Updated: Aug 20
Ectrodactyly: "Lobster Claw". A malformation of the hands/paws on one to four limbs exhibiting the lack of digits.
Sidney Slothtoes (named in line with our clever organization's list of silliness and love) is a 4 month old, 2.5lbs kitten. She is also an ectrodactyly kitten.
Sidney came into our organization by way of the local animal shelter at just half a pound. She was round, spunky, tiny, and round. Did I mention round?
When I tell you that I feel in love with this little butterball the moment the shelter staff contacted me about her, I mean it. I didn't think twice about making space for her in our foster care. Was the space readily available? No. Were we deep in kitten season? Absolutely.
Kitten Season: The warmer months of the year where female cats are commonly in heat and mating occurs. This is typically from April to October in every state except Florida. Florida.... it's year-round madness.
I made arrangements and worked with our fabulous foster parent team to move some kitties around to make the tiniest of space necessary to bring this silly little nugget under our collective wing.
I've got you now and promise to love you forever
When I met her, she was even more perfect than the photo.
I cupped her tiny body into the palm of my hand and immediately put my nose to hers and whispered "I've got you now and promise to love you forever".
My goal is never to adopt our rescue kittens, but to always give them the life I promise them the moment they come into our care. My promise is to provide them with comfort, care, and love for the rest of their lives. My guarantee is that their life will be better than it was and they will never suffer again.
As I held her in the palm of my hand, she felt even heavier as I accepted her world was now my responsibility.
Half Pound Butterball
Sidney was a tiny package full of daily dynamite from the get-go. On intake at our facility, we quickly noticed things beyond her lack of toes. She had the most adorable "mean mug" (the PG term for "resting b*tch face) as well as the gift that keeps on giving....ringworm.
The "Mean Mug"
She was a mess but totally worth the save.
In the coming weeks she was treated with antifungal oral meds and lime sulfur dips to rid her of ringworm. She was still cuddled often and toted everywhere, since she was on the bottle every couple hours. She loved being talked to as she fell asleep and always cuddled her best friend, Dino Man.
Sidney couldn't have friends her own size, age, or activity level due to her zoonotic rash, so she had her Dino Man.
Sidney was always so happy. She woke up happy and played with toys and was honestly the quietest little girl I've ever had. She was excited to come out and see me, but was also perfectly content in her incubator.
An issue we noted early on was that Sidney seemed so much older than her needs. Meaning she had teeth like a 6 week old kitten but only ate gruel, needed an incubator for proper temperature control, and stumbled around like a wonky baby kitten learning to walk. We aged her at 3.5 weeks old at this time, due to far more factors pointing in that direction.
Gruel: Mushy food easy to digest. For kittens, this is typically a wet kitten food blended with kitten milk replacer or water.
....only ate gruel, needed an incubator for proper temperature control, and stumbled around like a wonky baby kitten learning to walk
Come to think of it, the shelter staff assumed she was accidentally brought in with another litter due to her small size, comparatively. Sidney was .5lbs while the rest of the kittens were all 1.5lbs.
It's important to remember that not all kittens are the same and they will rarely ever follow all the rules we lay out for them. Kittens teach us how to care for them, not the other way around. So we have to pay attention and listen up.
Sidney taught me that she could not, would not, eat anything besides pureed Royal Canin Mousse with Breeder's Edge Kitten Formula warmed to a near perfect 100 degrees. I did not mind this lesson with feedings 6 to 8 times per day since she also taught me not every kitten has diarrhea. She NEVER had diarrhea.
If you weren't aware, kitten diarrhea is pretty normal. Their GI tract is not one to be messed with yet we poke at it by taking them away from mom's milk and introducing them to new foods. Addressing it quickly and helping kittens recover is key.
She NEVER had diarrhea.
Her poops were solid and she used the litter box like a champ. Sure, she strained a little and preferred to lay on her side, but 'dropping the Browns off at the Super Bowl' was this kitten's expertise.
Right around the time we estimated her age at 6 weeks old, Sidney started acting a little 'off'. Well ..she was always a little 'off' to us, but this was way off.
She began rocking back and forth. Not just rocking, but banging her head on the ground in front of her and walking backwards. She didn't seem to be bothered by it and would continue on playing like nothing ever happened, but it was bothersome to witness. She wasn't even a pound yet.
....banging her head on the ground in front of her and walking backwards
I called the veterinarian first thing the next morning. He got us right in and diagnosed Sidney with an ear infection. This vet even did a soft neuro test (checked reflexes and eye movement) to rule out other causes. Since I've witnessed some pretty horrible-looking ear infection reactions before, this didn't seem off base to me.
Just two days after starting treatment, the fits got worse. Way worse.
My tiny foster kitten was taken back to a different vet for another look/opinion. This vet confirmed Sidney never had an ear infection. He pulled blood so we could get a better look at what was going on but he found nothing. She was perfectly healthy on paper.
The fits were so obvious and often that he referred us to a neurologist.
Sidney was no stranger to the vet
That time period between 6 and 8 weeks old was awful. She went from a playful and interactive kitten with just a few quirks, to sleeping excessively, having moments of severe aggression /confusion, and seizing.
This was the first time humane euthanasia was offered
At her first neurology appointment the veterinarian walked in and said "we have a very sick kitten on our hands and we are limited by what we can do for her". This was the first time humane euthanasia was offered to me for Sidney. I was floored.
No test were run to tell me anything about her sudden changes and they offered to kill my 1.4lbs kitten. I went seeking answers and assistance yet I was met with them telling me she wasn't worth the time or energy. I didn't know on what basis they were determining her worth. She showed no signs of pain, she was an indoor kitten, she was safe, cost was never mentioned or argued, and we still had no idea what she was going through.
Maybe ending a life is easier for some, but I always choose the uphill battle. I made her a promise.
So the neurologist met my request with anticonvulsants. Though they did not have the means to run proper diagnostics, they knew stopping the seizures was a priority.
About a week later, Sidney started splaying her back legs and she was still having seizures. These were not normal seizures though. I can only describe them as "demonic" in perception. Her body would be picked up by some unknown force and thrown around before she opened her eyes, licked her lips, and went back to complete normal. Yes ....completely normal as if nothing ever possessed her! It was crazy.
I can only describe them as demonic
I was religious about her seizure medication. Midnight, 8am, and 4pm every day she would get her medicine. Nothing helped. At one point I rushed her to the emergency veterinary office because her seizures seemed so much worse. Again, they offered euthanasia but no answers. Killing her was not the answer.
Even though her seizures continued, they were regular and we learned when they were coming and always provided a safe space for her. Each day she was growing, eating great, and still had perfect poops.
Sidney at 2lbs
Though Sidney was sweet, she never purred. I found that really odd but also attributed it to her lack of interaction from other kittens. We had a hard time with introducing kitten friends since we still had no diagnosis and did not want to chance her having something infectious and contagious.
....she may not truly know what her species is
Once we knew she was ringworm and infectious disease-free, we tried to introduce her to other kittens. She HATED them. We tried different ages and sexes and never could get her to like her own species. Our theory is that she may not truly know what her species is.
You see, Sidney was raised around large dogs. Ringworm was the only worry for the dogs, so when that resolved, she got doggie friends. This may have confused the little nugget.
Sidney and her dog sister, Dexy
Sidney discusses plans with dog, Dodger
Sidney sees Charlie as her personal shadow
At 3 months old, Sidney reached 2.2lbs and was eating, playing, and interacting like a normal kitten. Yes, she had regular seizures which medicine did not help, but in between her long sleeping hours, she ran and was a ball of energy.
Sidney is actually the perfect kitten.
She does not climb, scratch, or make any noise. Her toe malformations limit her ability to do those instinctual kitty things. She just isn't the "fun" purr bucket of a kitten most people look for. But I still hold hope her family is perfect enough and is looking for her.
Wearing her heartbeat monitor as she dreams
We went back to the local vet for one more review of bloodwork and X-rays just before her 4 month birthday. Still undiagnosed and having seizures more than 15 times a day, I was determined to find someone who could see something and help guide us.
Still undiagnosed and having seizures more than 15 times a day
Our vet was honest and said the local limitations of vet services for a kitten her size would hold us back. He suggested we seek out a neurologist in a bigger city who had better equipment to help Sidney.
So we did.
Medical costs are not cheap. We found a highly recommended neurologist and started a fundraiser at the same time. Our supportive community came through and raised almost $3,000 for Sidney to get answers.
Passing on the love shared by our community
Just short of 19 weeks old (4.5 months) Sidney was 2.56lbs and headed to Gainesville, Florida for the neurologist. We were estatic.
This was the trip to find answers. A friend (who loves Sidney just as much as the rest of us) happily agreed to join me on this exciting stressful journey five and a half hours east. Both of us were ready for a vet who could find answers and help us get our tiny kitten on the road to recovery.
I think everyone can agree that knowing what is going on, and being able to make a plan, is far better than the unknown when you KNOW something is wrong. You ever go to the doctor and know something is wrong just so they can tell you you're fine? This is what we went through....over and over again.
So we were ready for those answers.
As we dropped Sidney off for her appointment, they told us it could take up to 4 hours and $4,000, depending on what they found and how much further they needed to test. We hugged our brave kitten and told her we loved her and we would be back soon.
I never used to be worried about these visits but I am scarred from losing another wonderful soul just last year. I dropped a precious kitten with megaesophagus off to have a surgery to repair it....and she died on the table. So I treat every anesthesia-based appointment as the last time I may see the animal I promised to save. It hurts.
Sidney and Dino Man
Her and Dino Man left my arms and went into the hopeful unknown. I was left with time and fear.
When they called me just three hours later I cried with relief she was done with the MRI and waking up. I swear that was the first breath I took all day.
But then I mentioned to my friend that they only said "MRI" on the phone. I knew that meant they did no further testing. This means they found something and were confident enough that this was her diagnosis.
It was quick and they sounded confident and our little kitten was doing well and waking up. My fear set in again.
her prognosis is poor and you should make plans for end of life care
When we arrived back at the vet office I couldn't wait to hold Sidney and reassure her that we returned and she was going home. I almost forgot the goal was a diagnosis because I was so worried about her thinking we left her.
When the tech came into the room, she started talking about the MRI and results and I struggled to hear what she saying because my mind was all jumbled. But I heard when she said "humans with this condition don't typically live past puberty. The average lifespan for humans is 10 years old. So her prognosis is poor and you should make plans for end of life care".
She has lissencephaly.
Lissencephaly: "Smooth Brain". A rare genetic malformation of the brain exhibiting the lack of convolutions in the cerebral cortex.
Lissencephaly: "Smooth Brain". A rare genetic malformation of the brain exhibiting the lack of convolutions in the cerebral cortex.
Basically Sidney didn't get the best umbilical cord from her mom and this resulted in the loss of digits on the paws, seizures, and a brain without the extra wrinkles. She lacks the ability to learn new things and has mentally reached her full potential. Humans with this condition stop developing, mentally, at 5 months old. For kittens....this is 6 to 8 weeks.
Her equivalent lifespan could max out at 1.5 years, tops. She will become aggressive at unprovoked times, could injure herself due to lack of spacial awareness, and easily choke and get aspiration pneumonia if she forgets how to chew and swallow. Her seizures will not go away and one day, one seizure could be her last breath.
Sidney recovering from anesthesia
It's a death sentence.
As I cried and held her and processed this new information, I told my friend we had a 5.5 hour drive home and I wanted her to read and research everything about this condition out loud on the way.
And she did.
Per her research, it is extremely rare for cats to have this condition. Only two litters of kittens in the UK have even been diagnosed in medical journals. 1 in 100,000 human babies have it. The average human lifespan is 10 to 30 years. There is no cure and the only treatment is therapy and care for whatever issues or illnesses arise. They have tons of information for humans and even some for dogs. For cats, I guess they don't matter to people who don't love them. That's why I keep getting offered euthanasia.
There is no cure and the only treatment is therapy
I enjoy a good challenge. I love an intelligent debate. Research and analysis of data is a deep dive I happily fall into....often.
I also love Sidney Slothtoes. I think she's worth the time and I think her story may help others who find no information out there like I did. She's a happy girl. No, not cuddly or a purring kitten, but eats, drinks, plays, and (I think) loves me.
Besides the seizures, she's honestly a normal kitten. She's just getting a head start on being a lazy sassy cat who will smack you if you touch her too long. Maybe far more felines out there have lissencephaly and they're undiagnosed and living normal lives.
I'd like to think that. I learn from my kittens because they teach us things we never knew. I don't know when Sidney's last day will be. I don't pretend to know. But I can say with confidence that it's not today.
Sidney in a Purrito
Have you heard of this condition before? Feel free to drop some tips and tricks for Sidney to get through this.