Happy October, kitten friends!
I’d like to share with you a special story this month – the kind of story that reminds you just what a blessing Tabby’s Place is. It’s the story of the J-Crew.
No, this is not a tale of hipster catalog shopping; the J-Crew is shorthand for a very special litter of kittens – DJ, JJ, LJ, and MJ. These four brothers came to Tabby’s Place in late August from a shelter in Georgia. They were just over three months old at the time, cute as the proverbial button, and in seemingly perfect health. But these kitties have proven to us yet again that sometimes raising a kitten is a little more complicated than one might expect.
Many kittens have to fight their way through upper respiratory infections when they’re babies. Ringworm also tends to sprout up on little ones more often, because their immune systems just aren’t running full-tilt just yet. The J-Crew was a different story, though. These babies had to fight off an even scarier monster – the panleukopenia virus.
Panleuk (a.k.a. parvo or distemper) is a cruel foe for a kitten. The virus attacks rapidly multiplying cells throughout the kitten’s body, and can lead to anemia, diminished white blood cell counts, high fever, diarrhea (often bloody), vomiting, and multi-organ system failure. Panleuk can have a devastating effect on a kitten’s tiny body. The mortality rate is extremely high, and it is extremely contagious.
The J-Crew seemed like normal, happy, healthy kittens when they arrived, but about a week into their stay at Tabby’s Place, DJ developed a low fever as well as diarrhea and vomiting. When his symptoms took a drastic turn the next day, we rushed him to the emergency vet, where he’d stay in intensive care for several days. It seems that the kittens were exposed to the panleuk virus during their stay at the shelter; while the virus isn’t a danger to healthy cats that have been immunized, kittens are at serious risk. We started watching MJ, JJ, and LJ super closely, knowing that they had been exposed to the virus along with their brother. The question was how they’d react.
In the meantime, we amped up our already stringent quarantine protocol. The J-Crew arrived around the same time as several other litters, and we couldn’t risk passing the infection along. Our FIV+ kitties were also a concern, simply because their immune systems aren’t full strength. In effect, we had to construct an unassailable barrier between the J-Crew and the other cats at Tabby’s Place (which we accomplished with very strict procedures and a LOT of bleach.) We are now well past the stage when another cat or kitten may have been infected, and thanks to our staff’s vigilance, the virus was contained.
With DJ already in the ICU, we watched the other boys very carefully, and good thing. Just two days later, MJ developed the same symptoms. We whisked him to the specialist to join his brother; poor MJ ended up being even sicker than DJ. He was severely anemic to the point of needing two blood transfusions, and he desperately needed nutrient replacement because his diarrhea was so bad. He was in very critical condition, but thanks to some excellent veterinary care (and a fighting spirit), he pulled through and returned to us in mid-September. All four boys have now been cleared of the panleuk virus, and thanks to their new antibodies, will never have to deal with it again.
Here’s where the story takes a strange turn, though. DJ and MJ, while underweight and clearly in need of a long recovery period, were on the mend. JJ and LJ never showed any symptoms of panleuk. Things should have just continued to get better and better. But after they returned from the ICU, DJ and MJ started developing neurological symptoms, including tremors and a wide gait, not unlike a cat with cerebellar hypoplasia (CH). CH is caused by the distemper virus, but it can only develop in utero, before a kitten is born. Even more mystifying, JJ, who was asymptomatic before, started to display neurological symptoms as well. LJ still seemed completely normal. What was going on?
We ran oodles of bloodwork and ruled out every other virus that may have been causing their symptoms. We also consulted a neurologist, who was equally mystified. And we’ve also posted the information on the J-Crew on a vet neurology board, to try to draw on expertise from all over the world.
On top of all that, we ran a series of x-rays on all the boys, just to check up on their insides, and found that JJ and LJ have enlarged hearts, while DJ and MJ do not. Is this another aspect of the panleuk virus’ effect on them? Or is it unrelated?
We have so many questions about these little boys’ health. What we do not question is how wonderful they are. In spite of all they’ve been through in their short lives, these are some of the sweetest kittens you could imagine. (As you can see from this photo, they are also very playful, happy boys!) They are still isolated from other cats, and will remain so until we can say for sure that we know what’s caused all these problems for them, but they are absolute lovebugs who just soak up love every moment you spend with them.
This is the kind of amazing story that you, as a sponsor of our kitten fund, have helped to make possible. Without intensive intervention, these sweet boys wouldn’t have made it through kittenhood, and while we haven’t figured it all out quite yet, they’re in a good place now. This is a story to be continued. We will be sure to share with you news of DJ, JJ, LJ, and MJ’s progress, and when we get to the bottom of their mysterious symptoms, you will be among the first to know. We are deeply grateful for your generous support of these little ones; you have helped to save them. Thank you.