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Coping with amputation

It may seem like a drastic measure, but (whether as the result of an accident or disease) amputation is a much more common procedure than it was once. Amputation involves major surgery; but if it removes a painful limb then it may be the best solution. Cats cope very well on three legs or without a tail and after a period of adjustment they can do everything a four-legged cat can do!

Tail amputation

Cats' tails are long, highly mobile and prone to accidental injury, fractures, dislocations, bites and abscesses. In some instances a severely damaged tail may require amputation. This is a relatively straightforward operation, and although your cat may take some time getting used to its new condition, tail amputation is unlikely to have a long-term impact on your cat's behaviour.

Limb amputation

Limb amputation may be performed if your cat’s leg has been severely injured in an accident or there is a cancer on the limb, for example. Your vet will provide you with information and advice on helping your pet recover from the surgery. Although this seems a drastic measure, many cats continue their lives on three legs without any problems. Of course, your cat may need to learn how to move around as he or she once did, but with time, most can compensate for the changes in weight distribution and learn to walk and run again.

Amputation doesn't have to be the end of the world for cats. Instead, consider it as the beginning of a new life, a positive option that can humanely extend cats' lives.

Helping your cat adapt

  • Follow your vet’s after-care instructions carefully and ask questions if there is anything you are unsure of.
  • These instructions will likely suggest confining your cat to the house immediately after the operation, and possibly to one room, to restrict exercise and jumping initially.
  • Ensure there is easy access to food and water.
  • If your cat has trouble getting into the litter tray then you can cut one side out to allow access and use uncovered, rather than covered litter trays.
  • Your cat may find it more difficult to jump onto favourite furniture or beds so provide ramps or steps up to higher locations and make sure food/water/beds are easily accessible without the need to jump.
  • If your cat has lost a front leg he/she might find it harder to groom around the head and neck. Use damp cotton wool balls to clean around this area to help your cat.
  • Keep a close eye on your cat's weight, as weight gain places more strain on the other legs and makes it much harder to cope. This is very important, as cats may gain weight after a reduction in exercise.
  • At first, cats will not be able to escape danger as quickly, so try and keep them away from potential conflicts with other animals.
  • Other pets may be upset by the change in their companion, so reintroduce the patient slowly and keep an eye on things.
  • Allow plenty of time for rehabilitation and adjustment as the remaining limbs will get stronger while your cat adjusts to their new life.
  • It is possible for pets to suffer phantom pains in removed limbs so contact your vet if your cat seems in discomfort, as further treatment may be required.
  • If you are worried your cat is not adjusting/coping with the changes, contact your vet to discuss how to make their life easier.

Many cats are currently on three legs and enjoying life. With patience, understanding and time, you and your cat will learn to adjust.

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