When Kris Kaiser saw a post in a Facebook group for cats and kittens with cerebellar hypoplasia (CH) about Natalie, a blind tabby and white feline with the non-progressive neurological condition, she thought she might be the perfect playmate for Snapple, her special needs foster kitten. “In addition to looking for a friend for Snapple, I am always interested in fostering CH kittens,” explains Kris. “My own cats have cerebellar hypoplasia and since meeting them I have fostered CH kittens whenever I hear of one that needs a foster home.”
Kris learned Natalie was initially being given away for free via social media after she was found on a farm in Iowa. Fortunately, before the little special needs cat could fall into the wrong hands, she was rescued by Katt who shared her story in the Facebook group. “Katt wanted to find rescue placement for Natalie so that she would have her medical care covered and to find a caregiver experienced with kittens with special needs,” says Kris.
Kris reached out to The Bitty Kitty Brigade, the same organization in Minnesota that had rescued her foster kitten Snapple, and they agreed to help the five-week-old feline. On August 13, 2021, Kris met Natalie for the first time when she traveled to a halfway point between her home in Minneapolis and Katt’s home in Okaboji, Iowa, confident she would be able to provide her with the special care she needed to thrive. “Natalie is my 10th special needs foster kitten,” says Kris. “I have the perfect home setup for CH kittens and experience with physical therapy to help get them strong enough to start walking.”
When Natalie arrived at her foster home, she was already standing and walking, but she still needed Kris’s help with improving her balance and coordination. Cerebellar hypoplasia occurs in utero when a pregnant cat is exposed to some sort of illness, such as feline panleukopenia, causing her kittens to be born with underdeveloped cerebellum. “The cerebellum is responsible for motor control and coordination,” explains Kris, “so having an underdeveloped cerebellum results in jerky movements, clumsiness, and even tremors.”
Kris, who has several years of experience caring for cats and kittens with cerebellar hypoplasia, has found physical therapy, often in the form of play, can help affected felines improve their balance and coordination. However, there is no cure for this condition, but CH cats are not in pain, and because it’s a non-progressive condition, it will not shorten their lifespans nor will their symptoms worsen over time.
“That being said, because of CH cats’ wobbly nature and tendency to fall, they may hurt themselves and require extra veterinary care to treat injuries,” says Kris. “Chipped or broken teeth are not uncommon. This can be avoided with a few thoughtful accommodations.”
While Kris already knew the special accommodations she would probably have to make for Natalie’s cerebellar hypoplasia, she’d never fostered a blind cat before. However, it didn’t take long for her to learn a few tricks for caring for a visually-challenged feline, with Natalie’s help of course! “She has been teaching me a few things, like rubbing my fingers together as I reach down to pet her or pick her up so she doesn’t get startled,” explains Kris.
Because Natalie is blind, she bumps into walls and furniture from time to time, but overall, she doesn’t have much trouble getting around her foster home. “Once a blind cat is used to their space, you wouldn’t even know they are blind most of the time,” says Kris. “They have great hearing and adapt so easily.”
Also, due to having cerebellar hypoplasia, Natalie is more uncoordinated than a typical kitten her age, so she requires special accommodations like raised food and water bowls, rugs, carpeted floors, ramps, modified litter boxes, and limited access to stairs. Still, she is definitely capable of having a good quality of life, a concern Kris has learned a lot of people have about cats with cerebellar hypoplasia, and she’s much more active and independent than is often assumed.
“Natalie does fall and tumble a lot right now but as she gets older and stronger, it’s likely that she’ll tumble less,” says Kris. “CH cats are quite good at learning to compensate so in combination with that and getting body strength, it often seems like their mobility gets better over time.”
In order to help Natalie become stronger, Kris makes sure she has plenty of toys to keep her as stimulated and active as possible. While Natalie may not be able to see, she’s able to use her other senses to track items, which is why she particularly enjoys chasing after toys that make noise. “She is very playful and silly!” says Kris. “She has a child’s play gym with toys that dangle and she loves to bat at those and will play with those toys for hours.”
Because Natalie is so energetic, Kris would love for her to find a home with another young cat she can wrestle with. She also hopes this brave and spunky girl is adopted by people who are willing and able to accommodate her unique requirements, especially because Kris believes special needs cats like Natalie are definitely worth the additional time and effort. “As long as their home environment is set up to be safe for them, they are just like any other cat,” explains Kris. “They play, love to cuddle, and seem to be some of the happiest cats I have ever met.”
However, more than anything else, Kris wants Natalie — who she describes as a “force ” who “twirls, whirls, tumbles, and rolls wherever she wants to go” — finds a family who loves and appreciates this incredibly special cat just the way she is! “I think Natalie is kitten perfection,” says Kris. “She’s sweet, beautiful, smart and is going to make her future adopter extremely happy.”
To learn more about this beautiful kitten, you can follow Natalie on Instagram.
If you’re interested in adopting Natalie, you can submit an adoption application.