My Tripod Would Be the Alpha Cat If It Weren’t For Her Missing Leg


I’m guessing Catster readers already know how to watch and “read” our cats. We’ve learned, over the years, what certain body language means. We know what a certain tone of meowww means, whether it’s “I want dinner,” “Let me into the bedroom,” or even “Someone strange has pulled into the driveway — I’m warning you.”

But sometimes we can miss the obvious. I sometimes fall into a rut as I get busy caring for several cats, or life stuff clutters my mind and distracts me. My three-legged cat Kali (she had a rear leg amputated prior to my adopting her) has been instrumental in showing me how to keep looking at my cats in a new way, and trying to understand what they are telling me. Here’s some of what I’ve learned about her.

With three legs, Kali has a different relationship to space

Kali has so much chutzpah (more on that below) that I never gave a thought to the fact that she might prefer to be held a certain way. She seemed to love it all — if I picked her up, she’d purr. If I sat on the futon, she’d climb up in my lap instantly, and purr.

But over time, I discovered that her favorite way to get affection is on the floor. Sure, she purrs when I hold her, but she prefers to be standing on the floor, or more accurately, flopping down on her side on the floor. Then, she really turns up the purr and her eyes shut in bliss. She even drools with happiness.

It finally occurred to me that she probably felt more stable on the floor, rather than being held several feet over the floor. It’s probably much like the insecurity cats can have if you take their claws away.

Kali is also a cat who loves to be brushed. But again, she prefers to have this done on the floor rather than in my lap. She’s a head-butter and loves to butt up against the brush, and the floor gives her more stability to do so without toppling.

Kali just wants to be No. 1

Remember the song “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”? In Kali’s case, her song might be “I Just Want to Be No. 1!” I should have figured that out long ago. But it took the comment of an observant veterinarian for me to put it all together. Yes, I knew Kali had chutzpah. But she had never emerged as the No. 1 cat in my multi-cat household. (She and Jamie, who was No. 1 for many years, did not like each other, and that should have been a hint.) I just thought that Jamie mercilessly bullied her.

A few years ago, Kali needed a follow-up ultrasound after she had radioactive iodine treatment for hyperthyroidism. The vet had gotten to know Kali well. He loved her feisty yet tender personality. We had to hold her on her back on the veterinary table so that he could ultrasound her heart. Though she is a small cat (six pounds at normal weight) and was quite thin at the time (three pounds as a result of the hyperthyroidism), she struggled with the force and ferocity of a much larger cat.

“She’d be No. 1 if she weren’t missing a leg,” said the vet.

That stuck with me. At that moment, I understood Kali better. When she and Jamie growled and grumped and screamed at each other, maybe she was frustrated that she wasn’t No. 1. Maybe the other cats knew she lacked a leg, and that made her weaker, or lesser somehow, in rank.

We possibly risk anthropomorphizing when we talk this way, but how else can we use limited language to try and describe what’s going on? We may never be able to completely get inside the head of a cat, but we can use our observation skills to try and keep understanding these wonderful companions.

A (sort of gross) example of someone who observes her cat well

My good friend Cara is an avid cat lover like me. She also loves to sew and has a huge sewing room at her home. When her black cat vomited one day, Cara somehow had the insight to smell the vomit. Maybe the vomit looked different, maybe Cara had some kind of intuitive feeling about the situation. I don’t know. She found that the vomit had a really rancid and different smell than the typical sour smell of cat vomit. Cara was so struck by the smell that she rushed her cat to the vet. It’s a good thing she did — the cat had swallowed a pin that was blocking his intestine. After emergency surgery, the cat was fine.

I’m not suggesting to fly off the handle about every different thing that pops up, but keep your eyes, ears, and other senses open. If you stay open to observation, your cat will tell you what’s up!

How does your cat tell you what’s up? What have you learned from observing your cat? Please share in the comments!

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