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Looking for advice on how to care for a three-legged cat? Our guide tells you all you need to know.

If you’re aiming to adopt a three-legged cat or even care for your own cat after they have lost a limb, you might feel worried about how best to care for them. Indeed, while a small number of cats are born with only three limbs, the majority of three-legged cats have suffered injury or disease which has led to amputation of the affected limb.

Young cats, especially males, are the most likely of all groups to become three-legged due to the experiences they have. Amputation is usually the result of a traumatic injury and with males likely to roam further than females, they are also more likely to be involved in road traffic accidents. Most three-legged cats will have lost a hind limb, rather than a forelimb – although you should be reassured that this won’t have a detrimental effect on their quality of life.

In fact, while the initial adaption period can be a challenge, cats adjust to a three-legged lifestyle remarkably well and many disabled cats live a full and happy life. Once adjusted, most cats with three legs are able to jump, run and climb and play – although perhaps a little slower than in their four-legged days!

How to care for a three-legged cat at home

  1. Ensure there is a comfortable, easily accessible place to sleep
  2. Keep resources like food bowls, water bowls, a litter tray and scratching post within a short distance. Although cats don’t like to eat near their drinking or toileting area, your cat is likely to appreciate these being close by after surgery.
  3. Other pets in the household might recognise a change, especially as cats rely heavily on scent to identify members of their social group. Reintroducing your pets gradually is advisable to ensure a harmonious household.
  4. Move furniture closer together so it isn’t so difficult to use. As your cat’s confidence improves, furniture can be moved out gradually.
  5. Be aware of litter tray issues. Going to the toilet is a private activity and may make your cat feel vulnerable. If they struggle with using the toilet, consider providing a step for easy access and be patient as they learn to cover, dig and clean themselves with three legs instead of four.
  6. Your cat may appreciate help in grooming too, especially if there are areas they can no longer reach.

My cat needs a limb amputated. How can I help my cat after amputation?

While amputation sounds dramatic, it is a much more common procedure than it once was and although it involves major surgery, many cats cope well with the operation. Before you take your cat home from the vets, make sure you’re completely clear on the after-care you should be providing for them.

Ideally, ask for the instructions from your vet in writing and don’t hesitate to ask them as many questions as you can about your cat’s surgery.

Your vet will probably advise you to keep your cat indoors immediately after the operation and may recommend restricting them to only one room initially to ensure they don’t exercise or jump too much.

If your cat seems distressed by their recent experience, it can be a good idea to use a pheromone spray to help to keep them calm. For example, a plug-in diffuser such as Feliway.

Can three-legged cats go outside?

Once your cat is confident, there is no reason why they shouldn’t head outside again and enjoy everything the garden has to offer. Supervise them when they first go outside, ensuring they have enough access to their entry and exit points.

If your cat feels threatened when they try to exit your home, they may become reluctant to go outside and this could lead to a potential behaviour problem. Keep a clean litter tray available for your cat – they may no longer feel confident enough to go to the toilet outside.

Do three-legged cats think their leg is still there?

Some three-legged cats may feel that they can still use their missing limb – for example, many cats missing a hind leg will continue to try to scratch their ear with the missing limb.

It is not completely known whether cats are affected by phantom limb sensation, which affects a high proportion of human amputees, but they only rarely show signs suggestive of this.

Do I need to control my three-legged cat’s weight?

Monitoring your three-legged cat’s weight is particularly important as it is likely that the change in movement and weight load shared over your cat’s remaining limbs can contribute to arthritis in later life. Many elderly cats are already affected by arthritis and it is likely that it may develop even earlier in three-legged cats. Any extra weight puts more strain on the remaining legs, which can cause problems later in life.

Cats that have lost a front leg may be particularly at risk of this, as the front legs carry more weight than the back legs. Some cats overeat when stressed and after an amputation, most cats are likely to do less exercise so keeping your three-legged cat’s weight under control can be tricky. Discuss an optimum weight for your cat with your vet and ask them to help you in implementing an appropriate diet.

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