On the surface, Principessa Roma seems like she’s a cat living the fancy life. Along with possessing a regal-sounding name, she’s a Portuguese feline who now resides on the Mediterranean island of Malta, where she enjoys lazily basking in sunbeams and gracefully watching the birds on her windowsill.
But Roma (as she likes to be called) also suffers from feline epilepsy — and it’s a condition that went undiagnosed to the point where it threatened her life.
According to Diana de Carvalho, when she and her partner went to adopt Roma, she was warned that the cat could be “aggressive.” Undeterred, they offered her a forever home — “but we soon realized that something was not normal because it was very difficult to pet her, she would not allow it, and she was always very stressful.”
Eventually, Roma began to bond with Diana.
“She started to act happy when I arrived home,” she explains. “Then when I noticed she was sleeping on my lap and licking me, I just knew I had been chosen to be her mom.”
Life was rolling along as usual until, when Roma was two years old, she experienced what became her first epileptic episode. During a visit to Diana’s parent’s house, Roma was frolicking merrily in the garden when she suddenly started shaking her muscles for a few seconds. When the trembling stopped, Diana and her family assumed Roma was just excited to be outdoors.
Fast forward a year, and Diana found Roma cowering inside a drawer and having nonstop muscle spasms.
“I thought to myself, ‘This is not normal!’ So I took her to the vet,” she says.
The vet told Diana that Roma had obviously been poisoned. To which Diana explained that she’s an indoor cat and isn’t exposed to any dangerous substances.
Despite giving Roma some injections, her muscles continued to spasm and move.
Thankfully, when they returned to the vet, Roma was seen by a different doctor who explained that the cat’s brain was probably creating the spasms. An injection to increase the blood flow to her brain was administered — although the vet admitted that she still wasn’t entirely sure of the root cause of Roma’s suffering.
“She told us that if in 48 hours we didn’t treat the cause, Roma could have a stroke and die,” says Diana. “I had to sit on a chair because my own legs were shaking.”
The vet suggested that a feline neurologist in Milan, Italy, might be the best person to see Roma — but instead of undergoing the rigors of traveling there with a cat in tow, they made a video of Roma’s spasms.
“The new doctor replied really fast with a diagnosis: epilepsy,” says Diana. “I thought that to have epilepsy Roma would foam from her mouth, but he explained that cats can have different types of seizures.
“We started the recommended medication immediately, and in 24 hours Roma was normal. She had no spasms at all.”
Right now, Roma’s condition is under control thanks to medication. If it appears that she’s about to suffer a bout of epilepsy, Diana doubles the dosage until it subsides. (Roma also undergoes regular liver tests to guard against complications and side effects.)
Oh, and for reasons presently unknown, domestic house flies trigger Roma’s fits, while classical music calms her down.
Looking back on her experiences with Roma’s epilepsy, Diana says, “The hardest thing is definitely that vets are not prepared to diagnose this disease, and that can cause a lot of deaths.
“So please, cat lovers around the world, if you have a similar experience or suspect a neurological problem, tell your vet about epilepsy.”
Follow along with Roma’s adventures over at her Facebook page.