Featured Story - Pepper
1. How did you find Pepper? Was she already diagnosed with MPS-VI when you met her?
My partner Jeffrey and I adopted her from a local animal shelter when she was about 14 weeks old. She did not show any signs and was not diagnosed with MPS at the time (although of course in retrospect there were plenty of signs!). I was immediately drawn to her, and while we were not actively looking to adopt another cat (we already had one older senior cat), she stole my heart.
2. Which type of MPS does Pepper have and what were/are some of her symptoms?
Although we never thought much of it at first, Pepper never liked jumping up and down from things like furniture when she was little. One day, we noticed she started walking a little funny (a slight "swagger" in her back legs). After several vet appointments, x-rays, confusion and mis-diagnosis of hip-dysplasia, our vet dug up some research on MPS. From there it was pretty obvious given the symptoms, but we decided to get a formal diagnoses from UPenn and were not surprised when the results came back positive. The diagnoses did not include the type. From the time of initially noticing a difference in her walking as she started to grow, her body starting to transform very quickly, most notably in her inability to use her back legs to support herself.Some of her most noticeable symptoms include: general appearance of dwarfism, small body, short nose, small ears, big, watery and at times hazy eyes, large floppy feet, curved spine and deformed spinal vertebrae, unusually fused bones throughout her body, abnormally formed joints in her front wrists, very small diaphragm and rib cage, somewhat frequent urinary infections, and a small trachea (resulting is a small, but awfully cute "meow").
3. Do you know if any of her siblings have MPS as well?
Since she was a rescue and not with her litter at the shelter, we sadly do not know anything about her siblings.
4. Did you have any knowledge of MPS or its several types before Pepper?
No! This was a whole new world for us :)
5. How did you find MPS Army Foundation?
Pepper had already been diagnoses for over a year, when one late night I found myself googling and searching through social media trying to find any scrap of information I could on MPS, and I found the group as well as Trident the Cat (who looked sooo much like Pepper!). It was such an uplifting moment to find a community who was going through the same process we were, and who also knew so much about the disease. Not to mention finally seeing so many of Peppers symptoms in other animals!
6. How did your life change with Pepper?
We have been very fortunate with Pepper's overall health despite her condition. That combined with her mobility and independence has meant that overall our lives have not changed much day-to-day when it comes to routine and care. However, our lives are most certainly forever changed as result of going through this experience with her, and the significant bond we have formed. I think the most important thing we've learned from Pepper is the importance of living life in the moment. Not knowing how long she will live, or when MPS will start to deteriorate her body even more, it has been important for us to really treasure the days we have with her. While I have always been an advocate for caring for animals, especially rescues, I now personally have an increased desire to support and increase awareness for the incredible joy special needs animals bring to the world.
7. What kind of care goes into having an MPS Cat? Is there specific food, certain tools or medications Pepper absolutely needs?
The most remarkable thing about Pepper is the surprisingly little amount of "special" care she has needed throughout her MPS journey. After her initial loss of mobility in her back legs and spinal deformities, she would drag herself around with her front legs, and managed to still be completely mobile this way - she was definitely not deterred or slowed down at all! We tried building a custom set of wheels for her, but quickly learned that she was not only happier, but felt more mobile in her own body without external supports. We learned to stand back a little bit and let her figure out how to use her body as it changed. During this time, she did need assistance getting in and out of the litter box. We tried using a number of different methods, including ramps, shallow pans, etc. but found that she actually preferred our help and communicated this to us whenever she needed to go. This was again, surprisingly easy with her, and we have to this day had only a handful of "accidents" right by the litter box (she is a clean freak...), for having mobility issues. But it does take extra monitoring and checking in throughout the day. After several months of dragging her body, she started learning how to prop herself back onto her back and legs, and then to our complete shock and joy learned how to walk on all fours again (albeit a little hunched over)! This is how she moves around to this day, and can even get in and out of the littler box all by herself. Since MPS is slightly pre-dispositioned to infections, she has had a couple small urinary track infections, which has resulted in an all wet food diet. For about a year, our vets tried in vain to treat her constant watery eyes (drops, pills, ointments, you name it!), until determining that it was likely due to her deformed eye socket bones, making her eyes and eyelids a but bigger than normal. Despite her mobility issues, she has yet to experience any chronic pain. Of course, she is much more sensitive and fragile than a normal cat, and we are always extra careful to avoid situations that might cause her body more stress. We are very careful with how she is handled, and let her mostly dictate how she moves and gets around for herself.
8. What is Pepper's favorite activity?
Pepper is one spunky kitty with a big personality, despite her small size. She loves sleeping and cuddling (on our feet in particular) under the covers on the bed. She is an avid bird and squirrel watcher, and could sit and keep watch out the window for hours. She also has a strong hunting streak, and has been known to catch flies right out of the air, and has even tracked down and caught many an ant and even a cockroach in our NYC apartment (so proud)! Just like any cat, she has a obsession for cardboard boxes, and will find a way to climb inside them as soon as they arrive in the house. Her absolute favorite treat are freeze dried minnows!
9. What advice would you give to those who are just starting out with an MPS pet?
Patience, love, trust and a sense of humor go a long way. For us, learning how to let her be herself and not feel forced to manage her every move was really helpful. Although MPS animals are certainly more fragile, they are also surprising strong and can ultimately live a full life, learning to navigate their bodies the best way they know how. On a more practical note, finding a vet that knows something about MPS or at least one who is willing to do the extra work and research alongside of you is SO important. We were very fortunate to have had this with our vet when Pepper was first diagnoses, and although they did not know much about MPS at first (our vet remembered it being mentioned once in a textbook in vet school), they were very eager to learn and share with us, and took Pepper immediately under their wing. Although they had read that most cases result in euthanasia, they were willing to wait and observe Pepper fully, and treat her condition holistically. We have also learned that in most situations, you will likely know more about MPS than any vet, and taking ownership of this is also important to make sure they get the best care.
10. Is there anything else you would like to add about Pepper or the disease itself? Pepper's funny quirks, what went into testing Pepper for MPS, interesting vet visits - anything!
Pepper is full of quirks - she will growl like a dog if someone rings the doorbell, has the loudest, most rumbling purr and loathes getting her nails trimmed. Pepper is part of the family, and we cannot imagine our lives without her. No matter what the road ahead looks like, we are thankful for the time we have with her, as well as the MPS Army family being there for all the MPS caregivers out there.