Living With A Disabled Cat

by Michael
(London, UK)

Blind Cat Thailand - Photo by AkumAPRIME (Flickr)

Blind Cat Thailand - Photo by AkumAPRIME (Flickr)

Living with a disabled cat can lead to a closer bond between cat and person than is usual. Disabled cats cope because they have a bundle of tools and skills that are of a high level, even exceptional, and these can be called upon to compensate for the loss of a part this set of skills. Contrary to what some people think cats can think! They are quite smart. In terms of a cat's life and the things that must be done to survive, cats are very smart. But it goes beyond that. Cats can figure out problems and find solutions.

Charlie Three Legged Cat

Just have a look at the video below as see how Charlie has figured out how to jump down. He twists his body as he falls so that he lands on his back legs and one front leg at the same time rather than front legs first. He devised that all on his own. And he has gone beyond mere compensation. He has developed a new skill out of his highly developed back muscles. He meerkats an awful lot. This puts his head higher off the ground so that he can see more. That is creating a positive out of a negative. And lets remember that the loss of a front leg is tougher for a cat than the loss of a hind leg.

Jumping up for him is easy peasy. He has compensated for the loss of his right forelimb by bulking up muscles on his lower back, hind legs and remaining foreleg (the shoulder area is very strong). This just happens naturally. In order to get his remaining foreleg of the ground to move forward he has to lift the front part of body of the ground. The back muscles achieve this and as a consequence they have become very strong and trust me he has a massively well exercise lower back - it feels like a rock. His left foreleg is also very strong. It is important, at a commonsense level, to make sure that a three legged cat(or even two legged cat) does not become overweight as this puts extra demands on the body to move.

Cat Skill Set

The set of skills/senses that a cat calls into use to compensate are:

  • Excellent balance
  • Excellent flexibility
  • Explosive fast twitch muscles
  • Excellent sense of smell
  • Excellent hearing
  • Whiskers for "touch"
  • Good brain to figure it out
  • Claws to grip to aid balance

If one attribute is missing or defective another can be called upon and is "beafed up" through the extra demands placed upon it. Can you think of some more skills/attributes?

Living With A Disabled Cat - The Blind Cat

Think for example about blind cats. There is no doubt that a blind cat is more vulnerable and should be a home based, enclosure living cat, but given their whiskers for feel and their excellent sense of hearing and smell plus the brain to memorize where things are and life can carry on OK. Blind cats will even use their tails to touch objects. Of course full sighted cats do that too. Blind cats adapt so well that it may not be obvious that a cat is blind. There will probably be little signs and if so a test should be carried out.

Living With A Disabled Cat - What We Can Do

So what can we do to help? Well, there is an argument that says that we should not over help or even at all in some situations as it will blunt the adapting and learning process of the cat. For Charlie, my three legged cat, I do almost nothing differently. I occasionally lift him down as he struggles to jump down despite his adaptation. I supervise him more generally too. That is about it. Oh.. and I try and control his weight despite my mother's desire to get him hooked on Marks and Spencer roast chicken.

Blind cats need more attention, I feel. It is obviously important to make sure that background noise is moderated and that objects (furniture) remains in place as these are markers for a blind cat. Blind cats should not be lifted up on high surfaces and left. Stimulation can come from cat toys that emit some sound - even a crumpled paper ball is just fine.

Blind cats who suddenly become blind will obviously need a period of adjustment for the cat and us. Close supervision, patience and tolerance (to such things as going to the toilet outside the litter tray) would seem to be the order of the day. They must be indoor cats or indoor+enclosure cats. Carrying a blind cat can disorientate it. Stimulation through sound and touch would seem to be important to a blind cat to allow it to live a more complete life.

Commonsense tells us that if and when we move home a blind cat should be introduced to the new home with sensitivity and supervision. A small confined area at first may be safer and allow time for the cat to become acquainted to the new surrounding; expanding the range of activity gradually for safety.

A list of Thoughts, Pointers and Ideas

Two legged cats are amazing. There are examples of cats with two legs on one side managing well, meaning walking, running and jumping! This is a testament to balance, agility and adaptability.

Paralysis with loss of use of limbs or partial use is not that uncommon it seems. Cat walking with toes bent under is one example on this site. Cats cannot jump anymore with paralysis but they can walk with a walking frame. Paralysis can included incontinence (loss of control of bladder and bowl). Things can still work out with a dedicated and loving person by the judicious use of stud pants (nappies).

Deaf cats hide their disability well through compensatory behaviour. They get around in more or less the same way. Because of uncertainly a deaf cat might be more aggressive (defensive). We should tolerate this. Our use of visual communication should compensate. A deaf cat might respond to a flash light for instance to call him her for food (reward training in effect). Or even respond to hand clapping as this causes vibrations which a deaf cat might sense. There is a pet hearing aid (not sure if it still produced).

As mentioned, there are a whole range of disabilities including, deaf, deaf and blind, spastic, paralysis and twisted limbs (twisty cats). All require different compensations and adaptions and more or less input from us. All disabled cats can live good fruitful and happy lives. The bond between a disabled cat and a person can be stronger than for a fully able bodied cat. For these reasons a disabled cat should not be rejected and euthanised but loved more.

Living With A Disabled Cat - Here are some links:

Pets With Disabilities

Yahoo Group on handicapped cats

Blind cat photo: Link to the ph otographer's home page on Flickr

Michael Avatar

Living With Disabled Cats to Cat Health Problems

Comments for
Living With A Disabled Cat

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Dec 06, 2010 Tri-paw
by: George

Michael, Well, I found the story I was looking for. Your Charlie is amazing and beautiful. He certaily isn't disabled but challenged, and clearly up to the challenge.

He sure is fast and moves like a rabbit. The most interesting adaptation is his tendancy to "meerkat" a lot. He relies on his muscular back end to seat himself upright. It probably allows him to rest his one forelimb, which must do so much extra work.

Congratulations to you for all the love and care you give to Charlie.

Jul 27, 2010 Charlie
by: Reneda

All I can say is... It's easy to see that Charlie is pure love. He is so precious. I love his voice and his expressions. It's wonderful that he has a kind and loving home!

Jul 27, 2010 Living With A Disabled Cat
by: AndieJo

simply loved this article... thanx fur sharing... it was enjoyable & informative... all cat lovers should read this 🙂

Mar 18, 2010 How he chose me
by: Michael

Hi Tracey, I don't read that many comments - too busy but luckily I saw yours.

My mother had purebred cats for many, many years. They died young or where stolen or poisoned or ran onto the road..... She got anxious and nervous and decided on a moggie. She went to the RSPCA and selected Charlie, I think because she thought he couldn't move well enough to get into danger or trouble - little did she realise!

My mother sadly passed away about 2 months ago and I decided to take him in despite not really being in a great position to do so as I live in a ground floor flat in Barnes, London. I was "called" to look after him from something on high.

I don't know how he lost his leg. He really is a great boy. He is smart and we talk. He comes to me. And he can shuffle along, quick.

I need to move home, to build a big enclosure and let him enjoy the outdoors completely safely.

Michael Avatar

Mar 16, 2010 Charlie the great
by: Tracey

I really enjoyed Charlies video, he's a super character, what he lacks limb wise he makes up for personality wise!

He loves to play, you can tell that behaviour he displays when you follow him with the camera is chase me! chase me!

He's very muscular, I love his build; a proper stocky English lad!

He has everything he could ever wish for with you.

May I ask how he chose you?

Mar 16, 2010 The 'Go away you' song
by: Ruth

Our 2 boyz sing that very same song that Charlie sang on the video, if a feline intruder comes into our garden lol
It gives us a heck of a fright if all is peaceful and one of them spots a strange cat out of the window.

Kattaddorra signature Ruth

Mar 15, 2010 Tuxedos
by: Finn Frode, Hansen

Hi Michael. I should of course have checked a photo of Binnie before making my comment. Now let's see...
Binnie does not have the white nose and snout, but just a white lower jaw. Timmy has almost the same pattern as the intruder, but with less white on the left side of his face. The intruder seems almost symetrical except for the hind legs.
Tuxedo patterns are just as individual as fingerprints, and there really ought to be a gallery of the main varieties.
My apologies to Charlie for the unfair comment. I have no doubt he must have had some very good reasons for chasing that other cat away. He seems to have that "double whammy" stare too. 😉

Finn Frode avatar

Mar 14, 2010 Hi Guys
by: Michael

Thanks a lot for the comments. Finn, the cat he chases off is actually a Binnie look-a-like. He is another outdoor/indoor cat. Charlie actually really wants to get friendly with Binnie and asks politely but although she accepts him she won't be friends.

It is peaceful but it stops there. She has always been that way. I'm her only real friend! She is lying down right beside me now, in bed and she is dreaming big time. Whiskers twitching, legs moving, gently snoring.

I am very impressed with Charlie. He talks a lot too. And his voice is unusual. I'll try and get that on video too in due course.

Michael Avatar

Mar 14, 2010 Charlie
by: Babz

What an incredibly clever and brave cat Charlie is, he has worked out his own way of doing things and it's plain to see he manages very well and enjoys his life. He even seemed to fancy his chances for a good fight, attaboy! Thanks for sharing the video with us Michael.

Barbara avatar

Mar 14, 2010 Charlie
by: Ruth

Charlie is amazing,how clever the way he jumps and I was surprised how fast he can run too.
What a very interesting article and brilliant video Michael,thank you.
Cats are so wonderfully made and doesn't it make you wonder all the more how some people can have them deliberately disabled by declawing ?

Kattaddorra signature Ruth

Mar 14, 2010 Charlie - the Paralympic spirit
by: Finn Frode, Denmark

Hi Michael. Thank you for posting this video. It really shows that cats mainly use their hind legs for running - that's where the power and speed is, whereas the front leg(s) is purely for balance.
And the way Charlie twists his body when jumping down is truly innovative. I've never seen anything like that, but of course it's much better than landing on a single front leg. He shows a true Paralympic spirit.
That said, I'm not to pleased with the way he chases Binnie away. Please tell him to show the elders a little more respect. 😉

Finn Frode avatar

Mar 14, 2010 Charlie
by: Bob

Well it seems to me that Charlie has adopted the attitude that he may be missing a leg, but he still has three! He gets around really well! I was surprised at how fast he can run. That is just amazing. And a three legged cat shooing a four legged cat off is equally amazing! Charlie has turned his disability into simply a character trait. Cats really do adapt well. I was worried how my little El Ray would be affected by his "deformity" of extra long back legs, but he actually turned that into an unfair advantage at play time with his speed. What you wrote about Charlie's muscles reminded me of El Ray as well. The "cuts" of his muscles can be seen even with his fur, and because of the way he walks and runs he has developed his muscles differently from the others. He is built more like a greyhound than a cat! I'm glad to see how Charlie has adapted. I wouldn't even call him "disabled", as it seems that he is perfectly able to do whatever he wants!

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