Interview with Dr.Jennifer Marshall

Q: Is Merida healthy?


Q: Why can't Merida walk?

Merida has a lot of difficulty with balance. She used to have more difficulty with coordinating her limb movements, but this has improved steadily over time.

Q: Have you seen many cats like Merida, with similar issues?

There aren't many cats with significant neurologic disease present in the pet population, mostly because most people are unable or unwilling to provide the level of daily supportive care necessary to keeping them safe and happy. I have seen and treated other cats with neurologic disease, but none as significantly affected as Merida.

Q: Why did you choose to take on Meridas case? Why did you feel she could be helped when other vets did not?
I could see that Amber, Merida's mom, was up to the challenge of taking care of her. Merida has always clearly had a will to survive and a high tolerance for her daily challenges.

Q: Does Merida have an actual diagnosis yet of what is exactly wrong with her?

No. Merida has undergone thorough diagnostic imaging and cerebellar hypoplasia has been ruled out. Her working diagnosis is "severe cerebellar ataxia - etiology unknown". I also suspect that Merida has intracranial hypertension (increased cerebrospinal fluid pressure within her skull). She is being successfully treated for this aspect of her disease with an herbal formula.

Q: What happens at Meridas vet visits?

Merida is carefully examined and her pupillary and postural reflexes checked. She then receives an acupuncture treatment and various forms of "body work" including chiropractic and osteopathy as needed.

Q: What does acupuncture DO for pets exactly?

Acupuncture points are specific locations on the body where peripheral nerve inputs can be used to affect changes in regional or systemic circulation, modulate inflammation, and subtly change central nervous system function. Acupuncture can be used to help diseases as varied as orthopaedic injuries, allergies, internal organ dysfunction, and in Meridas case, neurological disease.

Q: Is Merida showing any signs that she is improving, or getting better?

Definitely. When I started treating Merida over a year ago, she was so dizzy she could rarely sit up without support. Now she consistently holds herself in a sitting position to eat and can walk for several steps in a row before stopping.

Q: Is she in pain when her eyes are moving around, it looks like she might be having a seizure?

Generally no. When this occurs (nystagmus) she feels very dizzy, but it is not inherently painful. Occasionally she seems to have some neck pain or headache. My suspicion is that these occur from overworking her neck muscles while she's trying to balance.

Q: Merida is on a raw food diet, do you support that? What about salmonella?!

I do support Merida's diet. The raw food improves her stool consistency so that she is not too painful while trying to pass fecal matter. It allows her to get high-value, bioavailable nutrition without a lot of bulk. There is always the potential for food-borne illness in all pet foods, including kibble. Amber is careful to handle the raw food appropriately in order to significantly decrease the risk of bacterial contamination.

Q: Are there any other treatments that could be beneficial for Merida?

Now that she is able to hold herself up consistently, more structured physiotherapy may be helpful in optimizing her ability to walk.

January 26, 2014