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:
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