It has been eight months since we welcomed Lucas to our home, but he is yet to learn how to “Meow” like a cat. Not even at the dire moments when he is struggling to free himself from my smothering snuggles. All he manages to say is an extended and high-pitched “UmmmNeoww”, and a million other operatic versions of the same. The tabby feline is staring wide-eyed at a tinkling windchime at the time of writing this. Lucas is the second cat adopted by us in flat number 202 – three women trying to figure out life, one mess at a time. We first decided to adopt a cat on a lazy Sunday afternoon in March, just days before India went into the first-ever lockdown. That was when our first cat Lucy came into our lives. Our first few weeks as cat parents had its fair share of hilarious debacles. There were sleepless nights when little Lucy gobbled her food too fast and puked inevitably. There was even a frantic episode when we had to rush her to the hospital in the middle of the night during the lockdown and the doctors diagnosed her as severely dehydrated. But none of it compares it to the situations we faced with Lucas – our younger cat with epilepsy.
His first seizure at our home
The decision to adopt Lucas was taken after Lucy had settled down in our humble quarters. (And that meant removing all my ornamental plants from the living room and cramping them into the tiny balcony!) We thought of bringing a feline companion for young Lucy, together with whom she can royally ignore her hoomans.
His foster parents delivered him to our doorstep. Little Lucas, a one-month-old rescue kitten, was handed over to us all wrapped up in a towel. After a visit to the vet, the tiny furball retired cosily on my chest – a happy, healthy purring machine. In the next 24 hours, we adjudged him to be quite low maintenance, especially when compared to Lucy – the crazy, fussy energy machine.
The next night, we had wrapped up our dinner quite early. Lucas had finished his bowl of wet food and was resting inside a box he loved playing with. I was absorbed in a book when I suddenly heard a loud thud.
I looked at him and found him shaking vigorously as if some unnatural force has gotten inside his little body and shaking him beyond control. Foamy saliva was oozing out from the corners of his mouth, his eyes were flared wide open, and he was spraying urine all over. I had never seen anything like that, not even in humans. For a split second, I thought we were going to lose him.
I screamed and my flatmates came running. They told me Lucas was possibly having a seizure. We could do nothing to stop it and the ordeal lasted for more than a minute.
The seizure left him dazed and flustered. We wrapped him up in a warm blanket and immediately rushed to the nearest pet hospital. Blood culture revealed he had a severe protozoan infection. It had caused an alarming dip in his platelet count, which the doctor identified as the cause of the seizure. He prescribed a few antibiotics and administered a Diazepam injection that is supposed to soothe his nerves.
However, his malnourished and underweight body could not cope properly with the strong benzodiazepine. First, his muscles relaxed to the point he could not feel his own legs. He tried standing up but fell down every time. After a while, he fell into a deep slumber that left his body nearly unresponsive. His eyes were half-open, and there was a faint heartbeat. But at that moment of despair, we were almost certain that we had lost Lucas.
We rushed back to the hospital holding the debilitated kitten in our hands. It was nearly 2 AM and the clinic had closed. We banged desperately on the doors till the security guard begrudgingly let us enter.
The doctor, however, took one look at Lucas and assured us that this was a normal reaction to Diazepam, especially in kittens. He added that the effect would wear off in a few hours.
None of us got any sleep that night. The next day onwards, Lucas was on a strict medication schedule. Each day, we would pray his seizure never happens again. Our prayers were answered for about a week, as on the 7th day, Lucas had a seizure again.
Diagnosis – Lucas is a rare cat
The antibiotics eliminated his protozoan infection and normalised his platelet count. However, his seizures were still happening, once every seven days and at a specific time – between 11 PM to 12 PM. Throughout the entire time, we kept him isolated from Lucy, fearing his condition might be contagious to other felines. In fact, we would even change our clothes and sanitise ourselves thoroughly when we would touch Lucy after petting Lucas.
When the frequency and intensity of his seizures did not subside even after a month, we decided to get him checked at the best veterinary hospital in Bangalore. A series of diagnostic tests were performed, and our little baby patiently put up with all the incisions, injections and endless medications. He was checked for FPV multiple times but emerged completely fine. His ammonia levels were normal, his liver was functioning perfectly, and all the other probable causes of seizure were eliminated one after another. Finally, the doctor declared that Lucas had idiopathic epilepsy. A highly rare condition, our poor little Lucas is perhaps one of the very few cats with epilepsy in the world.
By that time we had read so many research papers and articles on the topic that we knew ‘idiopathic’ was no specific disease – rather it is the term ascribed when the cause of epilepsy remains unidentified. Lucas was prescribed Gardenal – a phenobarbital syrup that is the standard medication for epilepsy in human babies and animals. The rare medicine is not sold at all pharmacies, and only one store in our part of the city agreed to give the medicine on a veterinary prescription.
The phenobarbital syrup has a dangerous side effect – it adversely affects the cat’s liver over a prolonged period of time. However, there is no alternate medication yet available in India. To combat the liver damage, the doctor additionally prescribed Liv-52, a hepato-protective medicine.
With no noticeable improvement even after a few months of medication, the vet increased the dosage of Gardenal and subsequently Liv-52. In addition, we were asked to give Levipil, another anti-epileptic drug. The medicines are so strong that after each dosage, Lucas becomes quite groggy and soon falls into a deep sleep.
Every day after his meals, Lucas has to be held by the three of us and force-fed all these medicines with a syringe. It breaks our heart to see him fighting against the meds, or hiding from us. But, his seizures are far more heartbreaking and painful to watch. His favourite place for the afternoon siesta is on the top of my bookshelf, but due to his sudden seizures during sleep, he fell down twice and injured himself. The seizures, thankfully less frequent now (touchwood!), are no longer a surprise for us. But as he is growing up into a handsome, playful and super affectionate feline, it is almost unbearable to watch him suffer from such uncontrollable pain.
Epileptic medication comes with a series of side-effects. Loose motion, bloating and occasional nausea has become quite common, so much so that even Lucas himself does not bother about these ‘mild’ sicknesses anymore. One minute he is having watery poop, the next minute you will find him chasing his sister Lucy. We do administer a gastro-intestinal medication before his meals to keep such side-effects under control.
Lucy – The perfect sister to Lucas
There was a time when we were worried how can we ever leave Lucas alone at home with Lucy. But Lucy has proved herself to be the ideal sister that only the purest souls deserve. Every time Lucas has a seizure, Lucy somehow senses it no matter wherever she is. She immediately comes running and guards her brother till his seizure alleviates. Afterwards, she licks him clean, snuggles to keep him warm and finally caresses him to sleep. It fills our hearts to know that Lucy will always be there for her dear brother.
Caring for a cat with epilepsy is no cakewalk, but the furry little bundle of joy that Lucas is, he makes all our troubles go away. He is the bravest cat any of us have ever seen, boldly putting up with medications, injections, intravenous drips and whatnot. Once let out into the balcony, he managed to hunt a pigeon twice his size and bring it as a gift for us (Good Lord the bloodbath!).
People often ask why did we keep an epileptic kitten knowingly, especially since all of us are working professionals with not much free time in our hands. But, we always consider it a blessing that Lucas came into our lives. Perhaps, he would have been left uncared for, or worse, abandoned, by some cold-hearted humans, as we often get to see in reality. At the end of the day, caring for him has made us more patient, compassionate and empathetic.
I am writing this article today to help dispel the myth that caring for a cat with epilepsy, or generally a sick cat is exhausting and cumbersome. Honestly, we would not have been half as happy without Lucas among us. I wish to raise awareness about feline epilepsy and hope my article reaches hundreds of cat parents like us across the world. In conclusion, here is a photo of Lucas being weird to brighten up your day.