Step by step: saving a paralysed Serval kitten


Written by Dr Karin Lourens of The Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital

The tiny, spotted kitten was dragging his hind legs through the dirt, unable to stand or walk, when he was found on a farm in Delmas, Mpumalanga, in July 2017.

But this was no ordinary kitten; this fluffy, spotted guy was a baby Serval cat (Leptailurus serval) of no more than three weeks old. Being a wild animal, he needed special care and handling. And so he was taken to the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital, a practice specialising in treating sick and injured wild animals.  

He couldn’t move his hind legs

Upon arrival on Monday 17 July, the Serval was examined from head to tail. Not only could he not move his hind legs, he had minimal deep pain response in the limbs and tail – not good news. Essentially, his hind quarters were paralysed. He also had an eye infection and needed rehydration and food.

We took him for radiographs (x-rays) and although no obvious fractures were seen, it was difficult to be sure due to his young age. We suspect spinal trauma, but the cause was unknown. At that stage, with no obvious cause, his prognosis was unclear, but we vowed to do whatever we could to help get him back on his feet – and back to the wild.

A multifaceted approach to treatment

Treatment for nerve damage involves anti-inflammatory medication, Photizo (an infrared light therapy that stimulates blood flow and decreases pain and inflammation), Stimpod (nerve stimulation) as well as swim therapy. And this little guy got it all.

Initially, there was only a slight improvement in his condition and his prognosis remained guarded. But they wouldn’t give up on him. He improved tremendously over the next days until tests revealed that he had begun to regain feeling in both his hind legs. His tail had some movement, and he also started trying to place his feet on the ground and attempting to walk!

What the future holds

We’re delighted that his prognosis is now much improved. However, we’re not out of the woods yet – the Serval kitten will need daily physiotherapy and continuous medical care for the next few months. Once he’s weaned off the kitten milk substitute, we can start feeding him his natural diet of dead mice, chicks and birds to ensure that he will recognise these normal foods once it’s time for him to go into a pre-release enclosure. As cute as he is, his human interaction is kept to a minimum to ensure that he won’t become too used to people, which would negatively impact on his ability to adapt to a normal life in the wild.

Our hope is that he will eventually be released, fully recovered and able to survive on his own.

You can help!

Rehabilitating this fluffy little fellow is costly and the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital relies entirely on donations to help animals like him. They have a wish list which can be viewed on their website at www.johannesburgwildlifevet.com and financial donations are always appreciated. For more information, please visit their website and follow them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/johannesburgwildlifevet/

Important note

Servals are wild animals and should never be kept as pets, no matter how cute they are. If you love wild animals, love them where they belong – in the wild. The ultimate goal of places like the JWVH is to rehabilitate and release these animals back into the wild.

If you know of someone selling wild animals or see people hawking animals alongside the road, please do not buy them as this encourages the illegal and cruel wildlife trade. Instead, contact your local SPCA immediately.