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RSSFelines Disabilities & Medical Conditions

Bakari’s Story – diagnosed with Flat Chest

| October 6, 2010
Bakari Flat Chest Russian Kitten

Bakari's Story - Flat Chest Russian Kitten

16/09/2005: Bakari arrived in this world quite normally, he was first born and there was no indication that there were any problems. Thembi my queen is quite small and we were not expecting 5 kittens from her, my vet had said 3 maximum but all the babies arrived very easily within an hour and a half. Bakari’s birth weight was average in the litter and average from my experience of 3 litters. He did not struggle to find a teat and latched on perfectly well. His weight gain was excellent in the first few days. Between 16/09 and 21/09 he had gained 62 grams but on the 22nd he only gained 6 grams and I noticed his chest seemed squashed. At that stage I thought perhaps his mother had laid on him.

I took Bakari to the vet on 22/09 and he was diagnosed with Flat Chest. My vet’s treatment was to Elastoplast Bakari’s two front legs together just above his elbows to pull his little legs underneath his body to prop him up off his chest and encourage him to lie on his side. At this point Bakari should have been put into a splint but I was yet to learn more about his affliction. My vet gave him a shot of anti inflammatory and discussed hand feeding with me. On arrival home I put him back with his mother, later I attempted hand feeding but he was not impressed with me, he appeared to be suckling from Thembi.

The next morning (he was now 1 week old) he had lost 16 grams in 24 hours. Bakari refused to bottle feed or syringe feed; I was very worried that I would cause more damage as I had never been faced with hand feeding anything so tiny. I contacted the cat list that I belong to and received some wonderful suggestions from other breeders. I eventually managed to get a few ml of food into him at around 11am. I was a total wreak and had tears just streaming down my face when he eventually stopped resisting me.

From 23/09 till 27/09 I hand fed around the clock at 2 to 3 hour intervals. By 27/09 he was 184 grams and I started skipping some of the late night / early morning feeds. I started adding Glucose to his feed (the tip of a knife’s worth). At that point it was two steps forward one step back but at least he had slowly gained to 320 grams on 14/10. There were many dark days when I felt completely helpless and depressed his breathing appeared labored so I wanted to try splinting him after reading up on various websites about FCK.

I took him to the vet again on 13/10 to get the go ahead for splinting him as I was concerned that he may have pectus excavatum. My decision was that if he did have that I would let him go and have him put down. My vet X-rayed him and he did not have pectus excavatum, simply a flat chest.  In his chest cavity his heart was pushed to the one side on the other side he had a functioning lung but the other was squashed by his heart.

The decision was made to try splinting him at three weeks old although I now know that this should have been done much earlier. I initially tried a toilet roll but he grew out of it within days, I then took plain card board and fashioned this with a thin layer of sponge inside. Once the splint was on his breathing became better and his food intake increased dramatically. Bakari’s splint stayed on for 2 weeks, he just became way too active and the splint was hindering his mobility. He would throw tantrums and howl as his siblings were starting to explore. I took him again to the vet at 5 weeks and we were both very relieved at his progress, his heart had started shifting to the center of his chest and his second lung had started functioning. He was around 400 grams at this stage his siblings were a full 100 grams heavier than him.

I hand fed Bakari till the end of October he was over 6 weeks old when he first started lapping milk out of a bowl, his siblings were already eating kitten kibble. I had to bribe him just to drink out of a bowl by holding his syringe in the milk. At around 7 weeks old he ate his first bites of solid kitten food.

Bakari was examined by my vet again at 8 weeks when he went for his inoculations and although the vet did not want to give me any hope that this little precious fur ball would make it, he said that there had been a vast improvement. Bakari is now over 10 weeks old and although smaller than his siblings he is one of the most active, curious and feisty babies. His chest has started to look/feel more normal and there is every indication that he will live a long and happy life. Of course Bakari has stolen our hearts and will remain with us as a pet. He has already chosen my husband as his special person.
Through this experience I have gained a new respect for the struggles of the veteran breeders, many of whom know Bakari’s story and have been through what I have, through their support and encouragement, the e-mails of heart break and tears Bakari survived. I have them and my wonderful vet who refused to give up on this tiny silver boy to thank for the liquid eyed kitten love that I now have the privilege of knowing.

My biggest concern was that FTC was genetic but from what I have researched and discussed with other Russian Breeders around the world this is possibly the first case of FTC in a Russian. The normal mortality rate in kittens is around one out of three, Russians however are a healthy hearty breed and Bakari has the heart of a fighter.

I have been in contact with FCK specialists in England and their diagnosis is that it is environmental i.e. Bakari’s mother being so small and having such a large litter, Bakari did not receive enough nutrients & minerals in the womb. My queens are now receiving extra vitamin supplements with their high quality vet food.

Please go to this site to read up more of what Flat Chested Kitten is all about:

A very special thanks must of course go to my husband for his love, patience and comfort through some very depressing moments. For holding my hand and for wiping away my tears. For never giving up on my ability to heal Bakari and mostly for his calming nature, with out Justin I would not have managed through this entire time.

Copyright & Credit:
Leanne Hewitt –

Henry the three-legged cat

| December 22, 2011

Henry is a three-legged cat who opens people’s eyes and minds … as well as their hearts. He transforms ignorance and hate into acceptance and love. In overcoming his own problems, Henry inspires us to transcend the bias and barriers we encounter in our lives. He is a hopeful symbol of beating the odds.

Tragedies abound in our world. People feel as if they can’t make a difference. Henry teaches that just because you cannot do everything is no excuse for doing nothing. Two dog-devoted people rescued Henry. In spite of not liking cats, they chose to save his life and he changed theirs forever. Henry extends his remaining front paw to help animals everywhere. All profits from his book and related products will be donated to animal in need, both domestic and wild. His book can be purchased at cost by any group in the world to raise money for their projects. He promotes interspecies harmony.

Henry’s message is an important one for kids of all ages – from six to sixty (and beyond). Through his books, merchandise, media projects and special events, Henry teaches us something important about ourselves:

• He reminds us that we are defined not by our misfortunes, but by our responses to them.

• He shows us that hatred is often learned and born of ignorance and how easy it is to hate what we don’t understand.

• Through his gentle example, he demonstrates the compelling nature of vulnerability and power of the two most powerful words in our language: “Help Me”

He asks all who read his book to help him bring healing to people and dollars to animals. We can make a difference one person, one animal, and one dollar at a time.

Pets, Pets, Pets- by Joanne Anderson BEACON 8/31/06

Henry has turned his misfortune into a mega mission of mercy. This 3-legged California cat is a therapist, literary celebrity, and philanthropist. His spunky attitude toward adversity is an inspiration to the disabled and down trodden, all because he had the good sense to step through the right doorway when he needed help. He stumbled on a therapist and a retired doctor with hearts of gold, both dog devotees who didn’t really know or like cats. His courage and trust won them over as feline fans. It didn’t hurt that their Standard Poodle fell in love with him first.

Two touching books- Henry’s World and What’s the Matter with Henry?– transcend the ordeal of a handicapped cat. His life lessons about transforming tragedy to triumph are for all of us. These not for profit books were designed to disseminate the kindness extended to Henry- a symbol of the needy- with a goal to raise a million dollars for wounded animals and souls through the sale of both titles, by word of mouth, not in bookstores. Some San Diego vets have a Henry’s World Fund, where all monies from the copies they sell assist people who cannot afford veterinary care. The authors donate all proceeds to Katrina animal rescues, Alley Cat Allies, zoos, wounded veterans, HIV charities, and many other grass root organizations. They even send grants to small animal rescue groups so they can buy books and raise more money.

In 2004 as a stray kitten with an injured front leg dangling from the shoulder, Henry wandered into the La Jolla home of Cathy Conheim, a psychotherapist, and Dr. Donna Brooks, a sculptor and retired OB/GYN. Both are founders of the Real Women Project, a national movement aimed at promoting positive self-images for all body types, as a means of impacting women’s health. Therefore, when the vet gave them the choice to amputate or euthanize, they opted to operate, and then to find the tabby a home.

As Henry convalesced, they saw that the kitten refused to be limited by the loss of a limb. He also refused to be limited by the negative “cattitude” of his rescuers. He overcame the physical barriers of their home while scaling the anti-cat walls around their hearts. When Cathy and Donna shared tales of his resiliency- via emails – with folks all over, something unique happened. Friends and strangers alike started confiding their trials and hardships to Henry. At that point Cathy took on Henry’s voice to reach out to others. Henry’s World recounts this transformation, and teaches us about overcoming challenges and prejudices with his treasury of stories.

When Cathy mailed me a copy of the new gift/children’s book-What’s the Matter with Henry? – because she saw this column listed in the Cat Writers (CWA) directory, she had no way of knowing that I had just judged children’s books for CWA or that I too had a 3-legged cat who needed a leg amputated as a kitten to save his life. Her book’s message and photos impressed me so that I called her that evening to find out why Henry’s book had not been entered in the competition. After checking, we found that the book is in another category. I wish it had been in my mine. If I were still teaching, this would be my first day read aloud to set the tone for a new class and year.

Cathy told me that since Henry’s spot on CNN in December, his inbox has been filled with thousands of letters from around the world. Henry has become a touchstone. Many find it easier to express their true feelings to Henry as a virtual therapet. Cathy, via Henry, spends hours each day counseling as many correspondents as she can. After 3 terminally ill boys in a Minneapolis hospital read Henry’s book, one said that Henry was more like him, than anyone he had ever met.

Cathy spoke of a lady who wrote to Henry as her Siamese cat. In reality, her husband was serving in Iraq and she didn’t know how to tell him that she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She confided her fears to Henry first. They became so close that her dying wish was to spend some time with her cat confidante. She came to visit for 5 days. Soon after Henry wrote her eulogy.

When I mentioned that my 3-legged cat was raised by Afghan Hounds instead of a Standard Poodle, Cathy told me about Gary, scientist, who contacted her to help publicize Henry right before his own world fell apart. He was hit by a drunk driver, lost a lifelong partner, and was diagnosed with cancer. All he had left was his beloved Afghan, Dorji. After the recent St. Louis power blackout, an electrical surge set his house on fire. Dorji warned Gary and his newly rescued Great Dane pup in time, but perished himself. Devastated Gary wanted some recognition for his heroic dog. Henry designed an award for Dorji while Cathy contacted the St. Louis newspapers.

Henry has added our local Last Hope Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation to his charities. Last Hope will be getting a grant for books, but in the mean time, if you visit,, and mention “Last Hope” or this column when you make a purchase by mail or PayPal, all the proceeds will come right back home. These books make great gifts. (By the way, Beluga, the black Lab, and Billy, the shy Collie mix, left Babylon Shelter yesterday to join the rescues at Last Hope.)

As the latest book says: “Henry has shown us that we don’t get to decide what happens to us in life- but we do get to decide how we respond to it.” Henry, the 3-legged waif, stands in front of Cathy’s stained glass windows and lets the light halo around the trademark tabby “M” on his forehead. St Henry II of Bavaria is the patron saint of the disabled and physically challenged. This courageous cat must know that.

Henry the three-legged Cat

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Hillside Haven, Home for differently-abled cats and various other rescued animals

| November 3, 2010

Hillside Haven is a home for differently-abled cats and various other rescued animals. We provide sanctuary and healthcare for the animals so that they can lead a full and happy life. Hillside Haven aims to educate the public about responsible pet ownership and differently-abled cats and the possibilities they can still have as loving pets. Based in Durban, South Africa, Hillside Haven is an organisation which relies solely on the goodwill and financial support of its dedicated volunteers and especially from the general public. At present, our sanctuary cares for 83 cats, 7 dogs and various recued reptiles and birds. Many of our cats are blind, missing limbs or disabled in other ways, but visitors to our sanctuary would be hard-pressed to pick out the differently-abled cats. They get on so well in their protected environment that their disabilities become irrelevant.

Hillside Haven was started by Dr Taryn Turner who has more than a decade’s experience in rescuing and rehabilitating cats and kittens. As a homoeopath, she looks after the health of the cats and has developed many natural health protocols for them. Our residents come from all over Kwa-Zulu Natal (and some from even further afield). Their backgrounds are varied. Whilst out jogging one morning, a Bluff resident heard rustling in the garbage that had been put out for collection. When he investigated, he found a packet of newborn kittens. When they were brought to Taryn, they still had their umbilical cords attached. One of the kittens, Tallulah, ended up staying at the sanctuary. She has lost all of her teeth but it hasn’t made a dent in her appetite at all.
When a lecturer at the Durban University of Technology arrived at work one morning, a security guard ran up to her and said he had been anxiously watching a kitten on the roof of a very high building and was worried that she would fall off. With some very daring moves, the security guard managed to get the hissing, spitting bundle of fur off the roof. It was then that they discovered that one of her legs was missing. It seems that the kittens had been living in the air vents and it’s likely that the leg was cut off by a fan. When she arrived, we took her to the vet and had the rest of the leg surgically removed so that she didn’t succumb to infection. Lucinda joined the little kitten trio in Taryn’s sons’ room and has become part of their gang.



Ged was rescued from a petrol station in the KZN Midlands – his rescuers saved him from a crowd of people who were throwing rocks at him! He has radial hyperplasia which means the bones in one of his front legs are twisted, and he walks on the back of his ‘wrist’. Understandably, Ged is still not keen on people and who can blame him? Yes, I would like to sponsor Ged!



Leonardo and his brother were born in a factory in Pinetown. Their mom was feral and the kittens received very little care when they were little. When they got to us, they had terrible snuffles. Leonardo developed serious complications from the snuffles and started to have seizures. He had severe brain damage and was left blind, partly deaf and with very little sense of hearing. It doesn’t stop him being quite high up on the pecking order – Leonardo’s policy is to strike first and ask questions later. Yes, I would like to sponsor Leonardo



Andriel was about one year old when he was rescued from a feral colony where we presume he had been dumped. One of our volunteers, who feeds over 200 cats in and around Durban every day, noticed the new arrival was dragging one hind leg. She set a trap for him and he was so starving, he just dragged himself into it. The vet’s diagnosis was that his hind leg had been hacked with a panga (a large garden knife) – the previous strike marks of the weapon were clearly visible. The injured hind leg was amputated but this wasn’t Andriel’s only woe. He was skeletal and was covered with ringworm and mange. Today, it is hard to recognise Andriel as the same woeful, hairless, hideously injured little skeleton who arrived at the sanctuary one year ago. He still avoids people like the plague (and who can blame him?) but will allow Taryn to approach if she minds her manners (and has food in her hands!) Yes, I would like to sponsor Andriel

Click here to meet more of our Residents

JOIN OUR WALL OF HONOUR and support Hillside Haven for just R20 a month!

Hillside Haven is a home for differently-abled cats and various other rescued animals.

Hillside Haven is a home for differently-abled cats and various other rescued animals.

Contact Person: Dr T Turner
Tel:– 084 4555 529

Banking Details:
Dr T Turner
Nedbank, Umhlanga (135329)
Acc no: 1353 0484 70

Litter Box Strategies For Disabled Cats

| July 19, 2018
Litter Box Strategies For Disabled Cats

Cats that are blind, partially paralyzed, have a missing limb, or very old can develop litter box problems that affect you as well as them. Owning one of these special kitties is challenging, but you can develop solutions to work around cat litter box issues.

Cats that are blind, partially paralyzed, have a missing limb, or very old can develop litter box problems that affect you as well as them. Owning one of these special kitties is challenging, but you can develop solutions to work around cat litter box issues.

This article will touch upon some of the cat litter box issues and corresponding solutions you can implement for your blind, paralyzed, amputee, or very old cat.

Blind cats:

If you have owned kitty for a long time and her vision fades, it is critical that you keep her surroundings as static as possible. She will continue to navigate her way around by memory, and it’s vitally important that her cat litter boxes remain fixed in her memory. This doesn’t mean there won’t be accidents, but you can eliminate the possibility by maintaining her cat litter box location.

You can also develop a system where you keep her confined to a room with her food, water, litter box, and toys when you’re out of your home. This way, she’s in familiar surroundings with all her essentials. If she does have an out of litter box experience, it’s confined to one room. When you’re home and can monitor her wanderings, she has the freedom to travel around the entire house without getting into too many difficulties.

Please stay in close contact with your kitty vet if you have a blind cat. She can suggest more ideas and processes to help you and your kitty.

Partially paralyzed cats:

Some cat owners will opt to keep their partially paralyzed kitty alive. This is a personal choice made in coordination with the cat’s vet. Paralyzed kitties have absolutely no control over their elimination functions, so the feline owner is faced with a constant task of cleaning up the mess and the cat.

Again, close owner supervision will be necessary. If the cat moves around the house quite a bit, the feline owner will need to inspect the home several times a day to discover and clean up cat urine stains and feces. Conversely, the paralyzed kitty can be given a room of her own, with her food, water, toys, and possibly some cat litter on the floor, contained by a very low box, or on a protective piece of plastic. It’s possible the kitty will be in the vicinity of the cat litter if her system eliminates cat urine or feces.

Your vet and you can further consult on additional techniques and solutions. One such solution is learning to express your cat’s bladder to cut down on the number of cat urine puddles you will find in your home.

Missing a limb:

Cats who are amputees will want to do the right thing by using the cat litter box, but due to limited mobility, may get frustrated and use the floor. They lose the ability to scratch at the cat litter to cover their production, as well as maintaining balance while eliminating waste.

You can find a plastic storage bin that has high sides. On one or both ends, cut a “U” shaped opening so that the bottom of the “U” is about two inches from the container bottom. This will help the amputee kitty get in and out of the modifiied cat litter box easily.

You may wish to consider confining your special kitty when you’re not home to cut down the number of places to find cat urine and feces spots. Give her a nice room with her favorite food, clean water, toys, and a clean cat litter box that she can easily hop in and out of.

Consult with your vet. She may have experience with other feline patients and can pass on “lessons learned” to you.

Very old, or senior kitties:

One of the most frequent problems for senior kitties is they can develop confusion and dementia. The cat then forgets where her litter box is located, and finds the nearest convenient place to eliminate. Another very frequent health issue for old cats is stiffness in their joints, which can limit their mobility.

If their cat litter box is far away, or is in a now-inaccessible location, kitty will once again develop her own cat litter box location that is more convenient.

In these cases, keep more litter boxes available, and limit your cat’s traveling distance. For example, if your cat starts voluntarily confining herself to one particular part of your home, put a cat litter box nearby. You may also have to change the type of cat litter box you’re using, if it’s too difficult for her to get in and out of.

Once again, your local kitty vet may will have more solutions to discuss with you.

If you have one of these special kitties, it’s essential that you keep a good enzyme cleaner in stock at all times to quickly and efficiently clean up cat urine and feces spots. Good luck, and bless you!

Copyright & Credit:
About the Author Nancy has successfully eliminated cat urine odor from her home, and kept the kitty who caused it. Learn how you can save money and time by applying any one, or a combination of 18 proven solutions to get rid of cat urine odor in your home.
Published At:

Living With A Disabled Cat – Part 1

| November 3, 2010
Some cats are born disabled, other have suffered accidents or the degenerative effects of old age. A disabled=

Some cats are born disabled, other have suffered accidents or the degenerative effects of old age. A disabled cat can still lead a full and enjoyable life, given a chance and an understanding owner. Cats adapt their lifestyles to cope with disability far more easily than do most humans

Some cats are born disabled, other have suffered accidents or the degenerative effects of old age. A disabled cat can still lead a full and enjoyable life, given a chance and an understanding owner. Cats adapt their lifestyles to cope with disability far more easily than do most humans – this is because they are often willing to spend much of their time resting! This article gives guidelines on caring for a disabled cat. Just as the cat must adapt to its limitations, you will have to adapt your attitude and your home to accommodate its needs.

This article was updated 2001 in response to requests from owners of cats with cerebellar hypoplasia and radial hypoplasia/aplasia wishing to see more about the causes and management of these conditions. Sections on two-legged cats and mobility carts (including a link) was added in 2002 in response to requests from owners of affected cats. Links to providers of mobility carts and other resources is for reader convenience only and does not constitute an advertisement. “Moving House With A Blind Cat” was added 2003 in response to reader requests.

Three Legged Cats/Amputees
Two Legged Cats (Unilateral Double Amputees, Diagonal Double Amputees)
Hind Limb Paralysis (and Hind Limb Double Amputees)


The loss of a limb sounds catastrophic but 3 legged cats adapt well and are usually as agile and active as 4 legged cats. The loss of a limb would be catastrophic to humans, but our limbs are more specialised (2 for walking, 2 for manipulating things) while a cat’s limbs are all used for walking. Three-legged cats need help grooming areas that would normally be groomed by the now-missing leg. Don’t expect a recent amputee to be ‘back to normal’ immediately, but don’t be over-protective. He must work out his new limitations and how to compensate for a missing leg. He must build up additional strength in his other limbs. He can’t do this if you carry him everywhere.

After an initial adjustment period, which is sometimes painful to watch, he will probably be able to jump and climb much as before. If he has lost a hind leg, he may not be able to jump as high. If he has lost a foreleg, he may find landing more difficult, especially when jumping down from a high place. At first he will make some mistakes and you can expect some minor (hopefully) injuries, but he will quickly work out his own limitations and even find alternative routes to favourite places. The loss of a fore-leg is actually more serious for a cat than the loss of a hind-leg. This is because the forelegs are used when the cat lands after jumping while the hindlegs are used mostly for propulsion.

It is important that a three-legged cat is not allowed to become obese because he has fewer limbs on which to distribute his weight. It is also important that he get exercise, gentle at first to help him adapt to his condition and more active later on to strengthen his remaining limbs. Most 3 legged cats adapt well enough to become as active and energetic as they were before losing the leg – but you can’t expect this to happen overnight and it may be painful to watch him adjusting.

Some kittens lose a limb very early on because the umbilical cord gets tangled round it and stops it from developing, because the mother cat is inexperienced and mishandles the kitten (sometimes biting off the kitten’s paw due to a fault in her grooming behaviour) or through some other birth defect which caused the limb to be deformed. If the leg is amputated early in life, the kitten grows up on 3 legs and doesn’t know any different. There are very many happy and healthy cats in the world whose nickname is “tripod”.


One thing cats have in their favour is an amazing sense of balance. This has resulted in cats with two amputated limbs (fore-limb and hind-limb on the same side) becoming fully mobile without the need for a cart. Cats with diagonal amputations, such as “Twinkle” metioned earlier, can adapt in a similar way.

In 2001, a young black-and-white cat involved in a road accident arrived at Torre Argentina shelter (Rome, Italy) after surgery. He had 2 legs crushed on the same side and a mangled tail. Shelter staff decided to give him a chance to adapt to life with two legs and named him Farinello . Initially half-slithering, half-walking, the friendly but mangled cat was overlooked by shelter visitors who often wouldn’t even touch the disfigured creature who crawled out of his bed to meet them. Farinello was adopted by German family in Munich and learned to walk and even jump. Unfortunately the family couldn’t keep him and Farinello was sent back to the shelter where he went into a decline through depression. After several months he was adopted by an Italian family and regained his health and his enthusiasm for life.

Farinello is not the only documented case of a two-legged cat. In 2002 the case of Miss Kitty was reported in the USA. Found hobbling around on two broken legs, the young semi-longhaired colour-point cat was taken to a vet surgery to be euthanized. Both legs on the cat’s right side were dead and rather than put the cat to sleep, the vet amputated the legs. The intention was for Miss Kitty to be fitted for a mobility cart, something possibly not considered in Farinello’s case. Miss Kitty took matters into her own paws when she skipped out of the consulting room on her two remaining legs. She is now the surgery’s resident cat and can both run and jump onto and off of chairs.

Both of the cats had youth on their side. Older cats which lose two limbs in this way will have more difficulty adapting and find it harder to re-learn how to balance and walk. If this is the case, a wheelchair or mobility cart offers a better solution.


Some cats suffer hind limb paralysis following accidental injury to the spinal cord. Because the tail is an extension of the spinal cord, this is usually also paralysed. Where the damage is to the nerves controlling the hind legs or pelvic damage, the tail may be unaffected. Depending on the nature of the injury, paralysis may be temporary or permanent and may involve loss of sensation in bowel and bladder as well. Where the injury has caused the blood supply to be cut off, the vet may opt to amputate the tail and/or lower parts of the hind legs due to the risk of gangrene. Other conditions causing lack or loss of hind-limb function are pelvic deformities and spina bifida. In some extreme cases, kittens have been born without proper pelvic bones.

If the bladder and bowel are affected this will result in incontinence (uncontrolled dribbling of urine, uncontrolled defecation) or an inability to urinate/defecate unaided. In either case, the owner can manually express the bowel and bladder. The vet will show you how to do this. A build up of urine in the bladder can lead to infection which can track up the ureters to the cat’s kidneys. If the cat is incontinent inbetween sessions, nappies (US: diapers) may be possible. There are nappies (“Stud-Pants” “Piddle-Pants”) designed for incontinent dogs and cats, sometimes used by owners of stud cats which spray indoors. Washable bedding will also be needed and must be washed daily. Caring for a long-term incontinent cat requires effort and commitment.


Many cats have pursued several more years of mobility and good quality of life using a “wheelchair” or mobility cart. Initially developed for dogs, but now available for cats as well, these support the cat’s hind quarters and tail so that they don’t drag along the ground. The cat can walk, run, lie down and defecate while in the cart. They are also suited to hind-limb amputees. The carts are generally made to measure and if used for a young cat or kitten, will have to be replaced as the cat grows. Whether or not your cat is suited to a mobility cart depends on its personality and ability to adapt to a more dependent lifestyle. Fiercely independent, tree-climbing kitties may not be able to make the adjustment to a more limited lifestyle.

Although designed to cope with a variety of terrains, pet mobility carts are rare in the UK due to the prevailing unsupervised indoor-outdoor lifestyle of most British cats. In the USA, where an indoor lifestyle is more normal – meaning more even terrain – and a cat’s outside forays are likely to be supervised, they are more common. They have been imported into the UK and some skilled cat owners have made similar carts (as a temporary measure) using the children’s construction toy Meccano or plastic plumbing tubes. Home made carts are often in the form of four wheeled frames with the body supported by a sling. Although useful as a stop-gap measure while a specialist cart is being made to measure or while a kitten is growing fast, many home-made carts are too bulky, heavy and cumbersome for long term use.

One thing cats in mobility carts cannot do is jump. To reach a favourite chair, the cat requires a ramp wide enough to accommodate the cart. Although not impossible, it is probably inadvisable for the cat to jump down from the chair. Because pressure sores can develop at the points where the cat’s body is supported (particularly on lifeless limbs where the cat cannot shift its position) lap-times, nap-times and bed-times are times to come out of the cart. Many cats are happy to remain in one place during these times, while others prefer to drag their hind ends around the floor. Owners need to watch out for pressure sores and also for abrasions caused by dragging the lifeless limbs on the ground.

British behaviourists have expressed concerns that a partially paralysed cat’s body language might put it at a disadvantage. For example, its lifeless tail might be interepreted by other cats as a “tail between legs” fear posture, but there is no evidence that affected cats are at any more disadvantage than naturally tailless or bobtailed breeds.

In Britain there is generally more resistance to artificial aids such as pet wheelchairs. However, in the early 1990s a British Cat Shelter had a paraplegic puss who adapted well to a mobility cart for several years. Hector was a semi-longhaired black-and-white tuxedo cat whose hind legs were paralysed by injury when he was six years old. Hector lived at the Ingleside Cat Shelter who reported that his easy-going and co-operative personality meant he adapted well to a life in a mobility cart and his greater dependence on humans. He was possibly one of the first British cats to use a mobility cart. Hector eventually died of cancer, a condition unrelated to his partial paralysis.

George Stubbs – Two-Legged Wonder Cat is another account of a cat with no hind legs, this time one who does not use a mobility cart.

Copyright & Credit:
Copyright 2009, Sarah Hartwell – MESSYBEAST.COM

Photo copyright and courtesy: Lena Povrzenic – stock.xchng

Living With A Disabled Cat – Part 2

| November 3, 2010

Some cats are born disabled, other have suffered accidents or the degenerative effects of old age. A disabled=

Some cats are born disabled, other have suffered accidents or the degenerative effects of old age. A disabled cat can still lead a full and enjoyable life, given a chance and an understanding owner. Cats adapt their lifestyles to cope with disability far more easily than do most humans


Cats that keep bumping into things either can’t co-ordinate their limbs or can’t see. A blind eye is often cloudy or the pupil remains dilated even in bright light. Some cats are born without eyes (anopthalmia) or with very small eyes (micropthalmia) which may not function. Others lose their sight either permanently or temporarily as a result of illness, physical injury, brain damage or poisoning (including extreme reaction to anaesthesia) and conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts or scarring caused by untreated entropion (inturned eyelashes).

The degree of blindness varies from total blindness to partial blindness (cloudy sight, ability to differentiate between light and shade, tunnel vision) in much the same way that human blindness varies. Usually the loss of sight is gradual and the cat compensates gradually so that you don’t even realise how bad its sight is. Sometimes illness or injury necessitates the removal of one or both eyes. Sudden blindness is more noticeable because the cat is disoriented, hesitant when walking, bumps into things and may vocalize more often (some cats appear to listen for sound echoes).

Where a cat becomes suddenly blind it may develop unusual behaviours until it learns to adapt. It may be unwilling to leave its sleeping area and may develop inappropriate toilet habits because it is unable to find the litter tray. It will be reluctant to go outdoors to toilet. It may appear withdrawn and call out (when disoriented or in need of reassurance).

To test your cat’s vision, cover each eye in turn and see if its other eye can follow a moving finger or responds to a finger moving towards the uncovered eye. You can also test its response to a torch (flashlight) being flashed on and off in the direction of the eye, but this is not 100% accurate since blindness is not always seated in the eyeball itself – the pupil may respond to light, but the normal ‘vision signals’ are not correctly processed by the brain.

A cat blind in one eye may lash out in self-defence at sudden movements on its blind side. A cat with unilateral blindness may turn its head more often in order to compensate for the reduced field of vision. It may also have problems with depth perception since it has lost the stereoscopic area of vision – one-eyed cats often take several ‘sightings’ of a chair (etc) before jumping onto it, but quickly memorize the heights of such objects for future reference. Fully blind cats may clamber onto things rather than jump, but many also memorize heights and distances which is why furniture should not be rearranged and obstructions should not be left on the floor when there is a blind cat in the house.

A blind cat is easily disoriented and should not be allowed to roam; indoors only or indoors with access to a fenced pen or garden is best. It may enjoy supervised forays in the garden using a harness and lead. Make sure it is wearing a collar stating its address and disability in case it escapes. If it is allowed to roam freely and is chased by another animal it may become lost or run into the path of traffic. Because it relies so much on scent/sound, a lost blind cat will probably be unable to find its way home once it is beyond its normal territory.

Blind cats rely on scent and memory to find their way around so keep furniture in the same place and don’t leave obstacles in unexpected places where he could walk into them. If he is prone to bumping into furniture, try padding table legs and chair legs with old pillows or some foam to reduce impact damage. While most blind cats soon memorize routes and distances, not all manage this feat and rely on ‘bumping into’ their signposts.

Whiskers become more important to blind cats to judge the cat’s proximity to an object. This means they are subjected to more wear and tear than normal and can be broken or even worn down!

Sound is also important to a blind cat. Noisy toys such as balls with bells in, a noisy paper sack or a scrunched up paper ball will provide stimulation. Many blind cats learn how dribble scrunched paper balls or jingly toys.

Carrying a blind cat around can disorient it so if you must move it, place it somewhere it knows well such as its feeding or sleeping area so that it can easily get its bearings. Don’t move its litter tray or feeding areas around, it needs to find them easily by memory or use them as landmarks. Don’t lift a blind cat onto raised surfaces as he will probably be disoriented and fall off. This might not apply if he is being lifted onto a familiar surface such as a favourite chair or your bed.

If the owner takes care to provide a safe, stimulating environment then a blind cat or kitten can have a life which is a rich and happy as any sighted cat. Because blind cats are often able to adapt so well to the absence of this sense, many owners of blind kittens do not realise that the kitten is blind for some considerable length of time! There are also numerous reports of blind cats with access to outdoor enclosures successfully hunting birds and small mammals using scent and hearing alone. Interestingly, other cats are often more tolerant of blind cats (which may collide with them) than they are of sighted cats.

Moving House With A Blind Cat

These are not definitive rules, but common sense guidelines. For the most part they are similar to settling a sighted cat into a new home – starting with one room and expanding this territory over time. For a blind cat, you will need to take extra care that the surroundings are safe and progress may be slower. Encouragement, reassurance and rewards are essential.

Before you move, get your cat used to spending time or sleeping in a room on his own. Make sure the room is kitted out with a litter tray, a bed and with food and water. These facilities will be in addition to his normal litter tray, bed and eating area. This is necessary because you will have to confine him to one room when you arrive at your new home. Spend time with him in that room before closing the door for the night. So that he knows it is not a punishment, put some treat foods (varying these over time) in the room or give him special fuss e.g. petting, grooming. He will associate the room with quality time. If possible, spend the first few nights in there with him. Leaving a radio playing on low volume will provide company if you feel he is suffering from loneliness.

After you move, you will have to introduce your blind cat one room at a time to the new home. This room must be set up with familiar things (bed, litter tray) and will be his new “safe room”. He needs to scent mark (with his cheek glands and flanks) the new surroundings so he can find his way and feel at home. He also needs to feel his way around and memorise his surroundings. This is best done one room at a time. At first it will be difficult to watch because he does not know where he is.

When he gets his bearings on the first room, let him extend his boundaries. Supervise these excursions until he seems confident. If you are in a home with multiple floors, temporarily block off the stairs. Use your voice to provide encouragement for him to follow you. Getting down on hands and knees to “walk him around” may help (I have used this trick with a very shy sighted cat). At first he must spend his nights in his safe room until he gains confidence and has memorised his surroundings. Once he is familiar with one level, you can extend his boundaries to the next level at his own pace i.e. remove the block on the stairs. When you can’t be there to supervise, confine him to the original level until he is confident on the stairs and on both upstairs and downstairs.

Eventually you will have to shift his core territory from the safe room to the intended sleeping, eating and eliminating area. He may already have chosen a preferred area and you can move his bed and his food there. More likely you will have to duplicate his sleeping, eating and eliminating facilities i.e. one set in his safe room and one set in the final areas (living room, kitchen, bathroom etc) otherwise he will get totally confused at the sudden disappearance of his litter tray and accidents may result. When he is consistently using the tray in the preferred location, you can remove the one in the safe room

Make sure there are lots of treats and plenty of interaction while he settles into the new surrounding. Provide encouragement to explore and reassurance when he becomes disoriented or uncertain. If he becomes disoriented, guide him back to a familiar place, preferably with your voice or be walking with him. Only pick him up and place him in a familiar place (e.g. his bed) as a last resort.


Some cats, e.g. some blue-eyed whites, are born deaf. Many other cats are thought to be ‘grumpy’ by owners who don’t realise that their cat can’t hear. Deafness can be congenital or related to age, illness or physical injury. Many cats lose their hearing gradually as they age (as do many humans), sudden loss of hearing is normally the result of illness or injury and may be temporary or permanent.

Where hearing loss is gradual, it can be ages before you realise that Puss is deaf because the cat compensates for its lack of hearing. Where hearing loss is sudden, the cat may appear confused, irritable, over-attached to the owner, insecure or exhibit other ‘unusual’ behaviours in response to the sudden loss of this sense. Some deaf cats call out more often and more loudly (they cannot regulate their own volume) while others may become mute.

As with blindness, deafness varies in degree. In most older cats, hearing loss is gradual and not apparent until the later stages since cats do not always respond to being called. A cat with unilateral deafness may turn its head more often to increase the chance of picking up sounds with the hearing ear.

Poor hearing makes cats defensive – they strike out first and ask questions later. Click your finger nails close to each ear in turn (make sure that it can’t see your hands though) – does it respond? Is it easily startled if you approach it from behind and touch it?

Some deaf cats learn to respond to hand signals similar to those used in distance control of dogs. At close range, sharp handclaps might provide enough vibration in the air to get the cat’s attention. Flashing a torch (flashlight), shone in the direction of the cat, on and off can be used to call it in from the garden at dusk (this also works with hearing cats) especially if it the flashing light is followed by a tasty incentive.

Deaf cats cannot hear warning sounds such as car engines, lawnmowers or barking dogs. If it goes outdoors, make sure it is wearing a collar (in case it is startled by something and bolts) and write ‘I AM DEAF’ on the collar to help people who wonder why the cat fails to react to shouts, car horns etc.

A noisy bell on its collar will help you to locate its whereabouts when it is in motion. It is safest to confine a deaf cat to a safely fenced garden unless, like me, you are in a quiet area with no aggressive dogs and plenty of cat-lovers pre pared to take extra care.

In June 2003, a German acoustics expert announced his invention of a hearing aid for cats. Hans-Rainer Kurz, a hearing aid specialist, took two years to develop the hearing aid with help from experts at the Vetenarian University in Hanover. They developed a tiny device, which can be implanted in the cat’s outer ear. Herr Kurz has already had success with a similar aid for dogs. He admitted that the device would not cure totally deaf cats, but could help those with severe hearing difficulties. The hearing aid ensures that the cat is able to take the usual acoustic signals and re-work them into sounds in the brain. Quiet sounds that hearing-impaired cats had never heard before would become distinguishable. The feline hearing aid currently costs around £300.


Despite a dark silent existence, deaf-blind cats can enjoy life since they rely on their keen sense of smell and their sense of touch through whiskers on the face and also on the lower leg. Cats which have been blind throughout much of their lives may eventually suffer the additional problem of age-related deafness. Most of the considerations noted for blind cats and for deaf cats apply.

A deaf-blind cat may hear you approaching by vibrations of the air and of the floor. It is likely to become defensive and is easily startled. It can be alerted to your presence by blowing gently in its direction. At mealtimes, blow across the food bowl to waft the scent towards it. Such cats can never be allowed outdoors unsupervised.

Confine a deaf-blind cat to familiar areas of the house where they can learn their way around and could sunbathe near a window. A mesh covered window can provide ventilation and scents from outdoors, but the room must be escape-proof for the cat’s own safety.

When you are at home, a deaf-blind cat can have free run of the familiar area under a watchful eye; but while you are out, make sure the cat is in a safe, escape-proof room or pen with food, water and litter within easy reach (do not move the locations of these necessities, it will confuse the cat). Catnip-scented toys provide stimulation.

A harness and leash allow such cats to go into the garden and enjoy the natural textures and scents. Cat-safe plants such as catmint, cat-thyme or Japanese cat-vines can provide enjoyment. This way they can ‘feel’ the owner’s reassuring presence because through the leash. Whenever they feel disoriented, indoors or outdoors on a leash, most deaf-blind cats learn to sit still, wailing, until help arrives and they are moved back to a familiar area.

Like blind cats, deaf-blind cats memorize their surroundings, but they are doubly at risk because they cannot hear dangers approaching. Block off hazards such as stairs and fireplaces with a solid barrier – make sure the cat cannot stand on tiptoe and find the top of the barrier or it may decide to clamber over! As with a deaf cat, a noisy bell on its collar will help you locate it as it explores.

A deaf-blind cat can never have unsupervised access to outdoors or to unfamiliar or hazardous parts of your home. Make sure it knows exactly where to find its food and also litter tray otherwise accidents will ensue. Such cats, if cared for well, gain plenty of enjoyment through their senses of smell and touch.

Moving House With A Deaf-Blind Cat

For moving house with a deaf-blind cat, the guidelines are much the same as for moving house with a blind cat (covered in the section about blind cats) except that sound stimuli (encouragement, reassurance) must be replaced by touch and smell i.e. stroking, walking the layout on hands and knees with the cat alongside you (this really does work as it mimics the way a mother cat leads her kittens), encouraging the cat to explore by offering food treats.

Copyright & Credit:
Copyright 2009, Sarah Hartwell – MESSYBEAST.COM

Photo copyright and courtesy: Lena Povrzenic – stock.xchng

Living With A Disabled Cat – Part 3

| November 3, 2010
Some cats are born disabled, other have suffered accidents or the degenerative effects of old age. A disabled cat can still lead a full and enjoyable life, given a chance and an understanding owner. Cats adapt their lifestyles to cope with disability far more easily than do most humans

Some cats are born disabled, other have suffered accidents or the degenerative effects of old age. A disabled cat can still lead a full and enjoyable life, given a chance and an understanding owner. Cats adapt their lifestyles to cope with disability far more easily than do most humans


The term ‘spastic’ may be considered politically incorrect, however cats have no concept of political correctness and this colloquial term (defined in my dictionary as “suffering from spasms”) covers several conditions with similar symptoms. I apologies to anyone who objects to the term, but I would point out that the term is used in the UK to describe cats with disabilities of co-ordination, muscular spasms and muscular tremor. To avoid confusion among American readers, the term “spastic” is not used in the sense of a cat whose muscles lock rigid e.g. during a fit.

Spastic cats (CH cats) are sometimes born to females who have suffered Feline Infectious Enteritis (FIE, Feline Panleukopaenia, Feline Distemper) during pregnancy. Cats which have suffered brain damage through an accident may also be unco-ordinated so these notes apply. It can also be due to injury, poisoning or simply a random development problem. It is not known to be caused by a pregnant cat receiving a the Enteritis vaccination and is usually only seen in kittens born to feral, stray or unvaccinated cats.

Adult cats have an immune system which can usually can fight off FIE, but in kittens the virus can cross the blood-brain barrier and cause defects in the cerebellum. Unborn kittens at 1 – 4 weeks gestation are usually killed by the infection and the foetus is reabsorbed by the mother or spontaneously aborted. Kittens at about 4-5 weeks gestation may be stillborn and have major defects; if born live they are unlikely to survive. Kittens infected near the end of the pregnancy may be stillborn or may be born with Cerebellar Hypoplasia (spasticity). These timings and the effects depend on the development stage, size, health and strength of the kitten. It also depends on the mother cat’s health, the environment and the amount of virus she was exposed to. There are different strains of the virus and some may be more damaging to unborn kittens than others.

Affected kittens may not grow as large as unaffected kittens or they may have slower development. The virus affects the cerebellum area of the brain, an area involved in fine motor control. Typical symptoms are ataxia (poor co-ordination), gait abnormalities and perception. Affected cats are wobbly and unco-ordinated (variable degrees from wobbly through to unable to walk) and have characteristic head tremors which are evident when they try to focus on something (e.g. a bird). Many also have sight problems, but it is difficult to assess their sight due to their strange posture and gait. It often looks as though their body goes the opposite of what they are telling it to do, or one part goes in one direction while the other tries to head off elsewhere! They adapt to these challenges, but will always be clumsy and may be nervous or unsure of themselves in new situations. Barring any accidents caused by their unco-ordination, their life expectancy doesn’t seem to be affected and given a safe environment, they live as long as unaffected cats and seem little troubled by their condition.

In humans, the problems would be significant disabilities. CH cats don’t worry over their inability to do things in the same way or at the same speed as other cats. Spastic cats can do everything other cats do and are equally independent – they climb fences, play and performs daredevil feats, though they can be alarming to watch, especially as they teeter along a fence. Occasionally they slip, catch hold with their claws and haul themselves back up again; make sure there are soft plants to cushion any fall! Like disabled humans most won’t want to be overprotected, but in the same way that disabled facilities are made available to humans, some thought needs to be given to toilet facilities, access to favourite spots etc to ensure their wellbeing.

It is not advisable to give a spastic cat free access to outdoors as their mobility problems, perception problems and possible sight problems makes traffic doubly hazardous to them. If you have an enclosed garden or a cat harness and leash they can have access outdoors. Many people are unaware of the condition and people who see these cats twitching on the path outdoors sometimes try to help the ‘injured cat’, but the cat’s crazy zig-zag run confuses most pursuers – they simply don’t end up in the place they appeared to be heading for (one more reason roads pose such a threat, a driver who tries to avoid the cat cannot compensate for the cat ending up in the wrong place). Even birds are caught unawares by this zig-zag approach and I know of spastic cats who are reasonable hunters, exploiting this element of surprise. CH cats are extremely independent and owners report that affected cats usually have “sunny personalities”, but some allowances still have to be made.

Cushions and rugs under windowsills act as safety nets and crash-mats for an unco-ordinated cat. CH cats often lean against walls when at rest and when running, using the wall for stability and guidance. If you provide a ramp up to seats or sills, make sure it is wide since such cats rarely walk in straight lines, carpet it for extra grip and make sure there is some form of crash-mat in case the cat does fall. It may be a good idea to leave such cats with a full complement of claws since they need the extra grip to compensate for limb tremors. These should be clipped regularly so they don’t accidentally snag in furnishings.

The litter tray needs to be untippable and high-sided apart from the entrance. Puss may need to lean against a side while using it. Even so, you need newspaper around it and must be prepared for some accidents as they don’t always position themselves correctly. You may need to clean under the tail more frequently as the cat may be unable to co-ordinate itself well enough to stay in a squatting position while using the tray, or it may stagger and tread in the faeces. Spastic cats are also messy eaters, placing both front paws in the food to prop their head up while eating. If they twitch, some of the food goes flying so feed it in an easily cleaned area and use an untippable water bowl!

Despite what would seem to be unsurmountable problems to humans, CH cats enjoy a good quality of life, but need you to watch out for their inevitable accidents. When they fall, they often go floppy and relatively short falls (coffee table etc) will damage their dignity rather than their body. One owner of a spastic cat told me “let him pick himself up first, don’t compound the indignity by picking him up unless it is obvious that he needs help or is injured – and remember – cats bounce!”


Much of the information given here for Twisty Cats can also be applied to cats which have lost both fore-limbs through injury of birth defect. One of the earliest accounts of a double amputee cat with no fore legs can be found in Philip Brown’s book “Uncle Whiskers” (1970s, out of print, but sometimes turns up at secondhand book stores or jumble sales). To protect his healing stumps, Uncle Whiskers was originally fitted with leather “boots”.

Some people who see a cat with Radial Hypoplasia (RH) for the first time either think it has both front legs broken or notice that it sits up like a rabbit. They walk in a shuffling or scrabbling motion. There are varying degrees of the condition, these tips take a worst case scenario. Mildly affected cats may get along just fine, but have a peculiar bobbing gait. Some affected cats are found among feral cat colonies, but unless the colony is being fed by someone, RH cats are unlikely to survive outdoors – they cannot hunt, cannot run from predators, traffic or malicious humans and cannot defend themselves if molested. In addition they are likely to be singled out for abuse because they are different and therefore “easy targets”.

The front legs can be considered severely crippled, often with toes going in all different directions. To help a cat with radial hypoplasia in getting around the house, you need carpet or rugs because they may have a hard time slithering across slippery floors on almost useless front legs. Because the cats are walking on a crooked part of the leg rather than on the paw, you need to watch out for sores developing on the leg over time, the skin becomes callused and hardened, but when an affected kitten is learning to walk and trying to play, the skin can become abraded. If calluses do not form, you may be able to fashion a padded leather bootee to protect the cat’s skin. Favourite resting places need to be at low level and should be well padded to give the forelegs a well-earned rest.

Cats with severe RH have problems cleaning their faces, particularly their ears and eyes. This can result in recurrent infections and a build up of debris around the eyes, in the ears and also food debris can accumulate around the mouth and nose. Extra attention is needed to keep these areas clean so that infection does not occur. In a multi-cat household, other cats have sometimes been seen to wash the face of an RH cat (and even to “cover up” in the litter tray for them!). One or two RH cat owners have reported that their cats have extra skin around the eyes though this trait is not necessarily linked to the foreleg deformity.

One danger is that of ingrown toenails because the claws do not get normal wear from walking and often the twisted leg cannot scratch a scratching post, either vertically or horizontally. Sometimes the claws are deformed or twisted and even cutting them is hard. Even if you are normally opposed to declawing, this is one instance where declawing may be necessary for health purposes. Some owners have reported horn-like spurs growing out of the paw pads; these might be bony spurs growing from damaged toe bones (bones are prone to growing spurs after certain types of damage) or to the unused tissue of the paw shrinking back to leave a “mummified” section of bone. If these are causing discomfort or interfering with the cat’s locomotion, they should be removed. Depending on the severity, the RH trait does not necessarily cause pain in movement, tendon problems or arthritis.

Because they can still climb and often develop more powerful hind-legs to compensate for the weak forelegs, most RH cats can get onto chairs, beds etc either by jumping or by climbing. Jumping onto higher surfaces such as shelves may be impossible but the front paws are not positioned to grasp the edge of the surface as a cat with normal forelegs does. Normal cats tend to “run” up the final few feet of a high leap and RH cats cannot do this. They can only jump as high as their back legs can propel them or they might climb up soft furnishings or wire mesh.

However the jump down is problematical because they must land on the forelegs. With their reduced forelegs, the landing is more dangerous and even painful. The cat’s chin may graze on the ground as normal forelegs act like shock absorbers, damping the impact. Having climbed up onto a chair, many RH cats find the descent daunting and dither while they psyche themselves up – at this point you may opt to lift your cat down. A ramp with a shallow angle and covered with securely fixed carpet or sacking, or with ledges crosswise every few inches, so he doesn’t slither on smooth wood, may help him get up and down to a favourite chair.

Stairs are especially hazardous to a cat with severe RH. Thought they can get up the stairs, getting down stairs is dangerous because they are likely to overbalance and tumble down the stairs, or even off the edge. The fall can be lethal so try to restrict the cat to one level or use a solid (not mesh or the cat will climb it) child gate on the stairs to stop the cat from going onto them. If he lives upstairs, the child gate must be at the top of the stairs. If he lives downstairs it must be at the foot of the stairs and the banisters must have no gaps in which would otherwise allow him to bypass the child gate.

A cute peculiarity which I noticed with an RH cat at a cat shelter is the tendency to rest the chest and forelegs on a raised ledge, sometimes with the forelegs dangling right over the ledge. This is more comfortable for them as it more closely approximates a normal feline resting position. Some RH cats, however, take it to extremes and sit almost upright with forelegs dangling over the back of a chair. The fact that they sit like a squirrel or rabbit often leads to misidentification as a “cabbit” (a genetically impossible cat-rabbit hybrid) or squitten (squirrel-cat hybrid – literally squirrel-kitten). The lack or partial lack of the main leg bone means that RH cats cannot crouch in a typical eating position, their either need the food raised to their normal head height or they will eat lying down. If your RH cat regularly rests its head and forelegs on a ledge, trying placing the food on the ledge so it can reach it more conveniently.

As with most of the disabilities mentioned, if your garden is securely fenced in (RH cats can climb wire mesh), or you have an outdoor pen or your cat is leash-trained, limited supervised access to outside is possible. Unfettered access to outdoors is especially dangerous to a cat with severe foreleg deformities.


Living With A Disabled Cat

The ramp is based on a deckchair design with notches for the prop to allow the height of the ramp to be altered.

If you are able to use a saw (preferable a jigsaw or scrollsaw) and drill, it is not hard to make an adjustable ramp or a simple set of steps. These are general guidelines only.

The ramp is based on a deckchair design with notches for the prop to allow the height of the ramp to be altered. It is best to assemble the ramp and fit the prop before carving any notches, that way you can mark out where to carve notches to give a suitable range of heights, The notches must be deep enough that the prop doesn’t slide out when the cat’s weight is on the ramp. To provide grip on the sloping surface, fit some carpet or nail a series of small battens across the ramp (i.e. ladder-style).

To make the steps, measure the height of the surface the cat wishes to reach. Then work out how many steps and how deep or shallow the steps need to be for your cat. This will also affect the overall size of the item. In general three steps is adequate. To prevent the two sides splaying under the cat’s weight, brace the steps at their base as shown in the diagram.

Another simple steps design is shown below. The top step can either be set at the height of the surface the cat needs to reach or a step’s depth below it.

Copyright & Credit:
Copyright 2009, Sarah Hartwell – MESSYBEAST.COM

Photo copyright and courtesy: Lena Povrzenic – stock.xchng

Living With A Disabled Cat – Part 4

| November 3, 2010

Some cats are born disabled, other have suffered accidents or the degenerative effects of old age. A disabled=

Some cats are born disabled, other have suffered accidents or the degenerative effects of old age. A disabled cat can still lead a full and enjoyable life, given a chance and an understanding owner. Cats adapt their lifestyles to cope with disability far more easily than do most humans

This section provides answers to some of the more commonly asked questions.

Do Other Faculties compensate for the missing one?

After losing a sense or a limb, cats must rely on their remaining faculties. Many owners notice that the remaining senses may become more acute or remaining limbs may become stronger. For example, a blind cat may have extremely acute hearing while a hind limb amputee may have front body strength comparable to a weightlifter.

The apparent sharpening of remaining senses is part of how the brain works. The brain isn’t static, it is capable of rewiring. In animals and humans that are born blind, the unused areas of the brain normally associated with sight become commandeered by intensively used adjacent areas such as hearing and touch. In cats which lose their sight during life, they rely more on other sense and those neuronal pathways become stronger and that area of the brain a little larger. It’s a case of “use it or lose it”. In a sense, while the sight area atrophies through disuse, other areas can grow into the freed up space. Although a blind cat may be concentrating more on listening, the adaptation isn’t a conscious effort, but a neurological effect. This is greatly simplified; you can learn about brain wiring in Matt Ridley’s book “Nature via Nurture”.

Physical attributes are much the same. A cat who lacks one leg spreads his weight across his remaining limbs. Like anyone who weight trains in a gym, those muscles are used more and get stronger. In cats and dogs, the front limbs carry most of the weight, especially when moving. In a hind limb amputee, there is additional weight on the fore limbs and these develop even more than usual. Owners of dogs who have recently lost a front limb are advised to exercise the dog gently to give the remaining foreleg time to build up its strength and not to put too much strain on it too early. Anyone who works out in a gym to develop specific muscles can see the same effects – the muscle responds to the strain by growing and becoming stronger.

In addition to adaptive changes in the brain and muscles, cats use their intelligence to cope with disability. A cat with mobility problems can often be watched figuring out the best route onto or off of a shelf – it might figure out a route where it can get onto the shelf in a series of steps with little jumps, rather than a single leap. A blind cat might gauge the height of a chair seat by reaching up on hind legs to pat its forepaws on the seat before making the jump. A cat with one eye swivels its head to get several angles of view to get some depth perception before making a jump.

Where a sense is lost gradually, the brain can compensate over a long period of time. For example, we may not realise our cat is going deaf until all hearing is lost. Where a sense or limb is lost suddenly (illness or accident) the speed at which a cat adapts seems to be related to its age. It just takes older cats a little longer and the adaptation may be a little less perfect.

Do disabled pets become more affectionate than able-bodied ones? Is this gratitude towards their humans?

“Gratitude” is anthropomorphism i.e reading human emotions into animals. Animals do have emotions, but not the complex abstract emotions of humans because they perceive the world in a different way to us. A better explanation of the “gratitude effect” in disabled cats is that the cat allows itself to become more dependent on its human family. Cats frequently relate to humans as though we are parents (providing food and comfort) and they are juveniles. A disabled cat is even more likely to view the owner as provider and may exaggerate its own role as kitten. The owner makes additional efforts to accommodate a feline disability and the cat modifies its own behaviour to suit this relationship – we may not even realise this is happening, but it is a continual process. Remember that cats interpret owner/cat relationships in feline terms, not in human terms.

Are cats with genetic disorders also genetically programmed to adapt in certain ways? For example are Twisty Cats genetically programmed to have stronger hind legs?

A Twisty Cat will have relied on its hind legs since kittenhood hence these will have grown stronger. The same extra-strong hind legs would be seen if the kitten’s forelegs were deformed through birth accident rather than genetic mutation. In genetic mutations, the gene(s) affected have all sorts of visible and invisible effects (there is not a one-gene-one-trait correlation) and it is possible, though unlikely, that some of the gene’s effects will compensate for its other effects. However, it is more often the case that all of the genetic effects will be detrimental – throwing one part of a delicately balanced machine out of balance has a detrimental knock-on effect on other parts of that machine. Genes give cats the potential to develop in a certain way, the environment hones how the cat actually develops.


A caring owner can think of other ways in which to help a disabled feline companion, but beware of being overprotective. A disabled cat still requires some semblance of independence to allow it to fulfil that inner ‘catness’ that we love in our feline friends. Most seem unaware of their disabilities and they do not expect life to make allowances, but a helping hand and some adjustments to their lifestyle and perhaps your own lifestyle will ensure a disabled cat has a healthy, happy and safe life.

There are plenty more resources on the web.
– information and links including links to companies providing wheelchairs, ramps etc
– adoption, resources and bulletin board
– Handicats Yahoo group for owners of special needs cats
– The Cerebellar Hypoplasia Kitty Club (UK: Spastic Cats)

Copyright & Credit:
Copyright 2009, Sarah Hartwell – MESSYBEAST.COM

Photo copyright and courtesy: Lena Povrzenic – stock.xchng

Meet Smartie

| June 29, 2012
A wonderful lady called Tracy Harries from Equi-Aid in PE, called us to say that she was making these wheel carts, one of the first people to be making them in SA

A wonderful lady called Tracy Harries from Equi-Aid in PE, called us to say that she was making these wheel carts, one of the first people to be making them in SA

Smartie(which we named him) is a tiny, 3 yearold, Jack russelboy with deformed front legs. He was living with a family in PE who no longer wanted him. We found out about him (as we concentrate on special needs animals) and had him flown to us in Joburg. We were heartbroken to watch him bounce heavily on his little chest and so sad to know that he had been doing this for 3 whole years and the family had done nothing to help him. He is such a happy chappybut bouncing and sliding on hard surfaces on his chest has created problems for him. His back legs were having to do all the work so they have grown out of proportion, his little neck is thick from trying to hold his head up and his chin, his chest and tummy have little sores. Neverthe less, he is still bouncy and confident and an absolute inspiration…

Click Here to read more on Smartie

Lauren Namer


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