How to Care for a Three-Legged Cat - Catster
A three-legged cat.
A three-legged cat. Photography courtesy Tripawds.com.

How to Care for a Three-Legged Cat

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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 your tripod cat 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 tripod cats. “Even one pound can impact how happy and mobile a tripod is,” says Agredano.

Core strengthening is the key to keeping three-legged 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 Three-Legged 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.”

How to Care 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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32 thoughts on “How to Care for a Three-Legged Cat”

  1. My baby lost his leg due to a coyote attack I crated him for a month… Letting him out a few times a day just in one room very lucky for me his personality was completely intact no depression and nothing holding him back he did amazing….my only issue now is trying to teach him that he is no longer an indoor outdoor cat that he must stay inside but he Jets out the door every time somebody opens it he doesn’t Wonder far anymore but it makes me very very nervous when I can’t get him back in

  2. Deborah M Vercammen

    My adorable, funny, two-year-old boy was lying in our front yard. I had a heck of a time deciding what had happened. Our friend that is retired took the x-rays and the leg was shattered badly at the hip area. Femur was just a mess. His knee was also dislocated. So, after fighting to find a vet to do surgery and get him stable…all of them were saying they could do surgery because booked up. Well, finally he found the right vet and he lost his back leg. Today he is doing fair. He was glad to get home and he is walking. It hurt so much to have this happen. Vet said he wasn’t hit by a car and no bite marks on him. I can say it has hurt my husband and I so much to have this happen. I think so much of what our cat can do will depend a lot on us. I can’t imagine him having the freedom to run around outside again without me supervising. He is using his cat box and did eat…that was a huge plus today.

    1. Deborah M Vercammen

      Vet’s said they could not do surgery. The vet that did the surgery rearrange all of clients because this was critical and he was bleeding from the compound fracture and shard of bone. We have a regular vet and too many scheduled appointments and all of them said they couldn’t take him. So, thankfully, one of the vets that had moved about 20 miles away was willing to take him immediately…and as it should be! What has happened to the world when an emergency isn’t critical?

  3. I have adopted a cat that was born feral with one rear leg missing in mid thigh. She was born that way. It took me months to get close to her but then the cat flu came through the feral colony. I knew she was sick when she let me pick her up. Now I have hher at home with those last sniffles of that flu and she has her forever home. Now i need to properly care for her needs. She has hair around her stump and she pulls it out or lets it grow as she wishes. I know that she depends on it for balance and that she gets the bare part on the carpet and blankets and litterbox. She needs it to be well cared for so that she can use it for life with no pain. What can I do to help her with that? Do I rub it with ointments or skin care (animal friendly) oils to keep it well moisturized and conditioned – or do I leave it for her to care for herself?

  4. My little 3 year old rescue, Olive, lost her leg to an animal attack. I was completely devastated for her. After the surgery Olive was clearly depressed and stayed in the same place day and night. I stayed close by and spoiled her with more love and prayers than ever. There were so many days that I cried for Olive and the loss of her sweet, playful nature. I questioned the decision I made to amputate her leg vs euthanasia….I didn’t like any of the options. It broke my heart to watch her lost in a new world where she didn’t understand what happened. It was probably 2 months later when I noticed small positive changes in Olive’s behavior! I was overjoyed when she brought her favorite toy to me, like she used to! I thanked God and knew that we were on the right path. I began to schedule gentle play time and she responded more and more! Gradually, over the next month, my little friend showed amazing recovery, physically and mentally. I’m so happy that I made the choice to give her a chance to come through this. Our bond is so much stronger after going thru this together….I didn’t save her; she saved me ☺️

    1. Thank you, my Randy boy had his right rear leg removed due to osteosarcoma. One day later I was overjoyed to see him successfully go down the basement stairs, but two days after that he began tumbling backwards and yowling when he tried to get up or walk. Your post gives me hope that, with some patience and lots of love, he can come out of this!

  5. My cat has had 3 legs for 2 years, still manages to kill a whole load of birds and bring them through the cat flap. He is absolutely amazing. He is only 4-5 now, I think in later life it may be more difficult for him though.

  6. My tripod lost her leg Christmas Eve because of a de-gloving due to what we presume was a dog attack. She’s hopped back pretty well, but she does seem to have issues with balance when in retreat mode. It’s like the instinct hasn’t caught up to the fact she only has three legs and she has to settle down for a minute before she can gather herself and hop back to whatever she was doing. Until then, she’s frazzled, tries to back up again, and falls and meows like somethings after her. Anyone else seen this?

    1. That sounds a lot like what I’m seeing a week after Randyll T Katt’s amputation (osteosarcoma). The vet thinks it might be a while before his “phantom limb” sensation subsides, let’s hop so!

      Aside: Randy’s middle initial used to be J for Jokester, Jovial or whatever was appropriate at the time. Now it’s T for Trooper, Tripods etc…

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  8. I have a new three-legged boy, Charlie. He was a barn cat who had a compound fracture to his back, left leg. He’s an inside kitty now. We’re on day 3. So far so good. He’s a trooper!

    1. My cat is lying in our local vet tonight after being hit by a car he has had rear leg and tail removed hope he is ok in morning and is strong enough to pull through then have to wait another few days to see if there has been nerve damage stopping him doing his business
      How long was it before your cat was up on its feet for the first time after it’s oporation hope it is ok

      1. I’m in the same position tonight as I sit outside the vets and my husband picks up our now 3-legged cat after a car hit her. Feeling emotional. The entries here help.

        1. Hi Ali, So sorry to hear that your fur baby had to go through this trauma. I just wanted to let your know that she will probably adapt just fine. We fostered a kitten last summer who had to have his left rear leg amputated after a vicious dog attack. I honestly did not think he would survive. The recovery was a slow process (he also had other injuries from the attack). Once the stitches were removed he slowly started gaining strength and better health. We slowly introduced him to 2 other kittens about the same age as he that we had fostered and then adopted. Those kittens taught him how to be a normal kitten! It was amazing to watch and within a few weeks he was running around with them. Honestly, he adapted so well and we forget that he is missing a leg. I know you are hurting for your baby. Please give her lots of love as she recovers and know that she will be back to her frisky self soon.

      2. I hope your kitty made it through! About a year ago my cat had trauma to his back end, it paralyzed his tail, and bladder. I spent months making him urinate multiple times a day until finally he regained feeling in his bladder. His tail has been paralyzed since but we didn’t have it amputated in hopes that he would get some feeing back into it. He did somewhat. Yesterday he was hit by a car and it broke his leg. He is now in surgery to have his leg amputated. Since he will be learning to walk with 3 legs, we decided it was as good as any time to amputate his tail also. I’m definitely worried.

  9. I adopted a three-legged cat about a year ago, and nothing about him says “disabled.” Everyone feels bad for him at first, then realizes there’s no need! He gets around just as well as my other kitties! His name is Stumpy… :D

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  20. My niece adopted a three-legged shelter cat that is young and very active. During a road trip, the cat chewed through her portable fabric kennel, and happily sat in someone’s lap the rest of the way. The cat is very bright and escaping the kennel was just another adventure. She gets along with two other cats and a small dog and has very few limitations.

  21. My tripod didn’t know she was a tripod. To her she still had all 4 legs we just couldn’t see the front right. When she got older we did have to adapt a few things and give her a step to help her get to places she liked to lay. She was smart and stubborn. We were more afraid of her falling but kidney failure took her at the age of 10. I was so impressed with her and how she overcame her handicap I wrote a book about my girl K.C. The e book is free.
    http://www.blurb.com/ebooks/634065-k-c-s-tale

  22. I adopted my cat just over 7 months ago she was rescued with a very bad infection which led to her amputation of her front right leg she has been on 3 legs for just under a year now and some days she amazes me in what kind of trouble she can get into, I have had cats and dogs before and she can out run anything I have made my rental home accessible for her so she wouldn’t have to climb stairs, jump high to get anything, over fill her litter box so she can get in and out easier but she still wants to be up high so I got her a kitty tree with steps so its easy on and off but she prefers to do what we call flying squirrel and jump from the basket on the very top (roughly 6ft) into the pile of laundry (roughly a 3ft drop) and then rolls in the pile of warm clean laundry I would so adopt another 3 legged cat or dog

  23. My cat had to have one of his front legs amputated when he was only four. It was incredibly upsetting news to get, but I chose to trust the veterinarian and have the surgery. It went smoothly and while the recovery period was rough, my cat didn’t seem to even notice his leg was gone! He’s nine now and having three legs doesn’t slow him down one bit. He’s just as fast as ever, and still a very happy cat.

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  25. I had a three-legged cat–yes, her name was Tripod–but she was born without her left foreleg. She did anything she put her mind to, used a normal litterbox, and was an amazing companion. She passed away in 2010 from kidney failure at the age of 19. I still miss her. But I can confirm three-legged cats make great pets!

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