A kitten and his bunny buddies

Canelo the kitten playing with Wasabi the rabbit
Canelo doesn’t get around well and he’s incontinent, but thanks to special therapies and lots of playtime he’s growing stronger each day.
By Sarah Thornton

Canelo was only 6 weeks old when he arrived at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary — a tiny, cream-colored kitten. His hind end didn’t work quite right; his back legs were a little unwieldy and couldn’t support his feather-light weight, and they didn’t seem to have much feeling in them. But that never slowed him down. He could tumble and run with front-paw drive just as easily, so that’s what he did.

When veterinary staff checked him out, Canelo was all purrs. He liked being fussed over, even if he didn’t know why everyone was so interested in his legs and back. He had no skeletal injuries or abnormalities, so veterinarians suspected a neurological issue was affecting his nerves and muscles. But they were hopeful that, with time and treatment, Canelo could eventually get his feet underneath him. So they laid out a plan to give him the best chance of just that.

The plan ended up including some unlikely friends along the way: bunnies.

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Incontinent kitten

Canelo’s treatment began with veterinarians setting him up with weekly acupuncture treatments. The therapy would stimulate his nervous system, firing up acupoints to start making connections back to his brain and, hopefully, eventually bringing sensation and mobility back to his hind end.

The kitten was a great little patient, content to sit still as long as someone was scratching behind his ears and giving him extra attention.

But there was something else going on that would be discovered when he went into foster care with Amy Brown, supervisor of Bunny House at Best Friends.

When he’d first arrived at the Sanctuary, Canelo seemed to be having trouble making it to his litter box. He had an upset stomach, so it was assumed that urgency and his mobility issues caused him to go elsewhere. But in Amy’s bathroom, with towels covering the floor to give him something soft to scoot around on and three appropriately sized litter boxes that he never used, it became clear that Canelo was, in fact, incontinent. He didn’t need help using the litter box like many incontinent cats do; he just couldn’t control when it happened.

[Caring for an Incontinent Cat]

So Canelo’s situation was even trickier than initially suspected. But there was a chance, even if it was a little one, that his incontinence could improve with the rest of his back end through therapy.

After talking with veterinary staff, Amy added daily laser therapy (a deep-penetrating cold laser that helps reduce inflammation and aid in healing) to Canelo’s treatment plan.

There was a laser machine at Bunny House, and she was trained to use it, so all that had to be done was for Canelo to join her at work each day.

That’s how it came to be that there was a kitten in the Bunny House.

A few hops in the right direction

Canelo was enthralled by the new, long-eared friends he found at Bunny House — and all their toys. The bunnies didn’t exactly play like kittens, but most were happy enough to hop around while he bounced after them or watch while he rolled about with their chew toys. And sometimes the way the bunnies chewed their hay had Canelo gently pawing for the wiggling "toy" in their mouths.

Not all the bunnies were fans of the strange little newcomer. But he listened well when they put their big feet down, and peace was easily made. “I think they recognize that he has special needs,” Amy says. “They aren’t afraid of him.”

Kitten-bunny playdates also meant Canelo and his friends got a whole lot of attention from people, too. Staff, visitors, and volunteers alike were enamored, so if his bunny buddies needed a rest, Canelo never had to look far for a new playmate or cuddle companion.

With all his bouncing, tumbling play, and the regular acupuncture and laser therapies, Canelo grew stronger every week. Sensation started coming back to his legs, and he could stand up and take a few stumbling steps on all four paws. He could even dig his back claws into a scratching post and climb straight up it without hesitation.

“He never used to be able to do stuff like that,” Amy says. The treatments were doing their job, and the little guy was growing up.

Feline friends and the future

Bouncing around with his bunny buddies was great, but as Canelo matured, it was really time for him to make some feline friends — a friend who could handle his feisty side and help him learn how to handle teeth and claws during playtime. And there was a playmate candidate just waiting for him at Cat World.

When Canelo met Llama, a slightly older kitten with similar medical needs, the two hit it off. Having another kitten to play with did wonders for both of them. And once they got started, there was no stopping (at least until naptime).

[Big new life for a blue-eyed kitten]

Now, Canelo and Llama are the life of the party. They’re like little orange-and-cocoa blurs, putting on the best wrestling matches for the staff and volunteers who take care of them.

Canelo will always have some special needs, but one day someone will fall in love with him and adopt him. And if he ever develops a twitchy nose or a hopping gait, he has the bunnies who were his first friends here to thank for that.

This article was originally published in the May/June 2023 issue of Best Friends magazine. Want more good news? Become a member and get stories like this six times a year.

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