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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

Category: Feline Health and Care, Feline Resources, Felines Disabilities & Medical Conditions

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