Whether you are considering rehoming a disabled cat, or your own pet has had an accident, you must prepare to change your usual routine. Disabled cats need time to learn their new environment, and teach themselves to rely on their other senses. Cats are amazing at adapting, with a little help here and there.
Cats can become blind from injury, infection or age. Some kittens are also born blind. It is not always total blindness, so cover each eye and get them to follow a toy to see if they follow it.
If a cat is only blind in one eye, you will need to make sure you approach him from the side he can see, as he may lash out if surprised. Having only one working eye will also mean they lack depth perception, so will find it hard to judge the heights of chairs or tables. Once they’ve managed it, they will memorize the height.
Completely blind cats should only be kept indoors, as they will become disorientated quickly. They will rely on smell and memory to get around, so furniture cannot be moved and objects should not be left on the floor that they don’t interact with daily. They will initially bump into furniture, so pad any sharp areas. Never cut their whiskers, as they will use this to identify how close they are to objects.
Blind cats still love to play. Toys should either be noisy – bells are great – or smell fantastic. A cat nip toy will send him nuts. Don’t be surprised if your blind cat kills flies or even attacks your feet – with their exceptional hearing they will hear a lot more than you would expect.
Blind cats are usually accepted by existing cats, many bonding to help him get around.
Age is not the only cause of deafness; many cats born white are genetically deaf. With age, deafness will be gradual – if your pet suddenly shouts louder or becomes completely mute, check his hearing.
Bad hearing can make a cat defensive, as they will naturally want to protect themselves first and think later. It will also make going outside more dangerous, as they will not hear cars or other cats. If you do not have an enclosed garden, it is advisable to keep them indoors as the hearing goes completely.
As your cat will no longer come when called, you will have to retrain them. Some cats will understand hand signals, but to attract attention you can clap your hands. His whiskers will pick up the shock waves, so he should turn towards you. If your cat is still going out, using a torch will draw his attention to you.
This is an all too common injury with cats, with many getting accidentally run over or trapped whilst out hunting. It is not the end for a cat though, as almost all cats will adapt quickly.
If your cat has just lost his limb, make sure not to pick him up too often. He will need to get used to adapting to using three legs, and will need to build up strength. You will need to groom him more often, to keep the wound clean at first, and also as he won’t be as adept at leaning as he used to be.
Over time, he will return to normal. Loss of a back leg can mean he won’t be able to jump as high; a front limb will mean landing can be difficult. It can be distressing to watch them learn this, but you must let them try.
You can read more information in our article entitled 'How To Help Your Cat When They Lose A Limb'.
Amazingly, cats have adapted to living with just two legs. Some cats who have lost a front and back leg can manage to easily get around. They will take a long time to get strong and learn to move – it is unlikely they will able to jump.
Most cats lose two limbs either at the front or the back. Kittens born with this disability can teach themselves to sit up, using their tail as stability. In most cases though, they will need technology to help. There is a growing market for feline wheelchairs. These contraptions fix around the cats midriff, supporting the back of the cat above the ground. Where the hind legs would be are then two wheels. This means the cat can walk about and feed normally.
Having a two legged cat is a big commitment, as you will need to wash and groom them daily. They will not be able to use litter trays like an abled cat, so you will need to help them. Your house must also be open, with wide space for the car to manoeuvre the wheelchair.
As a cat ages, it can get arthritis in the joints making it difficult to move. You should adapt their surroundings so it is easier for them to eat, sleep and move around. Raise food and water bowls, so it is easier for them to feed without excessive bending. Litter trays will need to be shallow so it is easier for them to get in and out.
Change their bed so it has an open front, and is large enough for them to move around. Orthopaedic foam on the bottom helps protect their joints from the cold, and provide comfort to sore areas. You will need to put this in a warm spot, as the cold will make arthritis worse.
If they are having problems with steps, create a small solid ramp with a slight incline. If they are having trouble with the arthritis, you might have to move the bed, bowl and litter tray into the same room so they can rest.
With a disabled pet, you will need to prepare for possible increased vet bills. Make sure you insure your pet, although many will exclude certain existing conditions. When going on holiday, you will need to consider how your cat will be cared for. Many catteries are not prepared to take disabled cats, but others will specialise in such care – ask your vet for recommendations of trained cat sitters. If you are trusting a friend or relative, make sure they know exactly what to do so no mistakes are made.