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Ask the Doctor February 2019 Issue

Dear Doctor: Will my cat be okay with an amputated limb?

© Detry | Bigstock

Itís hard for a cat not to be amazingly beautiful, even when missing a limb.

Q. My cat was in a terrible car accident. She’s going to live, but the veterinarian had to amputate one of her legs — there was just too much damage. Now I’m wondering if she will be okay — both to get around and also emotionally. Won’t she feel awful having only three limbs? I’m wondering if I should have just had her put down because her life is going to be so miserable.

Lori Schuster

Glen Cove, New York

Dear Ms. Schuster,

A. You can rest easy. Your cat will be absolutely fine, both physically and emotionally.

First, the physical concern. The less weight an animal carries, the better she will do on three legs, and cats are extremely light-weight. They’re very athletic, in fact, and can do just fine without a fourth limb. Whether it’s a front or back one that has been amputated, the cat simply bears a little more weight on the opposite limb. “Clearly and unequivocally,” says Catnip editor-in-chief John Berg, DVM, “amputation of a cat’s limb never creates a functional problem unless there is a severe problem in one of the remaining limbs or the cat is seriously obese.”

Nor does it create an emotional one. As beautiful as cats are, “a cat has absolutely no concept of her appearance,” Dr. Berg remarks. There’s no preening in front of a mirror. “The emotional discomfort is all the owner’s,” he says. Nor do other cats care. A cat would never be shunned by fellow members of her species because of how she looks.

You absolutely did the right thing. A leg that no longer works because of nerve damage or some other cause only becomes a burden to a cat and, in some cases, susceptible to problems like infection.

Comments (4)

I understand that cat owners want their furry friends to have the best of both worlds (having access to the outside and going back into the house); however, cats wouldn't get their legs caught in traps, get hit by cars, mauled by other animals or be exposed to cruel people whose intent is to harm them. .........if they were kept inside. Provide them with lots of toys, scratching posts, cat trees, interact with them, give them lots of love and they'll be perfectly content. I've trapped most of our cats over the years, and with time and patience, they're thoroughly content living solely inside our home. We have 6 cat window seats installed, bird feeders..........life is good. Just passing on my experiences over the many years I've had indoor-only cats.

Posted by: Feline Fanatic | February 11, 2019 1:35 PM    Report this comment

One of my barn cats was caught in a leg hold trap way back in the early '70's. His front leg was irreparably crushed. We opted to have it amputated, which was very radical idea back then. People reacted the same way - "he will be miserable" "he will never be able to climb or run again". Even "you're being cruel not to have him put down."

I can tell you that cat lived a long and happy life afterwards. He was able to climb the hayloft ladder just fine (I wish I had video!) He even caught mice. Eventually, he retired to a comfortable indoor life. Certainly, he never thought he was miserable or handicapped in any way.

When I had another cat who developed an injection site sarcoma some 15 years later, I didn't hesitate to have her hind leg amputated in order to save her life. She, too adapted very well. She was an indoor cat who could run, climb, and play with no problem. She had 6 good years before the tumour recurred, when she was well into her teens.

Every case needs to be evaluated on its merits, but I can tell you I would make both decisions the same way again. Lori, your kitty will be fine!

Posted by: Tripleransom | February 11, 2019 1:07 PM    Report this comment

BACK IN 2007 WHEN MY KITTY SUGAR WAS ONLY ONE YR OLD, HE GOT HIM BY A CAR CRUSHING HIS BACK RIGHT LEG AND PELVIS. IT WAS BAD AND HE WASN'T EXPECTED TO LIVE THROUGH THE NIGHT. BUT HE DID! I TOOK HIM DOWN TO PORTLAND OREGON TO HAVE HIS LEG AMPUTATED. HE WAS UP AND RUNNING WITHIN 2 WEEKS. HE LIVED TO BE
11 1/2 YRS OLD. THERE WAS NOTHING HE COULDN'T DO. HE JUST CENTERED HIS BACK
LET AND HOPPED AROUND. HE COULD JUMP UP AS HIGH AS THE REST OF MY KITTIES! ONLY THING, WHEN I PICKED HIM UP, HE WOULD ROLL THIS WAY AND THAT CUZ HIS WEIGHT WASN'T EVENLY DISPENSED ON BOTH SIDES. WE ALWAYS THOUGHT THIS WAS SO CUTE!I IT WAS TOTALLY WORTH THE $4500.00 I SPENT ON HIM! GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR KITTY LORI!

Posted by: debicat69 | February 11, 2019 12:40 PM    Report this comment

My cat lost a back leg years ago. She is doing well. She taught me a lot about courage, moving forward, and getting on with living. I have always valued those lessons.

Posted by: Joyce Swayne | February 11, 2019 12:09 PM    Report this comment

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