Twisted Limbs in Kittens

Murcy kitten with twisted hind limbs

There is a video of a sweet little kitten, born with deformed hind legs, playing. Her name is Murcy. She is enjoying her playing and she is playing well but oblivious to the fact that she does not have hind legs that work. Cats compensate marvellously for disability.

It got me thinking. What causes a kitten to be born with twisted, deformed limbs? How common is it?

Well the answer is that a kitten can be born with twisted limbs anywhere and his or her mother can be any sort of domestic cat, purebred pedigree or otherwise. The condition is not limited to a specific location and neither is it defined by poor welfare or poor nutrition because it’s cause is nearly always developmental and not genetic.


In other words it appears that the position of the kitten in the womb, especially within large litters, can cause the unborn kitten to be in a cramped position preventing her limbs from developing normally. A specific condition called “Twisty Cat” and related conditions can also cause twisted limbs. The medical term for Twisty Cat is radial hypoplasia. Another cause is umbilical cord strangulation.

Both hindlegs and forelegs together with paws can be affected. Sometimes the condition is what is called “bilateral” (meaning both fore or hind limbs) or unilateral. More than one kitten in a litter can be affected. The degree and type of deformity varies.


Can it be treated? Yes, sometimes, if the treatment starts very soon after birth. Treatment includes: splints, hot compresses, massage and physiotherapy treatment – stretching and flexing the leg.

Sometimes the treatment does not work and the longer it takes to work the greater the chance that the limb will atrophy and become permanently useless. Perhaps amputation is an option because two legged cats cope marvellously well.

Sometimes treatment to correct twisted limbs is inadvisable because the kitten will have internal organ abnormalities as well. Under these circumstances euthanasia seems to be the preferred choice, sadly.


An interesting side topic concerns the declawing of a cat with twisted forelegs. Clearly this will be exceptional but Sarah Hartwell refers to a tabby cat whose name is Ellie. Because of her disability the claws of the fore paws were not naturally worn down during use. This caused them to grow too long. Her caretaker, Nicole Rutledge, was unable to trim them because Ellie refused to comply. Although Nicole is against declawing she agreed to have Ellie’s paws declawed.

Is this one of those exceptionally rare occasions when declawing is morally acceptable? Perhaps Nicole could have asked her vet to do it under anaesthetic or sedation? I don’t know. I am just suggesting that there might be no occasions when declawing is acceptable because there is always an alternative. Am I right or wrong?

Source of information on twisted cat limbs: Thanks Sarah. Here is the page (opens new window). Photo at top of page (framed by Michael) by Josh Norem of The Furrtographer and Saving Grace Rescue.

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Twisted Limbs in Kittens — 9 Comments

  1. Hi Michael,

    Talking about compassionate rescue stories, a couple of years ago I ran across a story about Corky, a cat born with Bilateral Arthrogryposis of the Tarsus who was rescued from a shelter. His story went viral around the Internet, and he soon became quite a star.

    You can read his story and learn more about how he is doing on his facebook page

    Corky had several surgeries to help relieve the condition, and while he is not totally restored- he is doing GREAT, and, in fact, when these folks adopt kitties with physical disabilities, he spends a lot of time taking care of them, inspiring them (actually true) and has been a real inspiration to many, many people.

    I had the pleasure of interviewing his “mom” and wrote about him, and updates. Unfortunately those blogs are no longer available since the site for which I wrote his story has been closed.

    BUT- these cats can do very well, and live full lives as long as they have a guardian willing to help them.

    • Corky’s mom must be an incredible person.
      So many people would never go to the lengths she has.
      I wish that interview was still available.
      But, thanks for telling this.

      • Dee I will try and get another one! This lady is busy busy busy- (not only me) but I think it would be pawsome to do one. Thanks for reminding me.

  2. My niece lived in the country for a short while and she found a kitten with this condition in the barn. Of course she has kept her and the cat even has it’s own Facebook page. Her name is Annabelle and she is just as “normal” as any other cat.

  3. Poor babies!
    But, look how that one is compensating!
    And, no, I don’t find Ellie being declawed acceptable when there is another option. I think full anesthesia is too much; but, some mild to medium sedation seems workable to me.

      • No biggie.
        I think you take these things harder than we do.
        You’re not responsible. Even if you had been, sh-t happens.
        You have nothing to apologize for.

  4. Yea Sometimes things happen that cant control although i know it so difficult but i guess its your baby. Being your website. I guess with us all being in different time zones and countries. Its not your fault. 🙂 Sad about that kitty but amazing that kitty still was able to enjoy the things kitties like to do.

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