When a Disability Strikes

Most Cats Learn to Adjust Easily

Anyone watching a blind cat chase a ball or a three-legged cat jump onto the windowsill knows that cats with disabilities learn to function nearly as well as cats whose bodies operate at 100-percent capacity. To us, a disabled cat may seem incapable of enjoying life, but appearances are deceiving. In many cases, it’s the owner’s bias about what the cat may not even perceive is a disability, says Jane Brunt, DVM, of the Cat Hospital At Towson (CHAT) in Baltimore, Maryland.

For example, if a large portion of a cats jaw is removed because of bone cancer, it may look unusual after surgery. The cats tongue hangs out, and the cats a really messy eater, says Brunt. But, the cat is not looking in the mirror, and the quality of life is exceptionally good in most cases.

Loss of sight
Sudden blindness requires an adjustment period. When an animal goes blind, she generally restricts herself to an area of the house until she is familiar with it, then slowly expands her comfort zone, says Brunt. Over time, the cat memorizes the house and gets around just fine. During the adjustment period, the owners should be careful not to move furniture or leave obstacles in the middle of the floor, says Brunt. Once the cat knows her way around, move furniture several inches a day until its in the new location.

Keeping a light on will help a cat with low vision or cataracts unless the cataract is complete enough that an image will not reach the retina. A cat with complete cataracts may not benefit a whole lot from the lights being on, says Brunt, who adds that cats with detached retinas or completely degenerated retinas would not benefit from light. A veterinarian board certified in veterinary ophthalmology may be able to provide the caregiver more information about the extent of the blindness, says Brunt.

Joint problems
If your cat develops arthritis or stiffness, provide a step stool or carpeted ramp to help her get to a favorite bird-watching spot. Put her bed in a draft-free location. To help an arthritic cat get into the litter box, provide a stepping stool or use a low-sided box, aluminum baking pan, or paint tray.

If arthritis is diagnosed, ask your veterinarian about some of the anti-inflammatory medications for cats., Brunt says. Oral supplements may repair joint cartilage, increase the lubricating effects of joint fluid, and help ease the discomfort associated with arthritis.

Keeping kitty moving
Cats that have lost limbs may need no help at all. Three-legged cats rarely need much assistance, says Brunt. Non-slippery flooring is helpful, but they usually get around just fine!

However, a cat with paralyzed back limbs may benefit from a K-9 Cart or Doggon Wheels, both of which keep your cats hind legs off the ground while she ambulates using her front legs. Since those are patients that likely wouldn’t be using the litter box due to nervous system impairment, the caregiver would express the bladder and help with bowel care, so the carts are doable, says Brunt.

Smell sense
If a cat begins to eat less or walk away from food, dental disease, nausea from various intestinal troubles, or metabolic problems like kidney or liver disease may be the culprit. If all systemic and local problems are found to be normal by a veterinarian, impairment of the sense of smell may be considered, says Brunt.

The foods smell makes it palatable. If your cat loses her sense of smell, she may appear finicky. To make food more appealing, try gently warming it or adding a small amount of oil from canned tuna or sardines to enhance the food’s appeal, says Brunt. Avoid additives like baby food containing onion powder, which may lead to anemia.

Creative play
Cats that lose one sense make up for it with another. To play with a blind cat, for example, use crinkly toys or ones with bells so she can hear them roll across the floor. To get the attention of a deaf cat without startling her, flick lights on and off or tap on the floor so she senses the vibrations. Laser pointers or flashlights offer visual cues, says Brunt, cautioning that one should never point a laser at a cats eye.

Remember that the best piece of equipment for a disabled cat is you. Provide lots of patience and TLC, says Brunt.