Milo may be a deaf cat with neurological challenges, but he is an amazing catexplorer who is helping change stereotypes about cats.
We asked his mum, Felicia, to tell us about him.
Tell us the story about how Milo came into your family
Milo (with his sibling & mom) came to the rescue I foster/volunteer with from Texas in April. As a vet student, I was doing his intake exam (physical exam/deworm/vaccines). He appeared to be a healthy 10-week old except for a notable right-sided head tilt and some other minor neurological abnormalities. After a thorough exam by the vet, it was determined this was likely a congenital cerebellar issue. I fell in love with Milo and - even though he already had a foster home lined up - took him on as my foster with the intent to adopt.
Milo did really well the first few days and was an amazingly friendly kitten. Aside from the head tilt, some intention tremors, and a little circling, he was doing great! But then one day, he was super lethargic and not eating, and his temp was 106.5°F! That is the level where we start to be concerned about the organ failure. He was taken to the vet, and prescribed with subQ fluids daily and antibiotics.
After this, Milo developed a severe ataxia (wobbly, can’t walk straight, falls over) - even though his fever had resolved. We became very concerned about FIP - a devastating and completely fatal disease. We did blood work, ran tests, etc. but still did not know what was going on. Halfway through this, we heard from the Texas rescue that he had had a similar episode to this previously, and barely pulled through. He was also deaf, which I suspected but was not sure about.
Milo continued to receive care and love, and eventually his neuro signs became less severe, he was doing okay, and didn’t seem to have FIP. The vet eventually cleared him and I got to adopt him.
Due to his deafness/neuro deficits, he could only go outside on a leash and he started going on walks with me. I then introduced him to car rides and mountain trips - soon he was a catexplorer! He was seen by a neurologist, and they determined his neuro signs were likely from a cerebellar lesion, and his deafness is likely unrelated to the neuro signs. Overall he is a friendly, confident, outgoing cat that loves experiencing new people and adventures!
Tell us the story behind Milo’s name.
There are two reasons: I always have associated "Milo" with orange cats, due to the original catexplorer from Milo & Otis, so this was part of the reason.
My boyfriend wanted to name him "Miles", after the character "Tails" from Sonic & Hedgehog. However, this seemed too serious for the goofiest kitten in the world, so we went with "Milo" which was close to "Miles" (but a little sillier).
His main nickname is Momo, though, from Avatar.
What is Milo’s favourite thing to do?
Running full-speed at trees in an attempt to climb them, and getting chin scratches.
What kind of adventures do you like to go on?
Walks through nearby canyons and trails, camping in the summer, and walking around town.
Tell us about your most memorable adventure.
The first time we took Milo camping (after a trial session in the mountains), he did amazing.
He spent most of the daytime on a laundry-line tether system, or was going on leashed adventures with us.
We had a portable soft crate that he used for naps, and he obviously slept with us in the tent.
The best part is that he would snuggle with me in the hammock and just chill for hours there.
Why did you decide to train your cat to explore with you?
Since Milo is deaf (and because of his neurological deficits), I knew we could not let him outside in the back yard unsupervised even for short periods of time. If he somehow got out, he would not survive very long. Cars, coyotes, and starvation are all a very real concern for him. Therefore, leashed adventures were the safest option for Milo to get outdoor enrichment and exercise.
I also have always wanted a catexplorer, like my mom who had an amazing cat that would go camping with her.
Lastly, and most importantly, he had the right personality for it which I could see right away. He is confident, does not care about a harness being on him, loves people, and cannot hear scary noises.
How did you train your cat to explore with you?
We started training Milo at a young age (~12 weeks old) when he was my foster.
It began by just putting a kitten harness on him for short periods of time, and giving him treats during it. He was unperturbed by the harness even in the beginning stages. Eventually, we started taking him on short outdoor adventures - the first was just carrying him outside, sitting down, and letting him see/smell what was going on in the big world.
Then we started doing tiny walks with him leading the adventure, and worked up to longer and longer walks in different areas. We continued to work with him by taking him to different settings - outdoor malls, pet stores, around town - in addition to nature walks to get him used to a variety of sights, smells, and people.
In conjunction with this, we crate trained him (though not entirely on purpose). When he was sick, he spent a lot of time in his top-loading crate because he was so ataxic he had a hard time walking and not falling over. The crate would sit next to me during the day, and he would eat his meals in it. Due to this, he was very comfortable with the crate from the beginning.
After that, I wanted to get him used to the car so he would be content during travels. I do this will all foster kittens, and basically train them by giving them their kibble meal in it every time they go in the crate. Then, I take short car rides to get them used to the noises and feeling of it. Milo adapted really well, and will go to sleep once we get in the car (and stays content even during 2 hour car rides). He also will take naps in his crate during the day since I leave it out.
What has been the most rewarding part of having a cat that explores the world with you?
Teaching other people on our walks.
I hear "I've never seen that before!" from basically every group of people that walks by, and so many people ask to take pictures of Milo because a cat on a leash is so odd to them. Then, I get to educate people about enriching cats' lives through leashed walks, and also about how special needs cats can be amazing companions.
Milo loves people, so he will beeline to them to get pets and attention, which also shows them how amazing and friendly cats can be (so many people think they are aloof and not great pets).
Milo is a great catvocate!
What has been the hardest?
Cats are not as motivated to walk for the sake of exercise as dogs, so it can be difficult to get very far with Milo. This makes hiking a little challenging, which is why we have a "cat backpack" for him. For the most part, I just treat walks as adventures for him, though, and let him dictate the pace of the adventure.
In hindsight, what would you do differently?
I would probably try to get him socialization opportunities with friendly dogs at a young age.
Milo is very scared of dogs (even though he cannot hear them), and tends to freeze, poof up, and softly growl. He stays stressed from the sight of dogs a little while after seeing him, so I'd like to reduce his stress so that he can have more rewarding adventures.
What advice would you give other humans training their cats to explore with them?
Train them on their terms and choose an adventure style that is right for your cat's personality. A shy cat may prefer secluded nature walks, and shouldn't be forced to be around lots of people. A cat that is stressed and panting (open mouthed breathing is never okay in cats) during car rides should not go on car rides, and instead should be taken on local neighborhood adventures.
Remember that you can train a cat, but you cannot change their personality. Keep ideal catexploring traits in mind when you're adopting a cat, too.
What are your favourite products for your cat?
Follow Milo on Instagram (@deaf_and_daring)