Bengal Cat Polyneuropathy: Roo’s Story

Bengal Cat Polyneuropathy - brown tabby bengal cat laying on top of a printer in the sunshine

Last updated on February 1st, 2024 at 09:42 pm

by Dr. WL Wilkins, DVM, PhD

This is the beginning of our journey involving a disease known as Bengal Cat Polyneuropathy.

Shortly before Cat BYTES was founded, a second cat had just joined our family – a Bengal kitten we call Roo. Roo wasn’t planned. Six months previously we had adopted our Sphynx rescue cat, Joey. Joey came to us very traumatized – she had been abused, starved, and left outside with two siblings to survive on her own.

After six months, Joey still wouldn’t let us touch her. After months of silence and hiding, she finally started spending time in the same room with us, but we were not allowed to touch her or even come near her or she would run away and hide again.

This made me sad, but what really broke my heart was when she started wandering the house at night, crying out and calling for her siblings. That’s when I decided she needed a kitten. She was afraid of other cats, so I thought a kitten would be the best option (she had obviously had at least one litter of kittens of her own).

Introducing Roo to Joey was interesting, but that’s a story for another day. This story is about Roo, and our introduction to a very scary thing to see in any young cat – a neurologic disease call feline polyneuropathy, or cat neuropathy.

Bengal Cat Polyneuropathy - Roo (bengal cat) and Joey (sphynx cat) cuddling together
Roo and Joey

Roo’s First Symptoms of Bengal Cat PolyNeuropathy

In hindsight, Roo showed subtle signs of neuropathy for several weeks before I first noticed something wrong with her.

When I did notice, her symptoms were very obvious. She was seven months old when one night – the first time since she was a kitten – she did not come upstairs to bed with me. When I came downstairs that morning, she was still laying in the exact same spot where I had left her the night before. “That is weird”, I thought.

A little later, she did follow me upstairs but, instead of racing me up the stairs, she took them very slowly and bunny hopped up each step. “That is even weirder”, was my next thought, and I started to get concerned.

Watching her closely, I realized that she seemed reluctant to walk. When she did walk, her back legs didn’t seem to work quite right although I couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was. Sometimes it look like her left leg was injured, but then it would look like her right leg was affected.

She was still bright, alert and happy. I ran my hands over her whole body and limbs, poking and prodding. While the poking and prodding annoyed her a bit, I could not identify any spot that was painful.

I quickly realized that this was going to take a more in-depth diagnostic workup to figure out than I could do at home with a thermometer and a stethoscope. So the next step was to get her into the vet clinic for bloodwork, x-rays, and a second opinion.

Results of Roo’s Complete Examination

It took several days before I was able to get Roo into the clinic, and she had started to show improvement. Although she was obviously far from normal when at home (she was not jumping up on things or racing me up and down stairs, though her walking gait was almost back to normal), at the clinic it was hard to see anything wrong with her.

Roo was given another complete examination. She also had bloodwork done, and x-rays taken of her spine, hips and legs.

What did we find? Absolutely nothing! Everything was normal. We knew what it wasn’t – no fractured bones, no saddle thrombus, etc., but we didn’t know what is was.

Our working hypothesis at that point was that she had injured herself somehow and that she had a soft tissue injury that was well on its way to healing. She was sent home with a sedative to keep her calm and quiet for a few days to heal, and an anti-inflammatory medication to help with the presumed injury.

So you might be asking yourself – why did two different vets assume this was an injury? Well, hyperactive kitten shenanigans, for one. And then, add Bengal into the mix. Anyone who has owned a Bengal knows firsthand how ridiculously energetic this breed is!

Before becoming ill, Roo was a classic Bengal. She never walked anywhere, she ran – full speed. She never used the floor if there was something higher she could be on instead. She literally BOUNCED off walls and furniture as her normal mode of transport!

One of her favorite things to do was to chase bugs. Flies fascinate her, and they are prey to be destroyed. This resulted in multiple episodes of chasing flies up to the tops of the windows, by climbing on the window screen. One such window was a picture window, with screens reaching almost to the ceiling.

Occasionally, these acrobatics would result in a fall – usually while trying to detach her claws from a window screen. So it was a reasonable assumption that she had a fall at some point which resulted in an injury. Because cats do not always land on their feet! (Yes, at this point I removed the windows screens to make sure she couldn’t hurt herself on these again.)

Bengal Cat Polyneuropathy  - Roo, a Bengal cat, sleeping on the floor because she is too week to jump up to her bed
Roo sleeping on the office floor beside me because she is too weak to jump up to her bed on my desk

Recovery Phase

Roo’s progress over the next few weeks seemed to support the diagnosis of a soft tissue injury. She improved daily, although it took almost a month before she was able to jump even from the floor to the seat of the sofa, or race me up the stairs.

After two months, she had recovered enough that she was once again getting on the countertops, although she wouldn’t or couldn’t jump from the floor to the counter. Instead, she would jump on a kitchen chair, then to the back of the chair, and then jump to the counter from there.

At this point I estimated that she was about 90% recovered. She still wasn’t back to doing parkour on the furnishings, but I was sure she would get there eventually. I had pretty much even forgotten she had a problem by this time.

First Relapse

Then one weekend we went away overnight. Roo and Joey were left lots of food and water, with the TV on and each other for company. We were gone less than 36 hours. When we arrived back home, Roo came to greet us at the door as she always does, but I could tell immediately something was wrong.

Whatever was wrong with Roo the first time, it had happened again. Only this time it was worse, as she could barely walk at all. Her back legs appeared to be very stiff, and every two or three steps her butt would plunk down on the floor, or else she would flop over and lay down.

Once again, I gave her a complete exam and couldn’t find any place on her body that was painful. She was still bright and alert, and would eat and drink just fine. But her ability to walk was severely impaired and there was definitely no “jump” ability in her hind legs at all.

And this time her front legs were being affected as well. The first time this happened, she was still able to use her front legs and claws to climb on to the sofa or bed. This time, she was unable to do even that.

To say I was devastated is an understatement. A progressive neurologic disease in a young cat – or cat of any age – generally never turns out well in my experience. I thought I was going to end up losing this feisty feline that had wormed her way into all our hearts.

Bengal Cat Polyneuropathy - a brown bengal cat sleeping on a blue blanket with hind legs stretched out straight because she is too weak to tuck them under her
Roo sleeping on her bed on my desk with her hind legs out straight, a position that many cats with Bengal Cat Polyneuropathy sleep in

The Second Diagnosis: Feline Polyneuropathy

Our next step was to get Roo into the vet clinic again, this time to see a specialist. I immediately made an appointment for the first available spot, which was for a week later.

In the meantime, I started digging for answers. I reviewed everything I could find on cat neurologic disease, but nothing I could find seemed to fit.

I called a veterinary friend who had more extensive experience with cat patients than I had, and we bounced a few ideas back and forth and discussed her symptoms and the non-significant x-rays and bloodwork from her first exam three months before.

The breakthrough came when my friend had an “aha” moment, remembering this was a Bengal cat. “What about Bengal cat polyneuropathy?” she asked.

I must admit, I thought I was up to speed on the breed-associated illnesses to keep an eye out for in a Bengal cat. But this one was new to me!

I started to look into this deeper. Compared to most other cat diseases, there wasn’t a lot of information to be found. But there was enough to convince me that we were on the right track.

In the process of looking for information, I stumbled on a group on Facebook named “Polyneuropathy in Bengal cats“. It quickly became clear that the symptoms many group members described in their own cats exactly matched those that my Roo had.

Finally, I had a diagnosis, a name for the ailment that was afflicting my cat! Even better, I know knew that this is not an automatic death sentence for cats. To say I slept better that night than I had in awhile is an understatement.

Waiting on Recovery Phase #2

As I write this, we are still a day away from that specialist’s appointment. Although Roo has been improving in the last few days (she can now walk across the room before tiring), and although we now have a diagnosis, we are going to keep that appointment.

The specialist that Roo will be seeing is an expert at mobility issues and recovery in cats. While Roo’s polyneuropathy may wax and wane – or go into remission permanently – she may still need physiotherapy and other supportive care to live her best life.

I am hoping that the specialist will be able to help us find ways to manage Roo’s polyneuropathy and keep her comfortable and mobile. I am also hopeful that she can continue being our wildcat, chasing flies up walls, jumping off furniture – this time onto soft beds instead of hard windows!

We may not have a cure for Roo, but there are treatments that make me hopeful that we can find a way to help her live with this condition in the best possible way.

Updates To Come

Roo is currently snoozing contentedly in her bed on the desk beside me (I had to lift her up – she is learning to ask me to do that for her!). I will continue to update this post with our progress as Roo goes through her journey with polyneuropathy.

In the meantime, we are looking forward to our appointment with the specialist tomorrow! We hope all goes well and Roo continues on her road to recovery!

Update #1

Roo’s visit to the specialist did not yield any surprises. As happened with her first episode, during the week we had to wait to get in to see the veterinarian her symptoms improved so much that by the time the appointment came around it was difficult to tell there was much wrong with her.

During her visit, Roo was able to walk across the room with a normal gait before having to sit or lay down to rest. She was unable to jump, but otherwise was bright, happy, and alert.

On physical exam, the only abnormality found was a bit of muscle wasting in the hind end (we always did think she had an unusually small rear end for what is supposed to be an athletic breed!), mild left hind lameness and general stiffened hind end gait.

We were offered the option of referral to a veterinary teaching hospital for nerve/muscle biopsy and an EMG (electromyography, a test that measures muscle response or electrical activity) or nerve stimulation testing. We passed on that because we were pretty certain of the diagnosis at this point and did not want to put Roo through the stress unnecessarily.

The use of prednisone was discussed and while we agreed that there was no solid science that it helped it certainly couldn’t hurt. We were sent home with a prescription for prednisone, a supply of Antinol®, which is a natural anti-inflammatory supplement containing marine lipid oil sourced from the green-lipped mussel, and several physiotherapy exercises for her to do.

We weren’t able to start Roo on the prednisone for a few days, as we already had her on a prescription anti-inflammatory medication which required a minimum of 7 days washout period before corticosteroids could be safely given. As it turns out, we never gave it to her at all, as she showed rapid improvement while we waited.

Nor did we do the physiotherapy exercises for very long, since she was back to her normal activity levels (sans jumping) within days and the exercises were not going to do anything that her playing and running wasn’t already doing for her.

We have been giving her the Antinol® daily, and will continue to do so for the next month. If she has another episode, we will start her on the prednisone right away in hopes that she has an even faster recovery the next time around.

Our fingers are crossed that Roo never has another episode. In the meantime, we watch her a little closer and love on her just a little bit more (ok, a LOT more), appreciating every day we have this little weirdo in our lives.

Update #2

It is just under a month since Roo’s specialist appointment, and she has relapsed again. It started with a general “slowing down”: she would race me down the stairs but not up them again, she would not follow me around the house but waited until I sat down before making the effort to come to me, and was making smaller and smaller jumps.

She also developed that same stiff gait. But this time she developed a new symptom, in that her front left leg appeared sore. She would hold it up when she sat, keeping her weight off it. And yet I could find no specific point of soreness in her leg despite examining it multiple times. Was the polyneuropathy causing pain as well as weakness? I could not tell for sure.

As decided previously, I started giving her the prednisone as soon as I was certain she was having another episode. This time, the symptoms did not progress to the point where she was too weak to walk across the room or developed a complete inability to jump. Within days, she was recovering rapidly and quickly returned to her normal self.

Today, she is more active than she has been in many weeks, racing us from room to room and generally getting underfoot and into trouble. While there are no published studies investigating the effectiveness of prednisone for treating Bengal cat polyneuropathy, our experience thus far has convinced me that it is indeed an effective treatment in at least some cases.

We have a couple more days of regular dose prednisone to give her, and then will be tapering her off after that. Fingers crossed that she remains healthy once this round of treatment is finished!

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If you have any concerns about your pet’s health, please consult with a licensed veterinarian.

Sources:

Author

  • Dr. Wendy Wilkins DVM PhD.

    Dr. Wendy Wilkins is an experienced veterinarian and epidemiologist with over 20 years of expertise. She holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and a Doctorate in Epidemiology from the University of Saskatchewan. Throughout her career, Dr. Wilkins has excelled in clinical practice, academia, research, and regulatory veterinary medicine. She is a respected voice in knowledge dissemination, delivering factual information in a readable and understandable manner through articles, books, and public engagements.

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