Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
Three weeks ago my kitty Felix had some kind of accident that broke his pelvis in a few places as well as his left femur. At first my vet told me he would need reconstructive surgery on his pelvis and leg, and even after that he would probably have problems “getting rid of his waste” for the rest of his life. The amount he said it would cost was more than I could afford so I was considering euthanasia. He stayed at the vet for three days so they could keep him on pain medication while I made my decision, and when I went back to the vet to tell them to put him to sleep I found out he was already dragging himself into the litter box and using it fine. So I decided to go ahead with the surgery on his femur. I ended up picking him up a week after he had his accident and have had him at my home for two weeks now. A about a week ago he started putting some weight on his leg and moving his tail. The only problem is that when he steps down on his left paw, the tip of it is bent back. I tried squeezing his paw and he doesn’t pull it back like he does his other paws. It doesn’t move at all. Does this paralysis mean there is nerve damage? And is this going to be a problem after he heals? I don’t want him to break the tip of his leg because of this.
Siouxsie: Wow, Allison, it’s amazing that Felix has recovered so well!
Thomas: It certainly is possible that Felix had some nerve damage to his leg as a result of the accident and the follow-up surgery. Any operation that involves inserting hardware and major bone reconstruction can cause inflammation of the cartilage or other tissues near the bone can press on nerves and result in paralysis. As the swelling goes down, the leg’s full function may return.
Dahlia: If the blood circulation to the leg and foot is good — it feels warm to the touch, for example, and isn’t swollen — then the limb itself is probably in pretty good shape overall.
Siouxsie: We think it’s a good sign that your cat is beginning to put weight on his leg. But only your vet is really going to be able to give you a relatively accurate prognosis.
Thomas: We’d recommend that you have a talk with your veterinarian about how Felix’s condition is improving and about the remaining paralysis, and see what he or she has to say.
Dahlia: The vet may advise you to give it more time before taking any further action, or he or she may view this as a sign that one of the pins or screws inserted during the surgery may be interfering with nerve function.
Siouxsie: If the nerve damage is occurring because of the broken pelvis, however, the leg may eventually need to be amputated.
Thomas: The trouble with a permanently damaged or numb limb is that a cat can injure that limb without being aware of it. Also, because Felix is used to having four legs and he still does, he may injure himself while doing normal cat activities like climbing or jumping because he still attempts to use that leg.
Dahlia: Thus, amputation is generally considered a better solution in cases of permanent damage. Cats adapt really well to having three legs instead of four, and given that Felix is so healthy, he will probably be able to run and jump just like a four-legged cat once he gets used to his new configuration.
Siouxsie: Cats don’t experience the same psychological trauma about disfiguring injuries or disabilities that humans do. As long as a Felix enjoys a good quality of life, he won’t care if he’s paralyzed or has only three legs.
Thomas: Of course, you’ll want to keep him indoors only until he’s made a complete recovery and either regains full use of his leg or any future surgeries.
Dahlia: And if Felix continues to have trouble getting around because of his injuries, then it would be best to keep him indoors only or allow him outdoors only under supervision or in an enclosure where he’s safe from other animals and won’t be able to sneak off.
Siouxsie: So, Allison, your best option here is to have a serious talk with your vet and get his or her opinion on the possibilities for Felix’s long-term recovery. You can also seek a second opinion from a neurologist or another veterinarian. There are very few vets who would refuse to refer a client to a specialist or another vet, because vets want what’s best for their feline patients too.
Thomas: Good luck, Allison, and we congratulate Felix for his amazing recovery.