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How to help a cat recover from an amputation

Ginger cat with three legs advice

Amputation is a serious operation and they will need your help for them to have a successful recovery.

© Shutterstock

Amputation in cats can happen when a cat’s leg has been affected by a serious condition or severely injured in an accident.

By Zoë Monk

While cats can live a very happy life on just three legs, amputation is a serious operation and they will need your help for them to have a successful recovery and enjoy a good quality of life.

Can a cat survive with 3 legs?

Cats are rather nimble and resourceful animals, so amputation in cats whether a leg or even a tail amputation, doesn’t often stop them from getting up to their usual tricks and enjoying life to the fullest. They soon learn to adapt to life on three legs and become just as active as they were before. While you will need to keep a close eye on your feline patient, especially in the early days, you must encourage their independence and try to not be too over-protective as they must learn how to compensate for their missing leg. However, your three-legged moggy will likely need a helping hand from you and a few lifestyle adjustments to ensure they can enjoy a safe, healthy and happy life.

How do you take care of an amputee cat?

Post-surgery

Once your cat has had their amputation surgery, they should be reasonably comfortable as they would have been given appropriate pain relief by the vet. When your cat is discharged and you can bring them home, you will need to continue with administering their pain relief and any anti-inflammatories the vet may prescribe. Your vet may also put a cone on them so they can’t bite or lick their stitches. Before you take your feline friend home, make sure you are completely happy with what you need to do for their after-care. Don’t be afraid to ask your vet to go over everything with you again and even have instructions in writing so you can double-check them later if you are unsure.

For this type of operation, you would want to choose the best vet' - here are some tips on how to choose a veterinarian

At home

It’s a good idea to keep your cat inside straight after their operation and perhaps consider restricting them to just one room initially to minimise their exercise and jumping around. If your cat seems at all distressed then it’s a good idea to use a pheromone plug in to help settle them and keep them feeling calm. If your household has any other pets, keep in mind that they may worry about the physical or even emotional changes they notice in their feline companion. Therefore, it’s a good idea to reintroduce your cat slowly into your pet family and keep an eye on how they all interact with each other.

The next few weeks

Continue to keep a close eye on your cat, especially their weight as they will be likely exercising less than usual. Weight gain can put extra strain on their remaining three legs and make it much harder for them to regain their balance and generally recover. Give your feline patient plenty of time and patience as they learn to adjust to the changes in their body. It won’t take long before their other legs will be stronger and your cat learns to adapt to their new life. If you suspect that your cat is experiencing phantom pain or discomfort in the amputated limb, speak to your vet for advice.

If you have any concerns about your cat, there are emergency vets available!

Can a cat survive with one back leg?

How well a cat adapts to their new life after a limb amputation will largely depend on their personality. However, it is still a difficult time for any cat. The pain and fear associated with what caused them to have an amputation can be distressing for them as well as having to adapt to their new limitations. There are also practical issues to consider following amputation in cats:

Furniture

Jumping on to their favourite furniture can now seem impossible and they may give up trying. But you can help them by arranging furniture in a certain way that enables your cat to move from one area to another so they can have easy access to their most favourite places. Once their ability and confidence improve, you can gradually move the furniture apart until eventually it returns to its previous location and your cat can go wherever they want.

Litter tray

Even without the cover on it, your cat may find the litter tray difficult to access. In the early days, you may have to help your cat into the tray each time and even help them to cover and dig so they can eventually re-learn the habit and adjust to their new situation. Your cat may also struggle initially with cleaning themselves after using the tray, so they may need your help here too. However, when their skills and balance improve, they should no longer fall over as they try to turn around to wash and will be able to resume their normal grooming and washing habits.

How much does it cost to get a cat's leg amputated?

The cost of vet treatment, particularly amputation in cats, varies widely and prices can depend on where you live, your specific vet and your cat’s particular issues. Surgery, however, is generally the most expensive type of treatment, costing around £1,500. If your cat is injured in a road accident at the weekend or during the night, then you may have to pay an additional cost of around £150 for out-of-hours emergency treatment. Most cat owners have pet insurance to help them spread the cost of unexpected vet’s bills.

How long does it take for a cat to recover from amputation?

While it can vary depending on the age and health of your cat along with the reasons behind the amputation, amputation surgery sites generally heal within two to three weeks. However, physical adaptation can take longer and can be further complicated if the cat experiences hallucinosis or phantom limb. The cat may still feel the missing leg, even though it’s gone and still rely on it. It may take your cat longer to find alternative ways to perform tasks on three legs.

Why are my cat's back legs not working?

There are many reasons why your cat’s legs may stop working or gradually become paralyzed. It can be caused by a slipped disc in the back, an infection in the spine, cat bite abscess, arthritis, blood clot, insect sting or as a result of a sudden traumatic injury such as a fall. Signs that a cat is limping or has stiffness in their legs can often be very subtle as cats are very good at hiding pain. However, if you suspect something is wrong, you must take your cat to see the vet if you begin to notice that they are limping, experiencing stiffness in their legs or seemed to be in discomfort or pain. You know your cat the best, so if you are concerned about your cat’s behaviour then it’s always best to get in touch with your vet.

Amputation in cats

While a tail or leg amputation can be traumatic for a cat, how well cats recover and adapt depends largely on the help they get from their owners. While some cats do adapt quicker than others, your feline friend will be relying on you to support them, motivate them and help them re-learn or develop new skills. Patience, some thoughtful adjustments and a lot of love will help to accelerate their recovery and enable your feline friend to have a full and enjoyable life.