When Simply Cats, a cat rescue based in Boise, asked Heather Spencer to foster a litter of seven kittens who were rescued from a colony near her home in Kuna, Idaho, she eagerly agreed. “I have a friend who does TNR [trap-neuter-return] and she was working on a really large colony,” explains Heather. “She ended up catching 19 kittens.”
At the time, Heather had a lot of experience rescuing and fostering felines, but she didn’t have any experience caring for cats with dwarfism, and two out of the seven kittens she agreed to foster were born with the rare condition, including Winky.
“When we first saw her, she looked like a little elf,” says Heather. “My husband and I love Harry Potter, so we named Winky after the female house elf in the Harry Potter books.” In fact, when Heather started fostering Winky on October 3, 2019, the little kitten was so tiny, she fit in the palm of her hand despite being nearly two months old.
Almost immediately, Winky became attached to her foster mom, and when she wasn’t sitting on Heather’s shoulder, the diminutive cat could be found snuggling in her shirt for extra warmth. “She was very quiet and very different than her other siblings,” says Heather.
Not only does dwarfism, a genetic mutation, cause cats to be smaller than typical felines, it causes them to show symptoms of osteochondrodysplasia, a disorder of the development of bone and cartilage. Consequently, dwarf cats can have a number of health problems, and it didn’t take long for Winky’s medical issues to become apparent to her foster mom and dad.
“Being so small and compact caused quite a bit of problems,” says Heather, including respiratory issues, leaky eyes, and chronic constipation. “We had a huge rough patch and she had to stay at the vet many times — on top of my husband and I giving Winky hourly enemas on some days and a few enemas other days.”
Thankfully, with the help of a high fiber diet and regular doses of lactulose and a feline laxative, Winky was eventually able to overcome her chronic constipation. She’s also had a few upper respiratory infections which have required immediate treatment, while the exact cause of her leaky eyes remains unknown. “We will know more once she reaches three pounds and gets spayed,” explains Heather. “The vet is going to look at her tear ducts during surgery.”
While a typical kitten Winky’s age would have hit three pounds months ago, this special girl has struggled to gain weight, and it’s not just because her dwarfism makes her smaller than the average feline. “It has been difficult because she has to be on the fiber response diet and therefore she can’t be on kitten food,” says Heather.
Even though it might take time for Winky to reach the weight she needs to be in order to get spayed and put up for adoption, she already has a family eagerly awaiting the day they can officially adopt her. “My husband and I will be adopting her,” says Heather. “How could we part ways?”
Without a doubt, Winky has needed more care than a typical feline, but Heather is confident she and other special cats like her are more than worth the extra time and attention they require to thrive. “They give back so much love and appreciation,” says Heather, but she hopes anyone who adopts a cat with special needs does it for the right reason. “I would hope that when thinking about possibly adopting a special needs cat, that the decision isn’t made solely on the fact that the cat is cute.”
After all, while Winky is incredibly cute, she also has health issues that require ongoing treatment and attention, and people who adopt cats with dwarfism — or any other type of special needs — should be prepared to get them the help they require.
Fortunately, Winky — who was rescued from a large colony along with 18 other kittens — has the perfect home with Heather and her husband, allowing this sweet girl to indulge in her favorite activities, which include eating, playing with her SmartyKat Electronic Motion Cat Toy, and snuggling with her mom. “Winky really enjoys sitting in my lap, purring, and making biscuits,” says Heather.
While it’s obvious Winky’s mom and dad have been a godsend for her, Heather actually credits this adorable little cat with helping her through a very difficult time. Just a few months ago, Heather lost her aunt to suicide, and Winky was there, providing her foster mom with the same love and support she received when she was struggling with her many health issues.
“I know it is silly, but I prayed for a sign and Winky climbed up me and put her paws on my face,” says Heather. “We just have a connection. She is love, inspiration, strength, hope, joy, beauty, and so much more. Winky means the world to me.”
To learn more about this adorable kitten, you can follow Winky on Instagram.