Life with three legs doesn’t have to keep a 3-legged cat down. They’re called “tripod cats” or “tripods”. Though they are often the cats not adopted at shelters, with the right families, they go on to live incredibly interesting cat lives. Tripod cats can do very well with their three remaining legs, whether they lost their fourth to accident or disease. Some of how well they adjust depends on whether they’ve lost a front or rear leg because their ability to balance is much different without that fourth leg. But many of their needs can be met with some owner ingenuity and plenty of love.
There are tripod cats who’ve lost a leg in a car accident or due to a severe injury. There are also tripods with a leg which had to be amputated when cancer or other serious illness developed. The families of these tripods often agonize over the decision to proceed with this kind of surgery, but one thing is clear- tripod cat experts believe that it is much better have the surgery than to euthanize the cat. Expert tripod owners insist that a second opinion should be considered if any veterinarian tells a family that a cat cannot live well on only three legs. The truth is that many 3-Legged cats do quite well after their surgeries when supported by the proper recovery measures.
Understanding Amputation Basics
There are three primary reasons why amputation may be recommended:
- Severe trauma- when a cat has any accident which results in multiple fractures and extensive damage to its muscles, tendons, and ligaments
- Complicated, extremely expensive surgery or medical treatment
- Tumors-large tumors often invade the soft tissues or spread throughout a bone and the disease may only be cured by removing the entire leg.
The time of pain before and recovery after surgery is the same for cats as it is for humans. However, injured cats must be approached slowly and carefully, because they may bite. They are frightened and must be handled gently. It’s best to fold a towel or blanket to use as support for an injured leg. They must be restrained in a cat carrier or cage while traveling to the vet. Only attempt to move an injured cat if you can keep yourself and the cat safe.
Veterinarians have an arsenal of pain killing medicines to relieve pain. They can do much to take away the pain of sudden injury and to help cats recover as comfortably after surgery as possible. Analgesics, such as morphine and its derivatives are usually injected or administered with a patch on the cat’s skin before surgery to block pain. For hind leg amputations, an epidural can be used to inject pain killers which will continue to be effective after the surgery is completed. Local anesthetics are used to block pain and discomfort for nerves which are cut during surgery. Oral pain medicines and anti-inflammatory drugs are prescribed for the recovery time at home.
The incision from the amputation will be somewhat gruesome. It can be terrifying for those with low tolerance to see these things. But many cats heal very well in a few months. Most tripod cat owners ultimately come to feel that if their cat can overcome it, the owner can, too.
Some tripods with cancer will have the cancer return elsewhere, and ultimately not survive. But their owners almost uniformly have appreciated the extra time they had together.
Make Your Home a Safe Recovery Place
Because cats can be treated with medicines used for humans, it is still important to remember that they differ from humans significantly in the way they recover. Sick cats tend to hide their illnesses. They hide so that prey cannot find them. It’s part of their cat instincts. They pretend to feel well even when they don’t. They also prefer to recuperate alone. But you must monitor them carefully. Many tripod cat owners keep their tripods crated in a cat crate for the first month following the surgery. This helps to protect them from more injuries.
The key is to create a spot where your cat can heal but you still have access. If a crate isn’t available, try putting a shallow box on the floor under a coffee table and hanging a blanket over the table. This provides a place to rest which is “hidden” and satisfies a cat’s longing for some privacy.
Add carpet runners to slick wood or tile floors so that your tripod won’t slip easily. Place them on the usual paths your tripod takes to eat meals and use the litter box.
Move furniture or add steps to make favorite spots easier to access once the first month passes. Block off areas where your tripod likes to jump high. Tripods are always at risk for injury when trying to climb to high places.
Make litter boxes with low sides for easy access. Use a box cutter or other sharp knife to cut down one side or simply fill a cardboard box which has been cut down all around to about three inches. Use newspaper-based litter right after the amputation and for about two weeks following the surgery because it doesn’t stick to wounds as gravel or other sand-based litters do.
Adjust the height of food and water dishes. Watch your tripod carefully to see if eating and drinking is awkward. Tripod cats who have both front legs will do just fine bending over to eat, while those who have lost one may fall headlong into their food the first time they try to eat. Balancing is an issue at first and you can help by moving the dishes to make eating easier. Try putting the dishes on a step stool or inverted dishpan. The key is to discover what works and then create a more permanent solution at the best height.
Important Tripod Nutrition and Exercise Tips
- Tripods must maintain a lean weight. It’s much harder for them to navigate with extra pounds and they can suffer from the imbalance.
- Strengthen their core to keep them strong and help them avoid injuring themselves. Feather wands are perennial favorites which cats adore. Play with them often. Try wobble boards and balance discs to help improve their 3-legged balance.
- If you feel overwhelmed, hire an accredited rehabilitation therapist to help teach you and your tripod how to build strength and protect the three legs remaining.
- Be committed to keeping your tripod indoors forever. They cannot escape from cars or protect themselves adequately from predators. Allowing them access to the outdoors puts them at risk.