Health & Care
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How to Care for a Three-Legged Cat

A three-legged cat shouldn’t be overlooked! Find out how to make life for a tripod cat as happy and healthy as possible.

Monique Balas Butler  |  Sep 11th 2017


When I adopted a three-legged cat who lost her leg to a car accident, some well-meaning friends worried she would need more care than I could afford to provide. Luckily, she proved them wrong. Seven years later, Espie is playful, healthy and “hoppy.”

Of course, each circumstance is unique, and some amputee cats require more care than others. But most of us who own a tripod cat would agree that the benefits far outweigh any of the extra challenges. If you’re facing the heart-wrenching decision of whether to amputate your current cat, are considering adopting an amputee or come across a cat who has lost or severely injured his leg, here are some ways to give tripod cats a leg up.

What to Do if Your Cat Needs an Amputation

My three-legged cat, Espie.

My three-legged cat, Espie. Photography courtesy Monique Balas Butler.

First, don’t let your human emotions get in the way of deciding what’s best for your pet. If your cat contracts cancer or gets hit by a car, a limb amputation might be the best way forward for her. Once the source of pain has been removed, animals typically bounce back and their normal personality shines through, says Dr. Coby Richter, a surgeon at DoveLewis Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Hospital. They usually resume their regular activities within one to two months.

“They can be happy on three legs.” says Rene Agredano, cofounder of Tripawds.com, which provides information, resources and support to owners of three-legged pets. “They adapt so much better than we do if we were faced with the same type of physical challenge.”

Don’t let the cost of surgery sway you to make a painful decision, like euthanizing or surrendering your cat, instead of amputating his leg. The Tripawds Foundation (the organization’s charitable, nonprofit arm) offers an Amputation Surgery Assistance Program that pays up to $500 toward an amputation to eligible applicants.

Caring for an Amputee Cat After Surgery

While recovery times vary according to the type of amputation, expect to provide lots of supervision and care. Monitor your cat’s movements carefully and start slowly with short periods of freedom on non-slick surfaces like carpet. Offer her a low-sided litter box that will provide easier access. Richter also recommends using a newspaper-based litter, which is less likely to stick to the incision site and cause infection.

Exercise is Extra Important for Tripod Cats

While keeping the pounds off is important for four-legged felines, it’s crucial for tripods. “Even one pound can impact how happy and mobile a tripod is,” says Agredano.

Core strengthening is the key to keeping tripod cats strong. Try using a feather wand to encourage your cat to engage in meerkat-style moves. Balance discs or wobble boards can help, too.

A good rehabilitation therapist is a worthwhile investment to preventing additional injuries. The therapist will help cat parents learn how to protect and strengthen a tripod cat’s remaining limbs. The Tripawds Foundation will pay up to $200 toward a cat’s first consultation with an accredited rehabilitation therapist.

Adapting Your Home for a Tripod Cat

Pave the road to your cat’s recovery with carpet runners or other non-slick surfaces on areas your cat likes to travel.

Block off access to high-up cabinets where your cat may have liked to recline before the injury, Agredano advises. Cats don’t always land on all fours (or threes), and tripods are at risk for additional injuries.

If possible, move furniture accordingly to help her get around, or adjust perches to a more accessible height. Some pet parents get creative in how they adapt their homes for their three-legged cats. Check out how Purrkins, a Tripawd member who lost his leg to soft tissue sarcoma, climbs up and down the stairs to get to his favorite window seat.

Considering Adopting an Amputee Cat? What to Know

If you have pets already, taking on a tripod cat shouldn’t affect them much, since their needs and activity levels are fairly similar to those of four-legged felines. Amputee animals often get overlooked at the shelters because people see them as “special-needs.” To inspire more people to adopt three-legged cats, the Tripawds Rescue Fund will reimburse owners up to $100 for the adoption or processing fee from a 501(c)(3) nonprofit shelter.

Tips on How to Help an Injured Cat

If you come across a cat with a potentially broken limb, think about your own safety first, advises Dr. Ladan Mohammad-Zadeh, a critical care specialist at DoveLewis Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Hospital in Portland.

Injured pets may bite, so approach carefully. If you’re comfortable handling the cat, approach softly and slowly.

Don’t worry about splinting and bandaging a broken bone. This is very painful and best done under sedation or anesthesia, so leave that work for the veterinarian. “Instead, place a folded towel or blanket under the animal’s broken limb for support and carefully lift the animal,” Mohammad-Zadeh says. “If you are transporting the animal in a car, make sure they are restrained and unable to move.”

Tips on Caring for a Three-Legged Cat

Feta in his litter litter box.

Feta in his low-to-the-ground litter box. Photography courtesy Tripawds.com.

  • If your veterinarian says your cat cannot have a good life on three legs, get a second opinion.
  • It’s important to keep your three-legged cat indoors only. Predators, cars and more are dangers for all cats who go outside — and tripods will have an even harder time escaping from those hazards. 
  • Limit movement and supervise or crate your tripod for the first month after surgery to protect her from additional injuries.
  • Block off high areas in your home where your cat likes to jump. Make perches more accessible by adding steps or moving furniture.
  • Provide a litter box that’s low to the ground.
  • Use newspaper-based litter for the first two weeks after surgery.

Thumbnail: Photography courtesy Tripawds.com.

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