Caring for the amputee cat
After experiencing this first hand with my own cat very recently, I thought it was only right to do a blog post, as I felt it was exactly what I needed, to have some guidance on what to expect and top tips to help your pet (and you!) manage.
To give you a bit of background information - my cat Bailey (pictured throughout!!) is a very loving outdoor 13 year old moggie. His activity level is fairly low, he tends to sleep the majority of the day with the occasional wandering both inside and outside but he has never been an avid hunter or out for hours on end, rather just uses the garden to toilet and sunbathe!
We discovered a lump in his left forelimb back in November 2019 and after scans and biopsies, an osteosarcoma was discovered and removed. Unfortunately, in April 2020 a new lump was discovered in the same leg and this time had spread to the soft tissue meaning amputation of this leg, both the vet and ourselves thought, was the best option.
**Please note - this blog post is written purely from personal experiences of a forelimb amputation**
Firstly, it is an awful decision for any pet owner to make and come to terms with. There are various questions that will pop into your mind such as how will my cat cope, is it the right decision and will they be able to do the things they would normally do? It is common that cats are known to cope well with three legs yet it is still difficult to imagine your pet having to go through this. The longer your cat has lived with 4 legs, the longer it is likely to take them to adapt to their new three-legged life, meaning younger cats are more likely to adapt quicker than your older cat. Nevertheless, no one knows your cat better than you and it is important to remember this when making a decision.
It is important to remember with amputation, whether it be an accident, trauma or cancer that causes the removal of the limb - the pain or outcome that would come from it should you leave it as it is is often massively outweighed by the amputation. In the case of Bailey, he did not appear lame but began becoming increasingly uncomfortable with you touching the lump, showing signs such as licking your hand or moving his leg away.
The following are a few of my top tips/advice on what to expect and how to manage it the best way I found possible:
Keep them confined - especially when they first come home
I can’t stress this enough to allow your cat to adjust to their new life. When I got Bailey home, I let him out in a large room with things he could jump all over. His first instinct was to run and jump over everything, however this led to him becoming increasingly panicked and stressed. Your cat is going to be traumatised and overwhelmed at suddenly having to adapt to having three legs. I would suggest bringing your cat home and straight into either a crate or a small room (with non-slippy floor if possible) as this will give them time to realise they are safe, at home and can get their balance in a calm environment.
Allow your cat time to rest and recover
It is important to remember that this is a massive lifestyle change for your cat and a traumatising event for them to deal with. For the first few days, it may seem that your cat is sleeping a lot and not their usual selves. It will take them a few days to sleep off the trauma and it's important to allow them to do this. For the first three days, Bailey slept pretty much all day every day with very little moving. After confirming with the vets that Bailey was recovering well, allowing him to rest meant he soon became stronger and more confident.
*If at any point your pet seems to not be eating, over/under grooming themselves or very lethargic - it is worth checking with your vets just to ensure your cat is recovering correctly*
Get them moving and adjusting as soon as possible
Although resting is essential, it is also important that you get your cat used to their three-legged life. As Bailey is 13, this meant that he found it particularly bizarre that his leg had gone. He had to adapt to this new balance and shift in his centre of gravity. When he woke up, I would simply place him on the floor and do some assisted standing with him. This then slowly progressed to moving a few steps and jumping on and off the bed. For the first few days, all he could manage was a few stands but by encouraging him to move and stand for longer, he gained confidence, strength and balance.
Stick to the guidelines given by your vet
When you pick up your cat, your vet will most likely give you some discharge notes. These should be followed as much as possible. Any issues that you do have regarding these, consult your vet before changing them. The common saying “you have to be cruel to be kind” is really important to remember as each stage is essential for their recovery.
For example, being an outdoor cat, the biggest struggle for Bailey was not being able to toilet outside, however the vet's instruction was to wait until the 14 day check up. This is to ensure the wound is clean and that they are stable enough to move around safely. Although Bailey would have loved to go outside earlier, he would not have been confident or stable enough to do so before this time.
Keep a diary
This is something I found that really helped me during this time. As I mentioned, I spent the majority of the first week with Bailey to help him recover which meant that I often felt like we were making no progress at times. Keeping a diary allowed me to see little changes I hadn’t noticed and the progress he had made. It’s also something to look back on when they are fully adjusted to their three-legged life!
In my personal experience, it has not been a quick or a stress free process - but I would do it all again to allow Bailey to have a happy pain and cancer free life. Two weeks on and Bailey has improved massively from not wanting to stand up for long at all to going up and downstairs, walking around the garden and jumping on sofas. He still has some confidence to build in situations but is improving daily.
It is a very daunting and stressful experience at times. It is completely normal to have times when you feel you’re seeing any progress or that you have made the wrong decision but trust me when I say - it will get easier and they will adapt! I hope this post has given you some comfort if you ever have to deal with this situation and hopefully if you don’t, it has provided some useful information to take away.
Just for some reference, the first video is Bailey on day two and the second video is him on day 14 :)