when trying to get their cat to play with a wand attachment is to dangle it in front of their cat’s face. In the wild a mouse, bird, or bug would never run up to a cat and say “hi” or tease them by jumping in front of their face. Prey run away and cats chase them. The best way to entice Wobbles to play is to move the wand around gently until it catches his attention. Then stop all movement until he locks eyes on it, assumes the crouched position, and begins to pounce. Then you can move it around to entice him to chase it. Once he catches the attachment, let him proudly carry it away.

Play rugs, like the Magic Carpet, are wonderful for entertaining cats like Wobbles. You can throw it over a chair or table to create a fun tent for him to hide in or use it to encourage foraging by placing treats or toys underneath for him to uncover. He might enjoy it rooting around in it when simply placed on the floor or sleeping in it squished up in a corner.

Building forts out of boxes is another way to encourage him to play. Or, letting him play with a box filled with leaves from outside could be a fun activity for him too. Most cats enjoy romping in brown paper packing and Wobbles might like that too.

Hopefully, I have given you some ideas as to how to keep Wobbles happy and healthy playing. If you are looking for more ways in which to play with him, I encourage you to check out my book. It is chock full of valuable ideas and information.

Thank you for writing in and I hope you and Wobbles have fun playing together more.

Do you have a question for Dr. Bahr? Leave it in a comment and she’ll answer it in next month’s column.

*The Conscious Cat is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. The Conscious Cat is a participant in Etsy’s affiliate program. This means that if you decide to purchase through any of our links, we get a small commission. We only spread the word about products and services we’ve either used or would use ourselves.  



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