In August 2004, we had a call from one of our supporters saying that there were some Siamese cats and kittens in desperate need of our help. Some first-time unlicensed breeders had acquired two pregnant Siamese cats but, unfortunately, things hadn't quite gone as planned. The two queens had not been vaccinated and both had contracted cat flu, which they passed onto their babies. All 13 cats and kittens were now desperately ill but were given no veterinary attention at all.
One kitten had one of its eyes gouged out and another's tail had literally been tied into a knot; three other kittens had gone blind because of the untreated cat flu.
The cats & kittens were being kept in a small, run-down, damp shed and when our supporter saw what a state they all were in, immediately grabbed all 5 'damaged' kittens.
We took the three blind kittens - Oh-No, Window & Silly-Puss - and the one with the knot in her tail - Noodle - to our vets. They confirmed that they all had herpes virus, which, in cats, causes flu. Our supporter also took the kitten she had ('Lily' - with the gouged out eye) to her vets, who gave the same diagnosis.
When the 'breeders' were told what the vets had said, they surrendered the remaining kittens and 2 queens to us.
In all, we took in 10 animals - the 2 queens plus 8 kittens. Our supporter and her friend adopted the other 3 kittens between them.
They were all terribly traumatised and nervous, as well as being very ill. Our vets started treating them for the flu immediately but unfortunately, it was already too late to save the eyesight of the 3 blind kittens. The Cardiff Cat Clinic operated on Silly-Puss' eyes, removing the adhesions and scar tissue that had been left behind. This was a partial success in that it improved her comfort (though not vision) at the time; but, as the months passed, the adhesions and scar tissue grew back.
The tragedy in all of this is that these cats weren't born blind and if they had been given access to proper veterinary treatment when they contracted the cat flu, they would have normal eyesight today. Something as simple as a course of antibiotics and possibly some eye drops would literally have saved their vision.
We started working with them all, trying to win their trust and to help them to get over the horrors of their previous 'home'. We were advised by contacts working for Siamese Rescue shelters to have all of the cats and kittens vaccinated and then neutered or spayed - to ensure that no-one else tried to breed these cats.
We networked with Siamese Rescue to find homes for the cats and kittens and found homes everybody except Oh-No, Window & Silly-Puss. We didn't know if they would ever cope with their disability, let alone be in a position to be re-homed.
But Oh-No, Window and Silly-Puss aren't debilitated by their blindness; they know no different and just get on with life, jumping and charging around without a care in the world. They are all typical Siamese cats - incredibly vocal, very particular and very naughty! They are all just adorable.
As they grew up, the surfaces of their eyes changed and we periodically asked our vets if anything else could be done for them. In particular, both Window's and Silly-Puss' eyes started to look more and more uncomfortable: Window always held his eyes partially closed; one of Silly's eyes was permanently fused open by the adhesions caused by the flu.
In July 2006, we contacted the specialist Eye Clinic in Leominster (they operated on Jasper's eyes last summer) to ask if there might be anything that they could do. We went up for an initial consultation in July and arranged operations for both Silly-Puss and Window in August.
The senior vet, John Mould, said that our Siams' eyes were the worst that he had ever seen as a result of cat flu. Oh-No's eyes are so badly scarred that there is nothing, either surgically or medically, that can be done for her. Window's right eye did respond a little to movement and both of his eyes are quite badly scarred; also, he had tight, restrictive bands across his eyes, limiting his eye movement, which must have been very uncomfortable. Silly-Puss' eyes are also badly scarred with lots of bandings and adhesions, with one eye permanently stuck open and the other eye's third eyelid stuck over the surface of the eye. John said that there was a slight hope for an improvement in Window & Silly's vision but, more importantly, he felt confident that they could make both cats more comfortable.
We decided that we had no choice but to go ahead - nobody deserves a life of discomfort. The only problem - as ever - was funds. We knew at the time that we would need to fund-raise to help out with the cost of the operations, which, in total, cost nearly £1,200.
To put this into perspective, we spent a total of approx. £13,000 on vets bills in the year 05/06 (excluding Jasper's operations) - meaning that Silly-Puss' and Window's operations cost nearly 10% of our annual vet bills expenditure.
For both Window and Silly-Puss, they removed the adhesions and released the tight banding. With Silly-Puss, they discovered something very bizarre - one of her eyeballs had a gaping hole in the side of it. They stitched it up as best they could. This is presumably why her eyes always looked like they were different shapes.
We didn't know whether Window's and Silly-Puss' vision would improve but they both are definitely more comfortable.
Quite typically, Window managed to open his stitches the day after the operation, terrifying us - but, thankfully, our own vets were able to stitch them up again!
On our subsequent check-up visit at Leominster (for which the fee was very kindly waived), John managed to finally release Silly-Puss' third eyelid with the use of local anaethetic and surgical forceps, revealing an eyeball that doesn't look too badly scarred. She may even get some vision in this eye as time goes by.
Quote from John Mould, senior vet at the Leominster Eye Clinic:
Many kittens suffer from cat flu and it is especially common in feral and farm colonies and in multi-cat breeding households. The name is misleading because it is not like flu as we understand it but it affects mainly the nose and eyes usually causing a thick discharge from both sites. Most recover and are left with no lasting effects. Occasionally, however, in severe cases the inflammation causes ulceration of the surfaces of the eye, namely the conjunctiva and the cornea. If this is extensive and prolonged these surfaces can fuse or adhere together permanently, remaining so even after the inflammation has subsided. These changes are often mistaken for a problem that the kitten was born with rather than the result of an infection.
In the worst cases the consequences can be severe with cloudiness of the cornea, distortion of the eyelids, permanent protrusion of the third eyelid and poor sight. To give some idea of the scale of the problem it is comparable to what can be seen in humans who accidentally splash harmful chemicals into an eye. Fortunately when the inflammation has settled down it is usually painless even though it looks abnormal. The only possible treatment is surgery but since there is permanent loss of some of the tissue on the surface of the eye, reconstruction can be very difficult.
The Siams are the worst litter I have ever seen and between them show the full range of possible changes. Surgery has given some relief to two of the cats but the biggest problem remaining is the cloudiness of the corneas which is more difficult. They are definitely not in pain, however, and are active and happy, as cats with poor sight usually are.
So how do blind cats manage and is it fair to keep them? You would imagine that cats would be more dependent on their eyesight than most mammals. They have relatively large eyes (almost the same size as a human eye), and their eyes function well compared to some animals. Cats which lose their sight when they are young, however, manage very well and still enjoy life. Cats have a good sense of smell, very sharp hearing and their secret weapon - the whiskers. These are not used to feel their way along surfaces and through gaps, as is often said, but to pick up air currents around objects. It is difficult for us to imagine a sensory world full of air currents but they are always present, even indoors, which is how blind cats navigate around objects and through gaps. The way that blind cats manage is yet another testament to the great resilience of the species.
After looking for homes for Window, Silly and Oh-No for several years, we found two fantastic families in 2007 who were willing to give them a chance. The girls, Silly-Puss and Oh-No, went to their new home on a temporary foster basis in May 2007. Window went to his home, again on a temporary foster basis, in August 2007. We are all desperately hoping that the humans and furries will bond and that by the end of this year, all 3 Siams will be properly adopted. Fingers crossed!
But, just so you know ... these Siams are so fantastic that John Mould, the senior vet at the Eye Clinic, said that if he didn't already have 4 cats at home (some of whom are blind), he would have happily adopted all three!