Caring for a Three Legged Cat February 22nd, 2011

Losing a leg can seem like a traumatic affair, but three legged cats can usually cope well with their disability once they have got used to the loss of a limb. Cats might need a leg amputating for a number of reasons, including tumours or broken legs. While broken legs can sometimes be plastered to fix the problem, they may be beyond repair and need amputation.

When you bring your three legged cat home after his operation, you may need to keep him confined to a small room or kennel for a few days while his wound heals. This is to prevent him jumping around and splitting his wound.

It’s important to give your cat time to adjust to his new life as a three legged cat, but don’t mother him too much. Show him that you care by giving him cuddles, but don’t be tempted to carry him everywhere. Leave him to get used to being a three legged cat so that he can acclimatise to walking and balancing on his remaining limbs.

Having said that, there’s no harm in making life a little easier for him. Make sure that his food and water is within easy reach. You could also install ramps to make your house more accessible for your three legged cat. Also, make his favourite spots more accessible. For example, if he likes sitting on the window sill, place a chair close by to make it easier for him to access it.

Cats with three legs needn’t be confined indoors. Keep him inside for a few weeks while his wound heals and he gets used to his new disability, after which time he should have no problem venturing outside. If your cat has a SureFlap Microchip Cat Flap, you can manually lock the flap to prevent him from going outside.

Having three legs might make it more difficult for your cat to groom himself properly. Some three legged cats try to scratch behind their ear with their missing limb. If you see your cat trying to do this, scratch his ear for him to help him along.

Some three legged cats might suffer from phantom limb pain. Phantom limb is where the cat’s brain is still sending messages to the missing leg, resulting in pain. Phantom limb pain is quite common in three legged cats. This can sometimes be treated with painkillers, and failing that, acupuncture.

Your three legged cat’s diet doesn’t need to change so long as he is continuing to lead an active life. If, however, your three legged cat doesn’t exercise as much as he used to you might notice him putting on weight and he might need to be put on a diet. Speak to your vet about special dietary requirements for your three legged cat.

If your cat needs to have a limb amputated, your vet will be able to advise you on appropriate care. Many three legged cats cope very well with their disability after a period of adjustment.

  • Ashley:

    I have a 2 year old cat that loved to played outside and hunt moles on our farm. Just yesterday morning our cat was hit by a car and we rushed him to the vet. He had to have his front right leg amputated and his right hind leg is badly bruised and swollen. I brought him home this morning and am concerned about him adjusting. He just keeps flopping back and forth and won’t eat or drink. Any suggestions?

  • michelle:

    Hi. My family is now the proud owners of a three legged kitten. My girls found her in the middle of the road, sitting on her hind leg which was mangled, they brought her home. She gave 2 options either euthanize or amputate. I only had one, to amputate. If anyone has any advice it would be nice. Thanks, Zuko is her name, it means saved!

    • admin:

      Hi Michelle, thank you for sharing your story with us! I hope Zuko is getting on well with life on three legs.

  • Lea:

    My cat give birth to 3 kittens one have 3 legs ,is missing the front leg ! Hi is very tiny will he survive ?

    • admin:

      How remarkable! Thank you for sharing your story. I hope he gets on OK with life on three legs!

  • elspeth:

    Hey everyone!

    I adopted a rescue cat 15 months ago. She was at the SPCA after having her back leg amputated. She’s exclusively an indoor cat (as per recommendation of the vet) and is extremely active and has adapted well to being a tri-ped. My question is this… Do cats suffer from phantom limb? Not pain, but thinking they still have 4 legs?

    Cassidy (who I named because she hops everywhere) fell twice yesterday – once off the lip of the bathtub (where she likes to sit if I’m in the bathroom and once stepping from the ottoman to the couch. She’s never had issues like this in the last 15 months, and I’m curious to get information before scheduling a vet visit…

    Thanks in advance!

  • Tay:

    My 2 year old cat Oliver was shot by what we assume was teenagers with a pellet gun. It broke his left hind leg and shattered some of the bone. My only option were to shell out thousands to get orthopedic surgery for a plate or amputate. He is currently at the vet and waiting for surgery. I’m an emotional wreck because he’s such an active cat. He loves to climb trees and play on the roof of the house. I’m really hoping he adjusts well. I’m very concerned about his personality changing. Is it fairly common for a cat to become depressed after this sort of trauma?

    • admin:

      Hi Tay, thank you for sharing your story with us. How terrible that this has happened to your cat. I hope he adjusts well to life on three legs. Speak to your vet if you are concerned about his well-being after the operation.

  • Jon Hart:

    Nice blog with some great advice!
    I very recently acquired a 3 legged, 7 year old male, short haired tuxedo cat. His owner is moving far away and was unable to take him. Mario has been without his right rear leg since he was 1 year old, and he lives a normal indoor cat life. He gets around fine, but obviously can’t jump as well.
    I never thought to scratch his ear on the side where he’s missing his leg, he loves it!
    Also it makes sense to not let him get overweight.
    He’s a beloved family member now, the dog even likes him!

    • admin:

      Thanks for sharing your story with us Jon!

  • Annie:

    Hi not sure how long these posts have been on here but I need some amputation advice.
    My kitten Toby had to have his right hind leg amputated after his first trip outside and what we can only assume his first dealing with one of the neighbours cars as we live on a little lane. it was incredibly sad as he is my first chosen kitten and the insurance ran out the day before so had to ether pay “into the thousands” for a fixed leg or a lump £500 for the amputation. Being a student and an animal lover I opted for the amputation as the pdsa etc don’t cater for the likes of me and my mum struggles to make ends meet as it is!
    Anyway… He’s doing great, 2 months after and his hair is growing back but I hope one day he will venture out with our other cat Neville. He sits on the doorstep but has rarely moved more than a foot away and when I pick him up to take him inside he scrambles out of my arms in the direction of the door. Apart from the lane my house is surrounded by at least 20m of grass and bushes before any other roads so it’s perfect for cats to roam around but I can’t get Toby to go out! And I don’t want to force him. Shall I try letting him out the back door or keep him sitting on the step and hope that one day he might just hop off up onto the grass? He will be 9 months old soon and I can’t stand to think he’s cooped up inside all day when he has so much space!
    Any thoughts and comments would be greatly appreciated

    • admin:

      Thanks for sharing your story with us. I hope Toby settles down soon and gets used to life on three legs.

  • Lucy:

    My 4 year old cat was in an accident about 4 weeks ago. Her hind leg was injured and left front paw was badly damaged (pads, skin & 2 broken toes). The vet amputated one of the toes and patched up the wounds. She was at home in a dog crate for a few weeks, which she hated. All the external injuries healed well, however today they xrayed again to discover there had been no improvement in the other broken toe, and I was advised amputation of the leg was the only option now. I have never had a 3 legged cat or had to care for a cat with this sort of injury. I’m not really sure what to do for the best… keep her confined to a room or keep her in a cage as before the operation. I love her to bits, and she has already been through such a lot in the last month, I want to make things as comfortable as possible when she comes home tomorrow. I am an emotional wreck just thinking about it, and hope that I do a good job looking after her. She means the world to me. Any advise would be well received.

    • Ashley:

      I am in the same predicament with my 2 year old male cat who just had his front right leg amputated. He hasnt eaten and is pretty lethargic because Im sure hes in pain. I have no idea what to do and what not to do. Have you learned anything new that may be helpful to pass on?

  • Jan Tebb:

    My 15 cat, Braunstone, was diagnosed with cancer last April, aged 15. My brilliant vet amputated his hind leg 3 days later and he is fine. He still goes out, sleeps on my bed and still brings me leaves as presents. Don’t ever be afraid to amputate if there is no other option. Even at 15′, Braunstone has never looked back.

    • admin:

      Hi Jan, thanks so much for sharing your story of Braunstone with us! So glad to hear he is getting on fine with life on three legs.

  • Anna:

    After my 7 month kitten was in a road accident 2 days ago we’ve had to make the decision to have his right hind limb amputated.
    It was either this or put him to sleep, and that was the last thing we wanted. He’s coming home this evening for a few days before the operation. Has anyone got any tips for us? or advice on what to expect? He’s very outgoing, happy boy! even with the pain of his broken leg he’s still full of it and very happy to see us when we go to visit him at the vets.
    Bit nervous for him, but it means he can be with us for a long time now!!
    Any input would be greatly appreciated

  • Phil Cantlay:

    My cat, Holly, had her left hind leg amputated 6 days ago because of a joint infection which developed following a bite. She has adapted to her cone-collar and manages to eat and drink (after I trimmed about 4mm off the rim of the cone)and can now run around without falling over!
    I provided her a large litter tray with low sides ( the base of an old seed tray ) and, as she normally goes outside through a cat door for her toilet, I filled this with soil from the area of the garden she normally uses and she immediately adapted to this.
    She had managed to loosen some of the staples in the wound when I temporarily removed the cone to adapt it (you can`t be too careful!)but I successfully repaired this with some microporous tape from my first-aid kit. After 2 days this this is still in place and I wondered why the vet hadn`t use this.Iunderstand it can take 10-14 days to heal up so I shall wait and see!I would be interested in anyone`s comments on this!

    • admin:

      Hi Phil,

      Thanks for sharing your story with us. I hope Holly heals quickly! Sounds like she’s getting on fine with her new life on three legs!

  • Savannah:

    Can you keep a 3legged cat outdoors all the time

    • admin:

      I expect many cats with 3 legs have no problems spending time outdoors. It’s best to speak to your vet for advice on this.

  • Michelle:

    My cat Pepe just recently got his back right leg amputated. And he wont sleep at night he starts meowing. I’ve tried talking to him and petting him but he wont fall asleep. Please help

    • admin:

      Hi Michelle,
      I’m sorry to hear that Pepe isn’t sleeping well. Please contact your vet as they will be able to offer you the best advice.


    hi, i feed a bunch of strays in my yard all born there so I know them, one little male got hit by a car about 3 months ago, I looked for him for aweek, finnally he limped home,after a week he seemed fine, until this past weekend, he was having trouble with the hind leg, he is wild by the way and only lets me get about a foot away, but Saturday he was BEGGING me to help him, I was able to grab him and took him to the vet, the xrays showed the bones in the hind leg shattered. I made the decision to remove the leg. I rescue so I have a bunch of cats to begin with(two with only one eye) I am going to keep him in the house, I have a cage set up and will do my best to make him happy and comfortable, but I am nervious and hope I made the right decision, I remember him as a little ball of fur playing in my yard only weeks old. By the way he was hit in front of my house and I saw the whole thing the driver just kept going, the decision to remove the leg was one of the hardest things I had to do.

    • admin:

      Hi Gerry,
      Thank you for sharing your story with us! I hope he gets the hang of life on three legs quickly :-)

  • Robyn:

    Our cat recently had her leg amputated and often when she has just woken or has been resting for a period of time when she gets up she wobbles over the place and flips around as if she still feels as if she has four legs and is trying to walk with 4 instead of 3 legs. Is this a common thing to happen? I am taking her to get her stitches out today so I will ask the vet but I am prone to forgetting so thought I would ask here as well. Thanks for your article it has been great to be able to read other experiences.

    • admin:

      Hi Robyn, it sounds like your cat is just getting used to life on three legs. I’m sure your vet will be able to advise you. Good luck to your kitty – I hope she gets used to life on three legs soon!

  • Tracey:

    I will soon be adopting a three legged kitten. He lost the lower half of his left hind leg when he was days old from his mother. Eventually we will need to amputate the whole leg but he has coped so far with only the three and the stump. Because he doesn’t really have three legs do you think he will have much trauma when we actually get his leg amputated? (it would have been done sooner but he wasn’t old enough for the anesthesia for surgery) What should I do to help him adjust easier? I am already planning on some steps/ramp to the window where my current cat likes to chill.

    • admin:

      Hi Tracey. Thanks for visiting our blog! We recommend that you contact your vet for advice on how to make your three legged kitten feel more comfortable in his new home. I help he settles in well as soon as you get him home!

    • Brenda:

      I was in a similar situation with a young cat who was attacked by 4 large dogs. She was uncomfortable for about 3 days and has been great ever since. She has adapted to her litter box, plays, and jumps (crawls) up on my bed. She is now an indoor cat and is fine. Hope you have a similar experience.

  • Barbara:

    I have a cat 7 years old. He is a sweetheart.
    Has fibrus cancer in one hind leg. I am
    scheduled to have it amputated Monday, but I am
    so afraid for him. He is a bright little boy and I love him so much. He is my litle buddy.
    How can I help him when he gets back home. I
    realize. but need reassurances, I guess! Thank you so much. I want him to be able to
    handle things himself with my help.

    • admin:

      Hi Barbara, I hope your cat learns to cope well with life on three legs. Your vet can best advise you on how to care for him when you get him home. Good luck to you and your kitty and let us know how you get on!

  • maria:

    Hi i have a cats protection kitten that im fostering and he had to have his leg amputated about 2 weeks ago and he is about 14wks old but now he is getting phantom leg pain and the vets said not much they can do and if it gets worse may have to be put to sleep, he can now run around the house but every now and then jumps up hisses and growls then is ok agin, should he be put to sleep or will this go eventually, he has a home to go to when hes ready thanks Maria

    • admin:

      Hi Maria, unfortunately we are unable to give veterinary advice. Your vet will be able to advise you of the best course of action. Thank you for sharing your story though and once he is rehomed, I hope the kitten gets on well!

  • Lauren:

    My cat lola recently broke her back left leg. It was a compound fracture right above her ankle. We tried 2 different splints. Lola would not put up with the splints, she hated them!!! The vet and I decided on putting a pin in. But the morning of her surgery I called. I was worried about it it didn’t worked because of where the break is located. After the surgery they would have to wrap it, if she didn’t like the wrap like she didn’t like the splints, she would be gaurenteed to reinjury it. The vet and I decided amputation would be best for her. After making the decision I panicked! What if she doesn’t do well? This wasn’t something that could be fixed once done. After reading many sites (including this one) I felt better about the decision. I brought Lola home she was still heavily sedated, so I left her in her kennel. Surprise surprise she didn’t like the E collar. So I left her in the kennel for 2 1/2 days to get used to it. For about 2 days after that she was still really unsure of what was going on. 5 days into recovery she was jumping on my bed, jumping off, eating, drinking, and using her litter box all by her self. I kept her in my room until the staples were removed. So 10 days into recovery she finally got to see the rest of the house after 3 weeks. I was so nervous, we have stairs, all I could think about was her injuring her self and having to be put to sleep. To my surprise down the stairs she went. Like she has been doing it her whole life. Exploring like she has never seen this “new world”. Jumping off and on the couch.. I am so happy with the decision I made! It seemed so extreme. But when you included the stress and pain she was in. I would have done it first thing when I brought her in!! So thank you for all the reassurance your site has provided me!

    • admin:

      Hi Lauren, I’m so glad to hear that our blog post has helped you! And I’m delighted to hear that Lola has made a full recovery and is getting used to life with three legs!

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