Thanks to social media, awareness of the existence of tripod cats has never been greater. But if you’re visiting this article today, it may be because of a number of reasons.
Maybe you’re planning to adopt a three legged cat, or your kitty is about to undergo a leg amputation, or you’re simply curious to learn more about tripod cats.
Whatever your reason — welcome!
Today we’re going to cover everything you need to know about caring for a three legged cat, including the practical adjustments and lifestyle shifts you need to make for the tripod in your life.
🐾 We, too, have a tripod cat! Yoda became a tripod after receiving life-saving amputation and radiation therapy to treat FISS cancer.
Here’s an idea of what we cover today:
The Ultimate Guide to Tripod Cats
- Limb amputation may be necessary to retain your kitty’s quality of life
- Caring for a tripod cat doesn’t need to be hard — but may require a few practical adjustments
- If your kitty’s leg is amputated, there are proactive actions you can take. They’ll help to make the post-op adjustment process as painless as possible
- You’ll need to keep your three legged cat active. This is to ensure it doesn’t gain too much additional weight through inactivity or overeating
- There are certain long-term lifestyle changes you need to make, including how far you allow your tripod kitty to independently roam
Let’s begin by looking at the essentials of what you need to know about three legged cats…
What You Need to Know About Tripod Cats
So, what does tripod mean? The definition of tripod refers to “a vessel resting on three legs”.
A tripod cat is a cat that has three legs, with either it’s hind or foreleg missing. (They’re also occasionally referred to as ‘tripawds’.)
A lot of people consider tripod cats to have special needs, but this isn’t strictly true. Three legged cats can live as active and rewarding lives as their four-legged companions. They don’t necessarily need any additional veterinary care either.
In fact, three legged animals are just as feisty and full of life as they are with four legs.
For example, you’ll often see a 3 legged cat running about with no problem at all. As it’s interestingly the slower gait of walking that occasionally proves to be more challenging.
Our very own fluffy boy Yoda is a tripod cat. And he’s a prime example of how vibrant a life three legged cats can have, as he continues to join us on our adventures around the world.
Caring For a Tripod Cat
First thing’s first. We want you to know that the quality of life for a tripod cat can be just as good as that for a cat with four legs.
If you’re currently deciding whether your kitty should undergo amputation surgery, this may be a very emotional time for you. And we’re sending all of our love and squeezy hugs your way.
But if you’ve been advised that losing a limb via amputation for your cat could save their life…
The pros can most definitely outweigh the cons.
(We’re not going to heavily focus on cat leg amputation complications in the article. Instead, we want to instead emphasize the possibility of your kitty continuing to live an exciting, fulfilling life post-amputation.)
Inarguably, there will be a number of changes both you and your feline buddy will have to make if they have a limb amputated. And these changes may indeed be permanent.
Other changes may be simple shifts to help your kitty regain their stability and confidence. Especially as they adjust to having three legs.
So if you’re wondering ‘Is taking care of a tripod cat hard?’ we would say…no! It’s actually very easy to adapt to taking care of a 3 legged cat.
There will be differences in caring for a three legged cat. However it’s nothing that’s not manageable, if you’re committed to giving your kitty the best quality of life possible.
If you’re completely new to the world of tripod cats, you may want to check out the Tripawds community. This is a dedicated space for dogs and cats who have had a leg amputation, and has loads of free resources for you to dive into.
Adjusting to Three Legs
Especially for the first month post-amputation, your kitty will need lots of supervision and care during this adjustment period.
It goes without saying that adult cats who have grown up with four legs may take longer to adjust to an amputation than, for example, a younger cat.
Yet cats are incredibly resilient. And the speed they bounce back from life-altering surgeries can be amazing.
(Just like our fluffy boy Yoda, who is a cat with back leg amputation. We were blown away by how quickly he adapted to having three legs!)
That said, here’s a few nuggets of wisdom on caring for a 3 legged cat during their initial adjustment period:
- Keep on top of pain relief — ensuring your kitty is as pain-free as possible post-surgery will do wonders for helping their adjustment (your vet should supply this medication)
- Provide non-slip surfaces, like carpet runners and other non-slick surfaces — this is essential as they relearn how to balance on three legs and will help to minimize any trips and spills
- Ensure food and water bowls are in easy reach — so they won’t have to travel too far
- Provide a low-sided litter box — as this will be easier for your kitty to access
- Discourage access to high places — especially places where your cat has previously been used to jumping up and reclining on, such as cabinets
- Move furniture to aid navigation and mobility — you can rearrange furniture and provide steps or a cat ramp to help your kitty access places without having to jump or strain themselves
- Be ready to assist with grooming — as your kitty may have trouble twisting/reaching certain spots on their body, they may need a helping hand to keep these areas clean
- Give them space from any other pets — your other pet pals may notice a change in your kitty’s scent and come to investigate. Slow reintroductions will help them to adjust to your cat’s changed scent and minimize any stress.
The period of adjustment can also depend on the reason why your kitty’s limb was amputated. For example, if it was due to a car accident, there may be lingering feelings of distress to deal with post-surgery.
In comparison, if like us you needed to surgically remove your cat’s leg due to a FISS there will be different emotional challenges involved for your kitty. And this can change largely due to their own temperament and personality.
We don’t say any of this to worry you. Only to highlight that it’s not simply the physical rehabilitation you may need to deal with. But your cat’s emotional and mental wellbeing too.
Activities and Exercises for Tripod Cats
If your cat is undergoing amputation surgery, you should limit their movement for the first 10—14 days post-surgery.
We had to keep a strict eye on Yoda, who needed to wear a cone for at least 3 weeks and not jump up/down on anything. For that reason, I put his bed, plus food and water, and a small litter box, inside a soft-sided pet pen.
This is to allow the wound to heal properly. But once everything is properly healed, there’s lots of opportunity to engage your cat in stimulating activities.
Gaining weight can impact the mobility of a tripod cat. It can also contribute to future arthritis in the remaining limbs. So it’s important to keep them happy and active to keep those pounds off.
Likewise, some cats may become frustrated after losing a limb. This could be because they’re now unable to do certain activities or actions they could when they had four legs — or to the same ability.
If this frustration and aggravation builds, your kitty could become depressed. Signs of cat depression include refusing to groom themselves and becoming more aloof, despondent and lethargic.
On the flip side, they may turn to eating for comfort too, like Buba the cat did.
To tackle this, there’s a number of activities and toys you can try with your tripod cat. To keep them stimulated, help them to adapt to the balance changes in their body and also to make food time more active.
Toys for tripod cats
Food toys for tripod cats
Scratchers for tripod cats
- try this scratcher ramp
- this SmartyKat scratcher chaise
- or this 3-sided vertical cat scratching post
Overall, if you continue to shower your feline friend with lots of support and love, we’re sure their confidence and optimism will only grow with time.
The Lifestyle of a Three Legged Cat
Keeping your cat indoors: yay or nay?
A number of resources suggest keeping your tripod cat indoors.
This is due to their increased difficulty in escaping hazardous situations (such as other cats, dogs, cars, or other wildlife).
However, if you do want to allow your kitty to explore outdoors, you will need to closely supervise them. But there’s no reason why they can’t go out into your garden. Especially if they have clear exit points and you’re close to hand to keep them safe.
If taking your fur-friend further afield, we would recommend purchasing a harness for a 3 legged cat.
Take a look at The Kitty Holster — which even suits cats who have undergone a front leg amputation.
Adjusting to the amputation
Your fluffy kitty may also experience a form of ‘phantom limb’. This is where they continue to attempt to scratch themselves with their missing leg.
You can help by keeping an eye out for these moments and scratching the spot that’s frustrating your kitty.
The amputated area or stump may continue to be a sensitive spot for your cat. And they may initially be reluctant for you to touch this part of their body. Take your time in desensitizing your cat to experiencing touch here.
As we mentioned before, your kitty could turn to comfort eating during their adjustment to having three legs. In these instances, you may want to look for low-calorie foods to prevent excessive weight gain.
You can also prevent overeating by distracting your cat with games and toys.
Prosthetics for cats
Recently, there have even been developments in prosthetics for cats. Three legged cat prosthesis is gaining recognition with projects such as these, which are seeking additional ways to support kitties that struggle with adjusting to being a tripod.
Temporary and prototype prosthetics are still currently being developed and tested, due to COVID-19 delaying progress. So keep an eye on this spot!
Resisting lifestyle adjustments
Lastly, don’t be surprised if your cat resists some of these lifestyle shifts. This is a major adjustment for them and as we’ve all experienced, our kitties can sometimes be stubborn!
Jane wrote an article about how her own ‘tripawd’ kitty Molly resisted changing from her old litter box. We do love Molly’s commitment to sticking with what she prefers!
Tripod Cats: The Wrap-Up
So there you have it — the essentials of tripod cats, including how to help your cat adapt to being three legged after a limb amputation.
Our Yoda is just as happy as a three-legged cat as he was a four-legged cat. He still walks outdoors on-leash, climbs our seats inside the van, jumps on our bed to snuggle with us, and he still enjoys and gets the zoomies!
As we said at the beginning of this article, it can be a highly emotional topic to think about. Which is why we’re so glad that you’ve taken the step to educate yourself on what life for tripod cats can look like.
Head over to our Instagram if you’d love to see our own tripod boy Yoda’s latest adventures.
Do you have a tripod cat? If so, what’s your experience of caring for them? What advice would you give to someone who’s adopting a tripod or their cat will soon become a three-legged friend? We’d love to hear from you!