Caring for a Three-legged Cat
***Note: I originally had this as a page on this blog, but since you cannot tag or label pages, the people who are looking for info on three-legged cats don’t seem to be finding the page. So I decided to change it to a post.
I’ve noticed that, aside from “Army ball”, the number one thing people who come to my blog from search engines seem to be looking for is information about three-legged cats. Patrick finally said, “Well, are you going to give them what they are looking for, or just leave them hanging?”
Fair enough. I have a three-legger, who used to be a four-legger and we have been through the whole process of the injury, amputation, recovery and living with the disability. I don’t know that I have much to offer in the way of practical information. But maybe some of you are just looking for some reassurance that someone else has been there, or an idea of what to expect. That I might be able to help with, a little.
PLEASE NOTE: This story is graphic, in relation to our cat’s injury and recovery. Please do not read if it is going to hurt your heart or upset you.
So here is our story. Well, it’s Fongie’s story.
Not quite two years ago, Patrick and Aidan were outside in our front yard playing together. At that point we were allowing both our cats to be indoor/outdoor cats. We lived on a very quiet cul-de-sac and had a cat door and we felt relatively good about their safety, though we knew and accepted that there is ALWAYS a risk to letting your cats roam. However, we felt like they got a lot out of getting to be outside, including tons of exercise (which is now sorely missing, living in an apartment…they’ve gotten fat).
They were outside for about an hour and both Patrick and Aidan had seen Flower Fong (full name: Triple Happy Flower Fong) out and about in the yard. She rarely strayed from the perimeter of our yard. As the fellas were preparing to come inside, Patrick saw Fong lying on the porch. He reached down and scooped her up. That is when he noticed that the flesh on the outside of her left rear leg was neatly stripped away. She was quiet and calm, and must have been somewhat in shock. The entire inside of the outer face of her leg was exposed up to the haunch.
I was laying down with Emerson, trying to get him to take a nap when I heard Patrick and Aidan come in, and Patrick frantically calling to me, “Fongie is hurt. We have to get her to the vet!” Emerson and I leapt off the bed, threw on some shoes and were at the door as fast as we could move. I grabbed a towel on the way out, to wrap her in to help keep her calm.
We went to the emergency vet not far from our house, since it was a Saturday afternoon. We had to wait several minutes, but not an overlong time.
What the vet told us at first was that they would pull the edges of her skin together across the wound and that it would take about a month to grow together, but that the wound could be closed up. We were surprised, as the exposed portion of her leg was about an inch across. They informed us that she’d need to come in to have the bandages changed twice a week. Yikes…could you imagine the cost? It sounded pretty straightforward, so I told the vet that we were do-it-yourself kind of people and asked if we couldn’t take care of bandage changes ourselves, bringing Fongie in once every week or two or as needed. She reluctantly agreed.
Before they undertook the procedure, they wanted to x-ray our kitty’s leg, just to rule out a fracture. Patrick and I discussed it and decided that it was prudent to make sure, since a fracture would require different treatment. We were sent to the lobby to wait.
After some time, the vet came out to talk to us in the lobby. She told us that she was surprised to discover that both of the bones in Flower Fong’s leg were broken. She explained that this would mean a much longer and more intensive plan of care. She informed us that she felt that a better course of action would be to amputate the leg. She said the recovery would be shorter and more straightforward. She gave us a price estimate.
As much as we hated to have to make the choice, we decided to go ahead and amputate. To be perfectly honest, as much as we adore our cats…and believe me, we do…we are not the kind to pay any price for unlimited veterinary care. The price the vet quoted us was actually just past the upper limit of what we were comfortable with spending. Patrick was shipping out for Basic Training in less than two months. There was just no way it would be a good idea for me to be left with a very sick cat, not to mention with all the preparation we still had to do to get Patrick ready to leave. The vet told us that she had a three-legger and the cat had adjusted very well to having one less leg.
As a side note, we asked the vet what she thought might have happened to Fong. She said that she suspected something that spins using a strong motor. She thought that the skin must have gotten caught on something and it just pulled the flesh right off, breaking the bones in the process. We certainly do not have experience with this kind of injury, but after a good bit of thought, we could not come up with anything that would fit that description that she would have had access to. Nothing fit the whole story. Patrick believes that it was an animal and that Fongie was just lucky enough to get away. Or maybe something scared the animal off right after it attacked. We’ll never know.
We were told that Flower would have to stay overnight after her surgery, so we went on home.
Later that evening, the vet called to let us know that the surgery was over, Fongie was fine, and it looked like everything was going to be okay. As we chatted she mentioned something about this having been her assistant’s first amputation. At the time I assumed she meant that it was the first time her assistant had participated in an amputation surgery. Later, we came to realize that she probably meant that it was the first time her assistant PERFORMED this surgery.
The next day I picked Fongie up and brought her home. When I paid the bill, I was told that the bill was $100 more than estimated, because the surgery had run long and they therefore used more anesthesia then planned. This was another clue, we realized later, that the assistant had performed the surgery.
Fongie was quiet, but glad to see me. The vet gave me pain medication to give her, as well as an antibiotic to prevent the wound from getting infected, and informed me that we should bring her back to have her staples removed (I can’t remember it it was one week or two weeks).
I set Fong up on a towel on the bed where she would be in the sunshine, when we got home. For that first whole day, she did not eat or drink. She seemed to be in pain. She was lethargic. I had to pull back her lip and drip water into her mouth a few drops at a time, several times that day.
When Patrick came home from work, I let him know that I was concerned about her. On top of not eating or willingly drinking, the wound seemed to be a bit smelly. He went and gathered her off the bed, and took her to the kitchen where her food bowls were kept. He laid her down on the towel and brushed her, and talked to her sweetly and gently. He opened a can of wet food that we happened to have on hand (we don’t normally use wet food) and drained the juice into a dish. She perked up a good bit and ate some of the wet food juice and drank a little water. I was amazed at how much better she seemed to feel with just the additional affection and attention.
During all this it came time for her dose of pain medication. But I didn’t want to interrupt when she was finally eating a bit and seemed to be doing well. So I decided to wait until she showed some sign of the pain coming back. Amazingly, from that point forward she acted almost normal. She tried to walk some, she interacted with us. When I did finally give her the pain medication, she started to slide again. She was lethargic and she would shiver and not show interest in eating, etc. So…we stopped giving her the pain meds. Within a day or two she was up and about and acting well-adjusted. It seemed like she was reacting poorly to the pain meds, and did much better without them. I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve seen cats in pain, and on meds and she did much better without them.
After about a week, it became clear that the wound was not healing just right. Patrick took her back to the vet, where he was told that they needed to run a test to decide on a different antibiotic. They also told him that he needed to bring Fongie back in on following Saturday to get her wound debrided. They also wanted us to put an Elizabethan collar on her to prevent her from messing with the wound. He really felt like they were trying to basically “upsell” him. They wanted him to do a lot of things that weren’t strictly necessary to solve the problem, he didn’t think.
So he decided to opt out of the care that they were offering. He didn’t think the wound was actually infected, and he felt like they didn’t really hear what his concerns were. Basically, what it looked like to us was that when they had closed the wound following surgery, they left the skin too loose in one spot. That tissue on that area was becoming necrotic. It wasn’t infected, it was dying.
Here is what we did. And by “we”, I mean “Patrick”. For several days he irrigated that portion of the wound. The rest of the wound healed up nicely, and he removed the staples at the appropriate time. The wound drained all over the place in the first few days after putting the collar on her. Plus, she was miserable. Finally I asked Patrick why exactly they’d decided she needed it. He thought that they assumed that perhaps she had somehow contributed to this one trouble spot. But since we had determined that it was necrotic, I pointed out that animals lick their wounds for a purpose, and suggested that that would debride the wound naturally. Patrick agreed that it might be a good idea, so the collar was out the window.
She did much better without the collar. (And the wound no longer drained all over our house!) We watched her closely, but all she did was lick the necrotic spot regularly. She never did anything that would compromise the wound. The wound looked far better after just half a day.
Eventually, the dead piece of flesh turned white and then finally fell off. This left a small hole in the underlying tissue, about the size of a dime. It took about a month for the hole to heal completely. It just got smaller and smaller, until it closed up. It took longer for all her fur to grow back and cover the whole wound.
It’s been almost 2 years. We’ve been living in an apartment for the past 9 months and Fong doesn’t have the opportunity for exercising the way she used to. She has gained a lot of weight and it makes it hard for her to get around well. We have another cat, Pippa, so it has taken us awhile to figure out how to put them on diets and make sure one wasn’t eating all the food, leaving nothing for the other. We also started buying a weight loss formula cat food. We have had them on a diet for about a month now. Pippa is losing weight, but Fongie hasn’t lost much yet. She has slimmed down some, but we figure it will be slower going since she uses less calories. But it is much easier for her to jump on our bed now!
The other thing I want to mention is that she is more skittish than she used to be in certain situations. Mostly during the day, when Aidan and Emerson are about. Emerson still hasn’t fully grasped that Flower can’t get away from him when she gets tired of his games. So she pretty much stays clear of them during the day. But she is still as friendly as ever to visitors and when the boys go to bed, she loves to snuggle right up next to them. Except when Patrick is out of town…then she snuggles up to me sometimes, too.
Like I said, I don’t know if any of this will help anyone else. But maybe it will encourage someone that they can help their kitty through this transition.