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TODAY staff
updated 7/21/2010 10:30:26 AM ET 2010-07-21T14:30:26

Swimming has helped one lucky kitty walk again after being paralyzed.

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Nazzaning, a 6-year-old Turkish Van, was injured in June and was unable to move her left side. Her owner, Florence Rostami, took her to the hospital, initially believing she had broken her paw. The veterinarian told Rostami that Nazzaning’s condition was much more dire, and that she would have to stay in the hospital.

“I cried so much,” said Rostami, an attorney in New York City. “We were devastated. My mom, my daughter and I stayed in the hospital until midnight the first night.”

Nazzaning was kept in the hospital for four days, and one by one various causes of her paralysis, such as kidney failure or a tumor, were eliminated. Finally, an MRI showed swelling in her vertebrae, and her vet recommended anti-inflammatory medication. The actual cause of the swelling wasn’t determined.

Rostami inquired about physical therapy for Nazzaning and was excited to find out that hydrotherapy was an option.

“I was very happy,” she said. “Turkish Vans are natural swimmers, and I thought that this might wake up her instinct.”

Boaz Levitin, a neurologist who examined Nazzaning and recommended hydrotherapy for her, told the New York Post that most cats couldn’t handle this style of rehabilitation. “I’m a big believer in physical therapy, but most cats just see water and flip out so I’ve never recommended that for them before.”

Nazzaning was the first cat to undergo hydrotherapy at Water 4 Dogs, an animal rehabilitation center in Manhattan that, as the name suggests, typically only works with canines.

“She was definitely nervous about what was going on, and she was vocal and meowing,” said Jean Marie Cooper, the manager at Water 4 Dogs. “At first she was balling up and not moving, but after a few treatments, I think she started feeling better and relaxed.”

Nazzaning’s treatments consist of 30 minutes of walking on a treadmill immersed in 4 to 5 inches of water, with a therapist helping to keep her upright and ensure proper foot placement.

“Her muscles needed to learn how to move the correct way again, and because she’s partially buoyant in water, if she makes a mistake it’s much less severe than if she’s walking on dry land,” Cooper explained.

After the treadmill, Nazzaning swims in a 4 1/2-foot pool while being supported by a therapist, to help strengthen her limbs and provide all-over exercise.

Nazzaning goes to therapy three times a week, in addition to at-home massages, and stretches several times a day.

Nazzaning lucked out, as hydrotherapy and other forms of animal rehabilitation are rarely available to cats, according to veterinarian Jane Brunt, executive director of the CATalyst Council, a nonprofit coalition for the proper care of cats.

“It’s only in the past 10 years that there’s even been a market for animal hydrotherapy,” Brunt said. “Now, people are realizing that cats need this care, too. There are lots of videos showing how owners can habituate cats to getting wet, and hopefully more institutions will offer rehabilitation services that are cat-friendly.”

At $160 per session, Nazzaning’s treatments don’t come cheap. But her owner says the money spent has been well worth it.

“Now her balance is better and she is walking on her own,” said Rostami. “I really believe that if she didn’t go to therapy, she may not have found the confidence to walk again.”

After Nazzaning’s success, Cooper says she hopes to see a wider range of animals try hydrotherapy.

“There’s no animal we wouldn’t work with,” said Cooper, “from rabbits, ferrets and reptiles or even horses — although it might be tough to get a horse in the pool,” she joked.

For more on the animal rehabilitation center Water 4 Dogs, please visit their website.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

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