Life with a Three Legged Cat

Three legged cats aren’t as unusual as you might think.

At first, a three legged cat will need a lot of care: but that’s true of any animal (or any person come to that) who is recovering from major surgery. Once the wounds have started to heal, the cat is ready to get back to normal, but owners aren’t always quite as ready as the cat…

1. Let them enjoy the great outdoors

Cats like space. Cats like to roam. People like to feel calm, so sometimes they want to keep their three legged cats indoors. But who does that benefit? Not the cat!

It took me ages to stop worrying every time my cat went outside, but he was happy and content to be exploring, hunting, failing to climb trees and generally patrolling his territory.

2. Eating

Three legged cats don’t need special diets. At first they might put on a little weight – hardly surprising after a few weeks of inactivity as they recover from major surgery.

My three legged cat was fed the same food as his brother and allowed to lead a normal, active life. He quickly got back in shape. (Although unlike Garfield, his shape wasn’t round)

3. Scratching

Scratching and pulling claws was a real problem. My cat lost a back leg, so he just couldn’t stand on one leg and attack the neighbour’s finest trees and fence posts any more. Good for the neighbours, not so good for the claws.

We bought a thick coir doormat and fixed scratching posts on the skirting boards which provided some help, but we learned to live with the fact that the carpet on the riser on the bottom stair started to wear out mysteriously fast.

4. Grooming

Losing a leg left our cat with an annoying, just-out-of-reach patch on the side of his head. A quick comb or a rub was all that was required to sort this out.

5. Health/lifespan

Lots of well meaning people assumed that having three legs meant that my cat’s days were numbered. In fact he was fit and healthy for most of his life and lived to be 14 years old.

It wasn’t the lack of a leg that finally did for him, but advancing years and failing health. His over-active thyroid and high blood pressure were nothing to do with an accident many years previously, he would have suffered from these anyway – his four legged brother developed the same conditions very shortly afterwards.

Three Legged Cat I

…and finally

Living with a three legged cat really isn’t all that different to living with a four legged one. My cat spent 13 years as a tripod: he was happy and contented and he lived a great life.

312 comments to Life with a Three Legged Cat

  • glad he was happy , I think our animal friends adapt well , we took in a blind 24 toed Calicoe barn kitty from the local farmer who said she would be dead by morning and she is a hoot hissy, pissy and loving only under her terms but a joy to our mad animal household


  • I like the photo! She looks like she’s in hissy mode there.

  • Richard Dearn

    Thanks for taking the time to look at this question. My wife noticed a lump on our cats leg last week and took her to our vets. This turned out to be cancerous so as we speak our little baby is having to have one of her rear legs amputated. It was recommend not to try removing the lump as was told was too big. I just wanted to know what we should do to make her life as good as possible and to try to get her as close as she was before. She is an indoor cat so doesn’t go outside. Any help would be greatly appreciated as Im sure you all know what we are going through at the moment

  • I’m really sorry to hear about your cat, I remember how shocked I felt about my cat’s accident.

    I’m sure your cat will adapt to life on three legs very quickly.

    Initially they struggle a bit:
    My cat was heavily shaved, and in February this was a problem, we had to make sure we kept him warm.
    He also needed some physical support for several days (eg while he ate and used a litter tray) as he adjusted, but he quickly started hopping about. The biggest challenge was getting him to take his medication until everything healed.

    At first when I saw him struggling I thought “What am I doing to him?” but the vet was right, he was fine, just like lots of other cats who have ended up with three legs. He didn’t struggle for long, he was up and about very quickly.

    Longer term we didn’t need to do much for him: a bit of help with grooming one side of his head and he needed a ground level scratching post (we fixed one to the skirting board, but the cat preferred the doormat and stair carpet. Tsk.)

    I think that cats adapt faster than their owners. Within weeks our cat was hopping round the house at great speed, by 3 months later he was back to hunting and he just got stronger and stronger over the next few months.

    And finally, he was just as devoted as ever – from the day we brought him home from the vet. In fact he loved all the attention he got as a 3 legged cat.

  • Richard Dearn

    Many thanks for taking the time to reply and really helps us to know that others have (sadly) been through this and are able to comment.

    We just went to see her and she was looking a lot better than we expected, she even started purring when we got to fuss her. She then ate and then went to stand up which was a bit of a problem and then got a bit confused as to what was going on. We hopefully get to pick her up tomorrow and sure when she is back we will both be a bit calmer.

    Im sure that it is so true that the cats adapt far quicker than we do and just hope that this is the case with Tiger.

    Thanks again and really does help to have these type of forums

  • Malvka


    It makes me feel better when I read this. My cat has a terrible front infection which destroyed his tissues skin, and it can hardly be repaired. The vet suggests that we amputate the leg. I heard about tripod cats before and reading your cats experience reassures me. My cat is young and strong so he should be ok. I just worry a about the surgery.

  • I’m not surprised you are feeling worried. I know I had lots of doubts about surgery/recovery etc and I worried like mad – despite reassurances from our vet. You don’t stop worrying just because someone says it’s unnecessary do you?

    I hope everything goes well for you and your cat.

  • Malvka

    Thanks for your reply.
    My cat did get his front right leg amputated last week. The surgery went well and he is recovering at home. It is sad to see him stitched up and confused,although he does enjoy when I brush him with a wee brush and starts being playful again. He cant groom himself as yet since he needs to wear the plastic collar until the stitches come out. His left leg is still quite week so he looses balance but he can be quite fast hopping if he gets scared and runs.
    I believe that he will adapt and soon enjoy his house and garden and explore his old hang out places and laze in the sun. And he will be the cutest and the most special cat of the whole neighborhood. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Joanne

    Thanks so much for this blog and comments

    My 12 year old cat had his rear leg amputated yesterday; expect to pick him up today. Vet assures me that he’ll be okay but I am worried about several things.

    Imagine the stairs will be a problem. Guess I’ll have to move food upstairs or litter down. Have your 3-legged friends learned to use the stairs?

    Guess I am much more worried about the short term than the long. I appreciate any morale support…

    Thanks again. So nice I’m not alone…

  • My cat learned to use the stairs within a few weeks (it took him a while because his remaining back leg was also slightly injured and our stairs are ridiculously steep). Until he could cope we moved the food and litter (and him) around depending on whether we were upstairs or down – he wanted to be with us nearly all the time at first.

    I was amazed at the speed of my cat’s recovery: literally within weeks he was not just walking but charging around the house. He would happily have run around outside as well but it was really cold and he had a lot of fur to grow back after his surgery. In fact it took much longer for his fur to regrow than for him to recover his mobility.

    After just three months he was dragging large dead birds through the cat flap, so a full recovery really doesn’t take very long!

    Best wishes – I hope everything goes well for you!

  • Jen

    Hi three-legged cat,

    I own a three-legged cat named Phoebus. Unlike some others here, he was born this way so he doesn’t know any different. Still, three-legged cats (and other quadrupeds I suppose) are amzingly agile and, in Phoebus’ case, are only set back a teensy bit in terms of their ability to jump higher than 3 feet. He surprises us everyday and we have also stopped worrying about how safe he’ll be outside. So, now I will be truly sappy and plug my video of Phoebus when he finally figured out how to jump up on the deck rail last summer. Warning: unless you’re a fan of horrible singing, I would turn the sound off. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


  • Go Phoebus! He is amazingly agile.

    I’ve added your link to a new post & to my sidebar, hope that’s OK!

  • rosie

    wow thanx for the help! i was worried my 3 legged cat would be depressed im only 13 but i still act like a loving mother to her cat/baby! please tell me more on how to look after my cat! he just recently got his legg off! 1 day ago actually thnx again!

  • I’m sure your cat will let you know what he wants, mine was brilliant at that!

    At first he needed to be kept warm because he had so much fur shaved off, and he needed to be helped to move around which was pretty difficult, because we didn’t want to pick him up so soon after his operation in case we hurt him.

    Most of the time he just wanted to be with us, he always liked to be the centre of attention, I think most cats do!

  • Frank

    Our cat Wilson had a bad accident 4 days ago with a train. To illustrate his character: it was 8.00 A.M. he dragged himself home, got through the catflap and crawled upstairs to inform us he was hurt. His right hind leg was hanging on a thread as was about 2 inches of his tail. We immediately took him to a vet, a friend of the family, who operated on Wilson for 2 and a half hours. The result was absolutely shocking, but we are slowly comming to terms with the situation. Wilson is still very ill and, at times, has lots of pain. We can give him pain killers and antibiotics. The thing that gives us hope is that he loves to be stroked and he seems happy to see us. I’ll write some more in a few days when, hopefully, Wilson feels a bit better.


  • I hope Wilson starts feeling better soon!

  • Frank

    Another update on Wilson. Yesterday, a week after the accident, we went back to the vet for a checkup. It was a great disappointment as he diagnosed Wilson to be completely blind. A day earlier we noticed Wilson had trouble with his eyesight. The cause is probably a blood clot in his brain or a stroke. All other functions including the control of his limbs seem to work perfectly. The only option is to wait for the next 2 weeks to see if the situation improves, but in the mean time we’re stuck with a very frustrated tripod. He can walk just a little, but he can’t find his food or his litter box. Now, for the first time, we’re considering to have him euthanised if things don’t improve. So all in all it’s been a sad day.

  • I’m so sorry to hear about Wilson, that must be really difficult both for him and for you.

    Best wishes, T-L-C

  • Caroline

    Hi Frank,
    I used to have a cat who was blind. His blindness came with old age (at about 18 year old) but he lived another 2 years after that and although he was generally fairly cautious when he moved about and would never run he seemed generally happy. The main problem was when we moved things around or put something down on the floor that he was not used to. Also, because of his age, he was no longer a very active cat so he did not mind being inside all the time (we did not let him out once he went blind because he would not have been able to defend himself).
    I hope this helps and that Wilson is doing better.

  • We are so glad to read about other people who have pets with special needs.


  • MrGdub

    I have a cat (katy) that was a stray…she showed up a week after I got out of the hospital from a severe stroke…now a year later Im doing very well, but she got hit by a car a week ago…the from left leg doesnt move very well and it beginning to have a bad odor….probably will lose the leg…Im just wonder if any of you guys know if she can survive okay outside..I live in a rental and cannot have pets inside or will get evicted…she has been a life saver and I just want to make the right decision….cant stand the thoughs of euthanizing her…..any commets would be appreciated….

  • My cat was very happy outside, but he spent several weeks inside recovering before he reached that stage. Immediately after the amputation my cat needed a lot of help and care, he was inside all the time and I don’t think he would have survived outside. The operation also involves a large area of fur being shaved, so keeping him warm was an issue.

    If your cat can’t be indoors at all, I would think that would be a problem, but you really need to talk to your vet surgeon about it. If you can’t look after her indoors, is there a local animal shelter or someone that could help you during the first weeks? Good luck to you and to Katy.

  • MrGdub

    thank you very much for the reply…Ive had her out several times and she seem to be able to get around pretty good even though the leg will not move….she was indoors all the time then the landlord deceided no more, for whatever reason, so she has been stictly an outdoor car…..I take her to the vet tomorrow….maybe he can advise me of my options…..thanks again

  • caitlin

    thanks for getting me confident about my 3 legged cat. last week my cat had 4 legs but she was limping so we took her to the vet and they told us it was a cat bite in her leg we belived them at first until we noticed our cats foot was crooked so we took her to the vetagain to get x rays it turned out that her foot was smashed it was broken in to many places so they had to amputate my cat hasnt come home from the vet yet but i think she will come home soon and even though i am a little girl i can be stong. thanks

  • MrGdub

    well, looks like the leg will have to come off…..the vet said she should be able to do very well outside….said she could go out like 3 days after the surgery…so sounds like its gonna be okay….he said that animals adapt much more rapidly than humans and she would be very happy outside….thanks again

  • Joanna

    hi! just found this page, my cat Thomas was hit by car two weeks ago and lost his back leg. His is recovering well, still needs to be caged for two weeks more cause his pelvis was hurt as well. He doesn’t move his tail, vet is not sure why cause it’s not broken, it may be trapped nerve or something like that. I’m worried if feeling doesn’t come back to his tail it will be more difficult for him to balance on three legs.
    I’m so happy I found your story and other comments.
    I have to add that Thomas is very affectionate cat and I’m grateful he’s still alive. I’m not sure if I let him out again though… I live next to doggy road and lost one cat there already… I just don’t know how will I manage to keep him inside…

  • Sorry to hear about Thomas.

    Actually my cat lost almost all of his tail as well as a leg. He was very wobbly at first, but he did adapt pretty quickly and was as good at balancing as before. Still, I hope it doesn’t come to that for your cat.

    I know what you mean about the road. I didn’t want to let my cat out and I worried about him massively, but he seemed to be a lot more aware of traffic and kept away from it after his accident. Of course I still worried, but that’s just how I am.

    Very best wishes & I hope Thomas recovers well.

  • Joanna

    I hope that Thomas has learnt the lesson. When we were taking him to vets to have his stitches taken out he freaked out in his box as car went pass. Even now at home we can see that he is a bit anxious if he hears a really noisy car outside. Don’t know… we’ll see…
    I’ve got another cat which is still going outside but I think she is more street wise, well… I hope she is! Thomas was too trustful to everything.
    Maybe he’ll decide not to go outside any more ๐Ÿ™‚
    I’m glad your cat did well without tail help. I hope Thomas will do as well good if it comes to that but if I let him outside the tail needs to be amputated as well…
    Animals… they always get themselves in trouble…

  • Katie

    My WONDERFUL 3-legged cat is LB (little bit). He lost his leg when he was just about a year old.

    Someone thought that shooting cats with a .22 would be great fun. LB lost the lower half of his right-hind leg and the bullet lodged in the left hind foot. The left foot was saved, but he lost his right leg at the hip.

    Today, 3 years later, LB is happy, healthy and as active as the other kitties in my home. I don’t view him as handicapped or disabled in any way. He still manages to get on counters, pester the dogs and chases his tail.

  • Dallas

    My no-longer-stray cat fell on a 2 foot sprinkler pole and impaled herself and the doctor has just told me we’ll have to take her leg. Doc said she’ll have to be an indoor cat, but this cat has always been outdoors – she was a stray – I can’t imagine her happy inside. Have any of you let your cats back out?

  • My cat was back out quite quickly. The delay wasn’t his lack of leg, but it was in the middle of a particularly cold winter and he had a lot of fur shaved off as part of the surgery, so we had to wait for his fur to grow back.

    He loved being outdoors & never had any problems. I don’t think being a three-legged cat automatically means being an indoor cat.

  • sarajane

    Hi i have an 11 year old cat who has 3 cancerous lumps on his front left leg, the vet has asked us if we wont to put mr sox to sleep or remove his leg.. our family is turn on this and i could do with some advice! how will he cope? wot happans after? thanx

  • Hi Sarajane. I’ve sent you an email to reply to your questions about Mr Sox.

    I’m really sorry to hear about Mr Sox and your family’s difficult decision, I hope he recovers.

  • sarajane

    Thank you for the email, it really did help, i went on you tube and found a film of a 3 legged cat to show my children and they didnt look as bad as i thought they would..
    We have only had mr sox less than a year we got him from the rspca, he’d been in there for a long time and was the oldest my little girl fell in love with him after initially wanting a kitten..
    He is a quirky old man he drinks with his paw the one they wont to amputate so im worrid about that and they have told me he has an enlaged haert. But i belive you all when you say they adapt i have been in a state deciding wot to do about it and your email put things in to perspective for me.
    Thank very much again
    sara mason

  • Ashley

    Thanks for posting this. My cat, Lucy, had her leg taken yesterday. She is going so well, but I am losing it!

  • Hi Ashley. I hope things are going well & Lucy is recovering.

    I know what you mean about losing it – I was exactly the same. I remember the vet sedating my injured cat (who was perfectly calm) but I was a basket case and wouldn’t have minded that sedative for myself.

  • esther


    I’m very happy I’ve found this page. My beautiful, active cat Codey went missing and found his way home, with a broken leg. It had to get amputated and I guess what hurts most is that I’ll never truly know what happened and he really didn’t deserve it. He’s never caused me any problems and he is so young.

    It felt like a family member had died. I’m watching him now, his surgery was 2 days ago and I know he is adapting already, but it’s hard for me.

    It’s also hard for his brother who is trying to recognise him, but is being a bit too playful.

    It’s a sad time, but it’s reassuring to know that he can soon overcome the trauma and be back to his usual self.

  • Lindy Lou

    I am a volunteer at a no-kill shelter. Recently a cat owner had his cat’s four claws removed and one paw become infected, therefore he was dumpted at the shelter. He was named Lucky. Lucky’s infection resulted in his leg being removed. He has been at the shelter approx. 2-1/2 months and has recovered. I am thinking about adopting him. I have two male cats at home now (1-1/2 years and 4 years). Do you think it will be hard for my other two cats to adjust to Lucky? I love this little guy. I can’t imagine anyone abandoning him, just because he was hurt. Please, any advice would be helpful.

  • Marmite

    My cat was hit by a car last year and had her back leg amputated. Initially her sister wouldn’t go near her when she came home – she could smell the vets and pain and fear so she kept away and wouldn’t even go in the same room. I worried they would never cuddle up to each other again but we were patient and as Marmite improved and started to get about Maddy became more used to her and now they are back to their old selves – they play and chase each other and cuddle up and sleep together. Marmite is amazing and has adapted really well to only having three legs. Cats are adaptable and she goes out in the garden and sees off other cats. I don’t know how your two cats will take to Lucky but I don’t think his having three lesgs will make any difference to them it will be more to do with a new cat in their territory. Lucky sounds like he deserves a chance to have a new home and loving owner – good luck. Jane

  • Frances

    Our black cat age 10 is having his back leg amputated tomorrow.(290109)Naturally we are worried,my husband is very attached to him.
    I am the practical one and was glad to have googled 3 legged cat and found your blog with some helpful advice.

    my one question is how will our other younger cats,age 2,react ,any idea?

    (we also work in education as teaching assistants-main stream and special)

  • Frances

    Sylvester is making a good recovery following his leg amputation last Thursday.He has surprised us all much to our relief.Cats are very resilient! He rejected the litter tray I bought after the first day preferring to pop outside to do his business.He has also climbed up and down stairs to make the most of our warm bed.His wound is healing nicely and he hasn’t tugged at the stitches so we were able to remove the much detested collar.

    The other 2 cats don’t seem to be that bothered and are treating him as normal.


  • Hi Frances, I’m really glad to hear things are going well for Sylvester (great name – I like it!)

    My cat amazed me by how quickly he recovered. I think it took me much longer to get used to him being three-legged than it did for him, he adapted amazingly fast.

    Hope everything continues to go well for you.

  • Frances

    If you follow this link you will see a picture of Sylvester that my husband posted on his website.

    go to the menu bar ,click on All about me,then look under the Cats bar and there he is with photos of the rest of our cat family!

  • lilycat

    I work at an rspca animal home and often take home the older poorly cats…I recently took home Lily, 11yrs old and had both thyroids removed. I discovered this week she had a tuma in her back left leg and she had it amputated yesterday, I was feeling sick with worry, she stayed at the vets the night, when I got her home, she walked out of her carrier, ate a load of ham then attempted to climb the stairs! She is coping so well, she doesn’t do alot anyway but doing extremley well, so it just shows, we get ourselves wound up and worried over nothing…they deal with it so well…bless them!

  • @Frances Sylvester looks gorgeous. In fact he really reminds of my three-legged cat. I’m glad he’s recovering well.

    @lilycat That comment really made me smile! When I brought my cat home after his op the first thing he did was eat a load of chicken – while I flapped and worried and said ‘Is he all right?’

  • Jane

    Hi TLC

    I sent a similar question to your blog, I apologize for sending it through to the wrong blog, but finally I found this page where I was supposed to log my question.

    TLC, please advise on how to help my three legged Tara through the first few weeks of pain that she may be experiencing. I have her on tissue salts at this point, but believe there could be a better option. My vet says she can’t be on pain meds as cats develop kidney failure on pain meds. How can I help my Tara through these initial weeks of healing, her op was on 11 February.

    Thanks so much from
    (South Africa)

  • Hi Jane,

    First, there’s no need to apologise, I really don’t mind where you leave comments!

    I’m not a vet, just a cat owner, so I can’t really advise you about pain-relief in the way the vet can (although one of my cats has been taking a pain relief drug for some years now to combat his arthritis, so I guess different vets have different approaches to these things.)

    My cat definitely experienced some pain during the first few days/weeks of his recovery. It really made me question whether I was doing the right thing for him, but it did improve very quickly. Within a couple of weeks he was noticeably better and within about a month/6 weeks he was experiencing relatively little pain (and so was I, because he stopped scratching and biting me!) In the meantime all we could do was keep him warm and make a fuss of him.

    You also mention your cat moving her stump – my cat did this on and off for years! At first, this seemed to be associated with some pain, but it happened less and less. For several moths after his op, he occasionally flinched his stump and promptly attacked the nearest human, but that happened less and less often until it stopped altogether.

    My cat never stopped moving his stump though. I read somewhere that human amputees can still ‘feel’ their lost limbs and my cat still seemed to think he had four legs and a complete tail. Sometimes he moved as if everything was still there, although I was relieved that he didn’t seem to find his missing parts painful any more.

    Good luck with Tara, it’s only been a few days, so I’m sure she’ll struggle at first. Things do get better!

  • Caitlin

    This was really helpful. My young cat came in from outside with a broken foreleg and had emergency amputation. He came home 3 days ago, and I’m still quite worried about him. He is very upset and stays under the bed all the time. He is eating but not very much. I just don’t know what to do to make him more comfortable. Getting him out to give him his medicine is very difficult, but once he is out he takes his medicine well and is happy to receive affection.
    I really want him to recover well and don’t know what to do to make him more comfortable.

    Three-legged Cat writes: Caitlin, I’m so sorry, I missed this comment altogether until I was having a big e-mail clearout! I hope your cat is making a good recovery.

    My cat was very good at letting me know what he wanted – which was basically to be fed chicken or tuna (he expected to be given the treats that we hid his medicine in fairly often) and to be the centre of attention.

    He was obviously in some pain for several weeks after the operation, but this started to reduce dramatically within a few weeks. Strangely, I think I was more stressed by seeing him in pain than he was – he coped very well. He still had the odd bad twinge for 2/3 years afterwards, but it was a rare event and eventually it stopped altogether. Most of the time he was happy, active and very keen to be loved and made a fuss of.

    I hope everything is going well, best wishes, TLC. 27/3/09

  • Skevi

    Hello, my 1 year old male cat is in surgery as I type this!

    He is having his back right leg amputated after he broke it badly ๐Ÿ™

    I am so happy to hear that cats can have a long and happy life with three legs.

    You gave me strength by posting this blog, thank you soo much ๐Ÿ™‚

    Three-Legged-Cat writes: I’m glad it helped. When my cat lost his leg I thought he was really unusual, but I soon discovered that there are loads of three-legged cats. My cat was also just 1 year old when he lost his leg – he lived to be a happy and very active 14 year old. Lots of 4 legged cats don’t manage that!

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