☘️ SHAMROCK: The Comeback Cat ☘️
Once upon a time, in the small city of Fort Wayne, Indiana, seven tiny white kittens were born to a Ragdoll cat mom and a great big Ragdoll dad. One of these kittens (the largest of the seven, coincidentally) was our tiny white kitten, an I-love-you present I was giving to my then 9-year-old son, Jaden. As the adorable little fur balls scampered about in play for the next ten weeks with their birth family and their humans, Jaden and I visited and planned and named our kitten…Shamrock.
Shamrock’s homecoming was St. Patrick’s Day, 2019. Jaden and I were sleepless with excitement! And sleeplessness was key that first night home as we watched, in complete disbelief, as our little Shamrock repeatedly leapt over the baby gate we’d put in the doorway to keep him safely confined. So much for that idea! His landings were perfect and he then wandered around our house like he’d lived there forever.
Shamrock sailed through his first vet appointment and his subsequent check-ups, too, and was so accommodating (as he gave all of us his darling cat-smiles) that the vet staff called him Mr. Mellow.
We watched him grow into a very impressive Ragdoll from that 2-pound cutie we’d brought home; he weighed over 18 pounds on his third birthday! His seal mitted coloring, its seasonal variations, and that little “paint splash” streak of white on his nose never failed to thrill us.
Shamrock’s smart and loving personality has been another of his trademarks. He met us at the door when we came home, played indoors and out, and responded to commands. He and Jaden were inseparable.
But on March 8, 2022, Shamrock wasn’t at the door, nor did he answer with his distinctive MEOW when we called. We found him lying in Jaden’s bedroom and realized that something was drastically wrong.
Shamrock couldn’t stand up. I felt along his back, legs and abdomen; nothing seemed out of line. There was no pain reaction or pulling away. We held him upright a couple of times, only to have him collapse and lie there, unmoving. His blue eyes looked at us with trust and some puzzlement… as I became more distraught by the minute.
It was 3:30 in the afternoon and our wonderful vet, Dr. Chabot, was in the office. I had a short conversation with the receptionist:
Shamrock can’t stand up. ~ Bring him right in.
But then, because of Covid restrictions, Jaden and I had to wait in the car.
The vet called my cell phone from the exam room. It’s something serious, she said; I’m calling an emergency vet for you to take him to. We’ve put in a needle catheter and given him something to calm him down.
But the local emergency vet practice was exceptionally busy and they recommended I take Shamrock to the emergency clinic outside Indianapolis, more than 90 minutes away. It was mentioned that there was a neurosurgeon there who should see Shamrock. The pit of dread in my stomach doubled in size.
I stashed Jaden with a neighbor and took to the interstate, heading south. Shamrock lay in the passenger seat, cushioned in blankets, immobile. It was so strange to see him like that. Battling my fear, I kept one hand on him in comfort; he didn’t make a sound through the entire trip.
Staff met us immediately at the emergency hospital and took Shamrock to be examined. I was directed to paperwork and a couch. The waiting room was eerily quiet, with only a few other animals and their owners sitting about.
Dr. Reckard, just arrived for the night shift, called me in to share what she’d found. Her initial words were reassuring ~ Shamrock is stable at the moment ~ and then became totally terrifying: It could be a brain injury. A tumor. A spine injury. Spinal malformation. Infection. A fracture. A slipped or damaged disc.
His legs are paralyzed. Quadriplegia. Possible bladder and bowel involvement. I want our neurosurgeon to see him when she comes in tomorrow morning.
All I wanted to do was hold Shamrock and make this all go away. A tech brought him into an exam room for a visit before I returned home and I held Sham against my heart; wrapped in a blanket, helpless, he suddenly didn’t look the least bit big or strong anymore.
I held him for all the time they allowed, stroking his head and telling him we were going to get through this. Did he under-stand? It reminded me of the times I’d held my oldest son after surgeries he’d had in infancy ~ all my mom-feelings pouring into a limp little body with hope, despite steep odds, of getting well.
It was back to the highway and home in the dark, almost midnight when I arrived. I tried hard to keep my tears at bay. How I hated leaving Shamrock behind! I knew the morning would bring to us our next steps and big decisions.
And the phone rang bright and early. It was Dr. Sangster, the neurosurgeon, who’d examined Shamrock and verified that he did, indeed, have “something neurological going on.”
She wanted permission to do an MRI scan of Shamrock’s head.
This is no time to think of dollar signs, my heart warned me. Yet how can I not, my head answered. Calculating unknown odds and reasonable limits and trying to insert logic into such stress was impossible. I couldn’t get over that Shamrock could be so sick at only 3… I couldn’t imagine our lives without his presence.
It wasn’t long before I answered. I said yes.
Another wait of a few hours, and Dr. Sangster called back. Shamrock had tolerated the sedation well and the MRI had given definitive results: “the best-case scenario” ~ a Fibrocartilaginous Embolism (FCE). It didn’t sound “best” to me. A tiny ball of the connective tissue in joints and spinal discs had burst away from its location in Shamrock’s body (probably a vertebrae) and traveled through blood vessels to his spinal cord, causing the “acute death” of that part of the cord.
It was, in short, a spinal stroke. It’s rare, not necessarily linked to Ragdolls or young cats, and happens to dogs and people, too. (And pigs!) It leads to pain, weakness, and paralysis. It usually affects only one side of the body but, in Shamrock, it had affected all four legs (or, as Jaden would say, his arms and legs).
Shamrock could be released that evening, the doctor said, and his prognosis was “fair.” She encouraged me to think that the outcome could be positive, though it would take a lot of “home care, support and love” to get his legs functioning again. Recovery could take months; it might only be partial. Shamrock would need a lot of assistance… essentially teaching him how to walk again.
It was almost overwhelming, but my heart jumped at the chance to get Shamrock home. Care, support, and love ~ that we could do.
And so I made the Indianapolis trip again. Shamrock was unchanged, once more a still, silent passenger in the car (cue tears). Jaden and I carefully bedded him down in our large travel crate… and the steps toward recovery began.
Shamrock came home with an itemized Plan of Care and I started it immediately. My alarm went off every few hours through the nights so I could check that his bed was dry. I lifted and held him up in the litter box for a few minutes to see if he could “go.” I turned him to his opposite side and smoothed the fur that he had been lying on; offered him food and water. I checked his breathing and his alertness, and sometimes rocked him for a few minutes with a quiet lullaby.
The daytime schedule was much the same with the addition of range-of-motion exercises and attempts at standing. As ordered, I gave Shamrock gentle massage on each leg every few hours and soon figured out that I needed to carefully wash his face and bottom, also, since he couldn’t even do that for himself. It was a full-time mom/nursing/physical therapy job with the dearest of all patients.
And Shamrock never objected or complained.
I started a journal so we’d have something to look back on, no matter the outcome…
Progress ~ Love Notes To Shamrock
March 10 – Recovery Day/Post-embolus Day 2.
You Are Home, sweet boy! When I wasn’t exercising you today, you spent hours sleeping, usually in my arms.
It rips my heart out to see you so limp and floppy, but by nightfall you managed to clumsily turn yourself from one side to the other using your (massive!) shoulder strength. What a shock! What amazing progress already! And now I’m much more thankful, right now, that you are so big ~ big bones, strong muscles.
Let’s get that spine working again.
Oh, and Sham ~ I’m trying to not freak out over your refusal to eat or drink; I know you’re hydrated from the IVs of the last two days. Can you try another sip?
March 11 – Day 3
Hey, big cat, you are my hero! After just one small instance of a wet bed in the middle of the night, you used your litterbox! With my help standing, of course… that was a little weird, wasn’t it? And no privacy, either. You also began moving your back legs a bit on your own this afternoon (!!) and made efforts to sit up (still not functional enough). My heart is tingling with seedlings of hope. But Sham ~ you’re still not eating or drinking. (Nag nag nag.)
March 12 – Day 4
FINALLY! You ate some soft pate food! Thanks for trying it ~ but then I did put it directly under your nose while holding you upright in an eating position. Awkward! I just want all these automatic motions to come back to you.
Eating by yourself has got to be better than what we’ve been doing. You certainly haven’t liked it when Jaden feeds you through a syringe! Even though we’ve offered everything from tuna water to bone broth to baby food, mousse to lickables, canned flavors to kibble-all-mashed-up, you’ve held out. You didn’t used to be so finicky.
But I should have known that you would eat when you felt like it ~ you ARE a cat. Of course!
March 13 – Day 5
Time to start drinking… but no, you’re tired today, sleeping a lot and much less tolerant of my lap. And not to be too personal, but you haven’t pooped yet, either. So glad we’ll see another specialist tomorrow. Can I sneak in some range-of-motion while you’re resting?
March 14 – Day 6 (Not even a week yet.)
Dr. Kitson is a feline rehabilitation specialist here in Fort Wayne (I had no idea) and she lists treatment modes on her website that include underwater treadmill, laser therapy, cryotherapy, and a fully equipped gym ~ yes, for cat rehab! I am astounded at the very thought of it, and Shamrock: I want to see you walking ~ no, running ~ on that treadmill.
And it’s from Dr. Kitson that I feel a big boost of hope for your recovery. Though today you needed x-rays to check that pesky constipation, sub-q fluids for dehydration, an injection for pain control, Vitamin B12 and home prescriptions, you amazed Dr. Kitson with your progress so far. You even tried to stand and take a shaky step for her! The prognosis suddenly looks brighter.
But you’ve also lost a pound and a half since the embolus and that has the doctor concerned. She prescribed two more weeks of quiet rest, a self-warming blanket for you and your muscles to lie on, Prednisone for inflammation, an appetite booster and a pain med for the next 5-6 days. She can tell that your legs hurt (though sensation is a very good thing).
March 15 – Day 7
Mom-PT continues and so does the rocking and the quiet words and songs. (Do you like music?? Is my singing terrible?) I douse your soft food with cat-gravy to up the calories and liquids, and you love it. I look at you asleep and fatigued, and I worry. And tonight, as I watch you try to awkwardly scoot across the floor on your back end, I think ~ nope, this cat is not going to be a quadriplegic. Your determination astounds me.
March 16 – Day 8
Shamrock, you have not listened to the doctor’s command to rest more and move less. You lurched toward the patio door this afternoon in the warm sunshine, sniffed the outside air as you’ve always loved to do, and rested while watching the birds ~ your legs tucked under you for the first post-embolus time! Before I could intervene, you then ambled ~ okay, so you tottered ~ with your wobbly back legs over to the base of the cat tree as if to say: I’m coming back! And then you curled into yourself (again ~ first time!) at the tree and took a well-deserved nap.
Wow. This could be the returning of Shamrock-normal!
And you weren’t done. Tonight, you amazed us once again: you somehow pulled yourself up to the lowest perch of the cat tree. WHAT?! Another nap. What a patient. What a rehab.
Coming down from that low single step of the tree wasn’t pretty; your body collapsed on the landing. Sham, you should have waited to me to help! Your front legs are still jiggly, but how you persevere. Oh, Shamrock, we are so absolutely crazy about you.
March 17 – Day 9
Yesterday’s activity took its toll; today was a sleeping day ~ interspersed with PT and assisted potty breaks, of course. You still aren’t the least bit interested in drinking water, even though we’ve even held you up to the bathroom sink that you always used and tried every bowl in the house. I scroll through cat fountains on the internet and make the perfect find for you ~ a faucet-spout fountain! Can’t wait for the 2-day delivery.
Oh, and Shamrock ~ it’s your day:
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! We love you to pieces.
March 18 – Day 10
You are trying to give me a heart attack! I walked into my bedroom today and there you were, ON my bed. You woke up with a big yawn and I didn’t have the heart to scold you; didn’t know if I should laugh or cry.
Later, you decided to walk ~ WALK ~ down the length of the hall. On all four legs. My jaw hit the floor before you did. You’re moving with some sort of a waddling limp; the weakest leg seems to be your right “arm.” Oh, you look so tired, my dear ~ as you have since the embolus; I’m so glad that sleep still takes up most of the day. And no more jumping up and back down off the bed, please.
March 19 – Day 11
You little stinker ~ today you clawed and boosted your way up on the couch. Looked pretty pleased with yourself, too; you’ve always loved heights. The surprise of seeing you there today reminded me of your gate-jumping as a baby. You are unstoppable!
But instead of working so hard next time, try the pet-steps that Dr. Kitson recommended ~ at least on the jumping down. You and your neck are still supposed to be taking it easy! And some rest on top of the self-warming rug (instead of next to the rug) would really help with that inflammation.
Typical stubborn male, you! I’m cutting down on the exercises as you sure seem to be doing more than enough moving on your own.
The faucet fountain is here! You were hilarious tonight, circling it like it was a live animal ready to strike out at you or something. But cat-curiosity won out over caution, and to our delight: you are drinking!! (Jaden: no more laborious syringe.)
March 20 – Day 12
Way too much excitement yesterday. It appears as if every movement you do has to be planned and calculated and performed with deliberate care; no wonder you’re exhausted.
That FCE thing really knocked you for a loop, didn’t it? Poor guy.
And so today was just another sleeping day.
March 22 – Day 14
I sat back and tried to assess your progress today, my sweet ~ it’s been two weeks. You are completely impressive! Yes, you walk uncomfortably, with a wobble (do we care?); you don’t really land cat-like on your feet when you hop down from the couch or chair (it’s more of a splat); you have that little right-side lean and now, in a turnabout, you don’t want to be touched. I’m guessing the hands-off, Mom! is a phase of your recovery as your nervous system works itself toward healing. (New blood vessels grow and bypass the spinal damage to establish new blood flow.)
You often look sad, though. I miss your spirited personality right now, Sham; you’re subdued and a little withdrawn. I even wonder if you’re a bit depressed. I hope you’re not in pain and that you return to the Shamrock of spirited love and company and fun that we’ve always known.
But good grief, I remind myself: you’re recovering from a stroke! Only two weeks ago! Mom-nurse must keep the faith.
March 23 – Day 15
Another breakthrough. You finally acknowledged Zeke today. Your own furry brother!
You two have studiously avoided each other, Shamrock, since you got home. You obviously took the “he’s invisible to me” route and just ignored him. Zeke has sniffed around you daily in puzzlement, often hissing at you as he decided something’s very off; then he backs away and minds his own business, thank you very much. I don’t think you fully smell like home to him yet.
But today ~ you gave him a half-hearted swat on his tail as he passed in front of you. You two inched closer to each other (not your normal close, just about a foot apart) and ate side by side at your supper bowls. You’re still skittish and wary of each other, and definitely not the best of friends (yet) … but it’s a good start.
March 24 – Day 16
Our second visit with Dr. Kitson and yes, you’ve regained almost all of your lost weight. Dr. Kitson is astounded at your progress and said that your back legs are fully strong again ~ hence your jumping on the couch and my bed. She still wants you to slow down a little until your landings aren’t so unbalanced and your neck is healed further; are you listening?!
Your embolus hit at your cervical spine, 5th vertebrae. It could have been catastrophic. Be gentle with yourself, big guy.
And for your evening accomplishment:
Shamrock! You rolled from your side to your back tonight! And spent a little time in that most undignified cat position of all-sprawled-out, just like you used to do.
It was a little laborious and, as all of your movements are, a little slow. I’m sure it felt completely wonderful.
I am so proud of you.
March 25 – Day 17
It’s a cold, gray, foggy, rainy day and I turned over in bed this morning smack into a warm pile of double-fluff. You and Zeke were both next to my pillow! The expression you were giving him was priceless. I wouldn’t say you two look entirely trusting of each other yet, but the distance wasn’t extreme ~ oh, probably because you both wanted to snuggle with me!
Your interest in each other didn’t last long, though.
March 28 – Day 20
Your gains are huge. The days are becoming more routine. You’re pretty independent, even with the litter box. Your appetite is great again. You walk around the house at will.
Your front legs (arms) are super-improved; it must have been those push-ups. (Just kidding. No pushups!)
April 1 – DAY 24
Today you and Zeke (still distancing!) sat on the back of the couch and ‘helped’ me fold laundry. You looked pretty satisfied after knocking a pile of clean clothes to the floor.
You got me ~ April Fool’s!
April 4 – DAY 27
Look at you, turning your head! Moving your neck! Coming on cue for meals! Eating and drinking with gusto! Breaking into a RUN in the hall! Chasing and batting Zeke! Curling up with ease in your cat tree. Starting to independently play. How far you’ve come, my dear one. I am so, so glad.
April 12 – DAY 35
Check-up day with Dr. Kitson and she sadly (!) informs me that you are not going to need any further rehab. No underwater treadmill, no cat gym. Your recovery has been extraordinary. You’re strong again. You’re allowed to jump up and jump down. Your limp is essentially gone and your arms are now fully functioning.
What a day.
Postscript: Remnants of the Journey
Shamrock is more cautious than before the embolus, judging his movements (evidently a cat can assess that) and avoiding the highest of his pre-embolus jumps ~ he hasn’t been to the top of the cat tree or on the countertop yet. He seems to like to be enclosed more than he used to when he’s sleeping; I presume that’s a need for feeling safe.
His personality is still more aloof, or shy, or maybe that’s caution, too. He’s more aggressive than before when he doesn’t want to be picked up. I hope he’s going to mellow a bit and return to affectionate lap-naps as he fully adjusts to life-after-injury.
He is such a champion! And so loved – with love that is powerful and unconditional. Thanks to our awesome veterinary team, we have our Shamrock back.
With Deepest Thanks To:
Dr. Katie Chabot, DVM
Covington Veterinary Hospital, Fort Wayne, Indiana
Dr. Michelle Reckard, DVM, MPH Emergency/Critical Care
Dr. Andrea Sangster, DVM, MS, ACVIM Neurology
VCA Advanced Veterinary Care Center, Fishers, Indiana
Dr. Jill Kitson, DVM, CCRT, ABVP
St. Joe Center Veterinary Hospital, Fort Wayne, Indiana
And each and every technician and assistant who cared for Shamrock – and me. The compassion, patience, and knowledge shown by each one of you will be treasured forever.
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Hi, I’m Jenny Dean, creator of Floppycats! Ever since my Aunt got the first Ragdoll cat in our family, I have loved the breed. Inspired by my childhood Ragdoll cat, Rags, I created Floppycats to connect, share and inspire other Ragdoll cat lovers around the world,