On Saturday June 14, Animal Planet aired a special episode of “My Cat from Hell.” It all started with an urgent call to cat guru Jackson Galaxy by people who saw a March news story about a family that was trapped by an out-of-control cat. Galaxy has spent the last 15 years of his life helping cats and their guardians. His show follows him as he works with problems when cat owners have reached their limits. Since Saturday Lux has created even more notoriety, among fibromyalgia sufferers.
Galaxy described the process of working with Lux, a loveable 11-pound cat with his “TeamCatMojo” group on his Facebook page and with media.
Portlanders Lee Palmer and Teresa Barker were spending a quiet day when their seven-month-old started pulling Lux’s tail. The cat spun around and scratched at the baby’s face. With the screaming of a frightened toddler the incident escalated quickly. Teresa grabbed the baby and their dog and Lee kicked at Lux’s rear end. Among the noise, confusion and scrambling feet the outraged cat went ballistic and charged at the fleeing parents.
They fled into a back room and closed the door. Each time they peeked out the cat was there, hissing and growling, and still angry. Unable to get the cat to calm down, they called 911. You can hear the audio tape that went viral along with some video taken at the time.
Enter Jackson Galaxy. Despite having wrapped the six-month Season 5 "My Cat from Hell" shoot, Galaxy came to Portland to capture the true story and see what he could do to keep the family intact. “I honestly can tell you that after 20 years of working with cats ... Lux is definitely the most challenging cat I ever worked with,” said the man who seems to resolve all cat/human problems.
Per his usual approach he met the family, heard their version of what happened and then went in to meet Lux. Jackson admitted to being frightened about approaching this cat despite the many scratches he has received when first meeting other cats. “I was expecting the worse. I don’t know if he was scared or going to attack.”
Lux was hiding behind a large box, eyes wide, ears back, growling a warning, and ready to charge. However Jackson kept talking with him and saw the eyes go back to normal and the cat started to eat bits of offered chicken. Within minutes Lux was sitting on Jackson’s lap, calmly purring and being stroked. Jackson admitted openly on air that Lux had him completely confused.
After a trip to the vet which showed no medical reason for Lux’s behavior, Jackson recommended rehoming Lux for a week to see if a calm, stress-free life without people now afraid of the cat might be the answer.
Humane society foster parents Mollie and Jim took Lux and immediately fell in love with the sweet feline. However late in the week Lux had another episode and badly scratched Mollie. According to Jackson, “It was surprising, and it was violent, and it was kinda heartbreaking. It blew my world apart.” In the show Galaxy met the couple back at the vet while Lux had an MRI of his spine and brain. There was no visual reason for his behavior leading to a new diagnosis.
Veterinarian Amelie Hatfield, of the Cat Hospital of Portland, told Galaxy that the cat likely suffers from the feline version of hyperesthesia syndrome (FHS)"which can cause aggressive behavior," according to the Oregonian. Hyperesthesia affects the nervous system, skin and muscles. It creates hypersensitivity both physically and sometimes emotionally. It actually sounds very similar to fibromyalgia in humans and some researchers have lumped both syndromes into the same broad category. In fact serotonin-enhancing drugs like fluoxetine (Prozac) and anti-seizure plus anti-inflammatory medications such as gabapentin, a drug used for fibro patients, have been successful in treating feline hyperesthesia according to Alexander de Lahunta, DVM, emeritus professor of anatomy at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine
Kristi Turnquist from The Oregonian talked about speaking with Jackson about his experiences with Lux. “What surprised me when I chatted with Jackson about this episode was that Jackson, who says it often takes him about 5 minutes to sort out a behavior problem, had a different experience with Lux. Jackson had never worked a case like this. It surprised him, stumped him, frustrated him to no end, but also Jackson discovered he had a great deal of love for this cat—the kind of love he has reserved for his own cats.”
Despite his problems Millie and Jim quickly agreed to adopt Lux. At the end of the show they said that he is doing well in his new home and responding to medication.
Having watched “The Cat from Hell” episode myself, and as someone who has fibromyalgia, I watched and kept thinking about how a fibro cat might react. I imagined myself on the floor, hearing a crying child, people yelling and feet scrambling around me I probably would react much like the cat if in a “flare-up” or hyper-sensitive state. I know if anyone would pull my tail and irritate the nerves and muscles in my back and legs I probably would slap (think of a cat slapping with paws) at that person. Emotionally, most people with fibro would admit to screaming at spouses and families excessively when we feel ready to jump out of our skin or have been exposed to too much stimuli (sound, light, sensations).
Since Lux’s episode has aired the fibromyalgia community has been discussing if these are “fibro cats.” The show doesn't get into the specific medication(s) used, but FHS is often treated with anti-seizure or SSRI antidepressants. The first drug to be FDA-approved for fibromyalgia was Lyrica (pregabalin) which was already being used an anti-seizure drug. It is closely related to gabapentin now used for FHS.
I have placed calls to clinical researchers specializing in rheumatology, the first medical specialty to set a diagnostic standard for fibromyalgia. I will report their reactions in a follow-up to Lux’s story.
What do you think? Was Lux worth saving? Would you feel safe around him now? Click "Like" if you want more articles like this and subscribe to my column.
Let's talk about Lux, fibro and cats in general in the comment section below.