Kissy Update: Three (Legs) is a Charm

As you may recall, when I adopted Kissy I mentioned that she’d had surgery to repair a luxated patella — her left rear “kneecap” was literally all the way around the side of her leg — and I knew she was going to need more specialized veterinary attention to deal with whatever was going on inside her leg. On Tuesday, I took her to the vet because the limp she’s had ever since I adopted her was getting worse, and I wanted to know what was going on.

side view of Kissy's knee and lower leg

Kissy’s left knee is a mess. There’s a lot of arthritic changes and extra bone growth. Click the image to make it bigger.

They took some X-rays — for which Kissy had to be sedated because when they tried to put her bad leg into the right position for the radiograph, she screamed in pain — and a couple of hours later I got the first news.

She’s got a lot of extra bone growth in that knee, and the x-rays also showed that the bones themselves are pretty deformed — they’re almost bowed out and they don’t look anything like the bones on the other side. From that, and the way the muscles are anchored in weird places, Dr. Alden is almost sure that Kissy’s knee problem is due to a congenital deformity. The relief here is that she didn’t develop this problem because of trauma or abuse — there’s no sign of fractures or anything to indicate she was hurt.

In short, the poor cat probably has never had a pain-free day in her life! My heart breaks just thinking about it.

Dr. Alden sent the X-rays to a veterinary orthopedist for a consultation, and she even posted them on the Veterinary Information Network forum to find out if any other vets have run across something like this.

On Thursday morning, Dr. Alden called me with an update on the orthopedic consultation.

Kissy's X-ray

In this X-ray, the difference between the bones of the left and right leg is obvious. Her left tibia is extremely bowed when compared to her right one (arrows). Click this image to make it bigger.

Four different surgeons looked at Kissy’s X-rays, and the consensus is that to repair her leg would take three surgeries — one to straighten the bones, one to put the patella into place with the new orientation of the bones and repair her cruciate ligament (yes, she has a blown cruciate ligament too), and one to remove all the pins that were placed during the first surgery. Even after all those surgeries and the related pain and tens of thousands of dollars in expenses, there’s no guarantee that the repair would give her less long-term pain or quality of life — or that they wouldn’t have to amputate the leg after all that.

Because of her severe arthritis and cruciate ligament issue, medical management wouldn’t be much use. Supplements like glucosamine/chondroitin and MSM work well for mild to moderate arthritis, but not so well for cases as severe as hers.

Dr. Alden told me that all the orthopedists agree that to give her a pain-free, high-quality life, amputation is the best option. I told her I wanted to think it over for a while before making a final decision, but I suspected it was going to come down to that.

I personally don’t have any issues with amputation or tripod cats. What’s important to me is that Kissy has the best possible quality of life. Dr. Alden also told me that every feline amputee she’s seen recovers very quickly, so I don’t have any concerns about a difficult recovery. Cats carry most of their weight over their front legs, so a rear amputation is generally less traumatic for an adult cat in that regard.

I’ve thought it over for a day or so, and talked to some friends about it, and at this point I’m pretty convinced that amputation is the way to go. The surgery and associated medications and pre-anesthetic blood testing will run me about $700, but that’s a small price to pay for Kissy’s health and happiness. I haven’t scheduled the surgery yet, but I probably will soon.

But before I do, I’m curious — do any of you have amputee kitties in your homes? How have they gotten along? How long did the recovery take? Please tell me about your experiences with kitties that are missing a leg.

  • Dee

    I have not had any tripod kitties grace my home although I have known quite a few. They seem to get along quite well and I even know one that has the reputation of being an excellent mouser. I do believe that it may be one of those incidences where it may actually be more traumatic (mentally) for the human than the cat. Still, I think if Kissy could talk human, she would more than likely prefer one surgery compared to three. Especially when the amputation offers a greater hope of being pain-free.

    • JaneA Kelley

      I think you’re right that the idea of amputation is more traumatic for people than it is for cats. Just the thought that Kissy’s going to be able to wake up in the morning without pain makes it all worthwhile for me.

  • Kae

    Have you seen the videos of Dot, the kitten with spina bifida? Her back legs don’t work at all and yet…she has no clue. She flies around her home area and up and down her cat tree.

    I’m sorry that Kissy has been in so much pain in her life. I pray that she’ll be okay with whatever choice you make. I’ll keep you all in my prayers and thoughts. Please let me know if there’s anything more i can help with!

    • JaneA Kelley

      Thank you, Kae. I always marvel at how amazing cats with physical challenges that would be so hard for humans to cope with — just go on about their business, not knowing there’s anything weird about them. I’m grateful and humbled that Kissy chose me, and I’m glad to be able to live up to the trust she put in me by giving her the best life possible. Whether that life is with three or four legs makes no difference to me.

  • Becky H.

    I’ve shared my home with two tripod cats, the first a front leg amputee, the current cat a rear leg amputee. Both never had any problems getting around, even jumping onto the table, which is a no no in my house. I didn’t have to make the decision to amputate with either of them but adopted them after the fact. In both cases the amputations were done to prevent pain, the first because she was born with a deformed front leg, the other because a fall shattered her rear leg. I am continually amazed at how well they adapt and do things, even digging in the litter box, which requires balancing on two legs for my rear leg amputee! I had to purchase flat scratching pads for my current cat, the posts are bit hard for her to scratch and I do need to remember to keep toys on the floor for her during play sessions, but she can zoom around a room as fast as any four legged cat! The only problem I’ve run into is the fact that my rear leg amputee makes a thumping noise on my hardwood floors when she walks, which makes it easy for her arch enemy to track her down. Only one of my other cats is a problem and that has tapered off with time. Good luck to Kissy, hugs!

    • JaneA Kelley

      Thanks, Becky. It’s good to hear from someone who’s lived with tripod kitties. I know in my heart that it’s going to be the best thing for Kissy that the leg goes away, and the pain with it.

  • Jilla

    In the 80’s, my sister and I dragged a bedraggled Russian Blue kitty home and begged our parents to let us keep him. He was named Jake, after “The Cat From Outer Space”… and he became our pride and joy. The only problem?> Jake liked to take off. The first time, we found him 6 weeks later in another neighborhood- he had been neutered and declawed. The people graciously gave him back to us after we cried profusely. A year later, Jake disappeared again…and 2 weeks later, our young cousin saw a grey cat who had been hit by a car, 5 miles from our home. She took him to her dad, who happens to be our Vet. Jake was scraped up but the main injury? his left front leg was paralyzed. After several weeks, it became infected from dragging and the leg was amputated… Jake was given experimental antibiotics and survived again! When I was 14, we thought Jake was gone for good…a 3 legged cat on his own in the Oklahoma summer? but 5 months later, as I was coming out of an ice cream place after a football game, guess who i saw? A skinny, but happy to see me Jake! Jake was able to jump over 6 foot privacy fences. He jumped on the fridge. Jake raised all of our cats, puppies, kids, and grandkids. Most people never knew he was a tripod, and were shocked when they realized! Jake lived to the old and happy age of 23…even after all his adventures. He was our love, and we miss him. One of my Siamese is Jake Cat II… but we will never forget our beloved tripod Jake! I truly believe Kissy will be so much happier and healthier…and I know you will make the right decision for your little girl!

    • JaneA Kelley

      Jeez Louise! That Jake was a hell of a cat! I agree that Kissy will be much happier and healthier without the leg that’s been giving her so much pain for her entire life, and I’m so fortunate to have an awesome vet who’s doing the surgery. :-)

      • Jilla

        That truly is the key. My Uncle, Ladd Oldfield, has been our vet for over 30 years, and is more than a vet- he loves animals unconditionally. I know Kissy will come out of this and be pain free and happy, and your little family will blossom…how could it not, with all the love!

  • Linda Cork

    No amputees, but my Gypsy did have to have an eye removed, and another kitten, Lucky Luciano had his tail amputated. OK, so that was an amputation, but it was his tail, not a leg. Both of them were very happy kitties after their surgeries, and did things that might have been considered surprising. Gypsy had no problem judging distances with only one eye, and Lucy had no balance issues without his tail.

    What might correlate to this situation is Lucy’s predicament. He had an old injury to his tail and it became infected and swollen and the circulation was blocked, causing his tail to die. In a very short time he became a very sick little kitten. Once the tail was gone, and the infection with it, he was back to his usual sunny self in an extremely short period of time.

    I can only hope that Kissy would wake up to a pain-free life and love that change while ignoring the loss of her leg.

    Good luck to you and your babies.

  • Random Felines

    No tripods here, but it is all about being pain free. If it helps her be more comfortable, then that is the entire point. I have a current foster kitten (you can see him on my blog) who was born with no kneecaps in the back at all. No surgical fix but the upside is he doesn’t appear to be in any pain either (certainly not from the speed at which he climbs the cat tree). The main issue getting him adopted isn’t his “disability” it is getting people to see past him being different. Kissy is lucky to have you and I know she will do great. It is just too bad they don’t make drugs to help the owners get through the surgery. :)

    • JaneA Kelley

      Thank you; I very much appreciate the support. :-)

  • CrazyCatLady

    Jane, I’m in the same boat with little Gemini at this point. He’s actually got 2 bad back legs that did not for correctly, as well as one of his front feet. I haven’t yet shared this info with anyone, but you. Gem gets along some days so well that you’d never know anything was wrong with him. But in the evenings and in the mornings, and now that its getting cold, I can see that it hurts him to move around much. He drags the one back leg really bad and I’m afraid its the correct call. Or I’m relieved its the best call. One or the other. Finally, someone I can relate to about it!! The one leg doesn’t seem to bother him so much. The other has, as Kissy’s, extra bones. Or, in reality, bones that just didn’t “drop” into the correct position. The best call for both of us, without a doubt, is the one that will cause the least amount of pain. Thank you. Because of your article, I think I know what really needs to be done. I had been wobbling on it. And, as I said, I hadn’t shared with anyone until now… I’m not sure of this or not, but if you would like to talk by email, I’ve entered it above, where you can see it. Would be really nice to talk to someone going through the same thing. And I’d love to send you Gem’s x-rays to compare. You’d be surprised how similar some of the problems are. Tri-pods, by the way, are a lot better off than those suffering from continual pain like ours are right now! Much love…

    • Activgurl

      Gemini? As in, Geminites? The little guy is having trouble?

  • Activgurl

    I had a cat with a rear leg amputation due to injury/infection. She would jump on the kitchen counter and my other 2 cats would not. I played a game with them involving a fishing pole with feathers tied on the line. I would cast the line down the hallway, and she was always in the lead to fetch it. It was never a bother to her.

    • JaneA Kelley

      Drat! I was almost hoping that a real-leg amputation would save me — at least temporarily — from having to prepare food with one hand while chasing Kissy off the counter with the other. :-)

  • Connie

    I belong to a very kind group of kitty owners that I found when my kitty Ollie developed VAS. Many of them own tripods.

    I would be happy to share your post with them if you would like for more responses, or you can join yourself at

  • Rose Phillips

    one of our three cats is Captain Black Sparrow aka Blackie a happy and healthy (except for cronic gingivitis) three year old tripod. Three years ago one of my flatmates spotted this tiny kitty in a parking lot running around crying and one of his legs was dragging along behind him. she called and told me and i emptied out my giant purse, put a towel in the bottom and went. after sitting in that parking lot for close to two hours i managed to get the kitty to trust me enough to approuch half an hour later i had him in the bag and called my vet . at the time i had no intention of keeping this little kitty but all the same i was not willing to take him to a shelter that might put him to sleep. when my vet told me how much the surgeries were going to cost (he needed two since both back legs were broken one a clean break at the hip (and repairable)the other was compleatly crushed and needed to be removed) i asked if it was ok to pay with post dated checks over the next few months then told him to go ahead with the surgeries (they even gave me a big discount on the price) one week later i got to take this six week old kitty home my flatmates said i could keep him for up to one month wile i search for a good home for him but he got ring worm and that ment six weeks of meds wich gave extra time that i used to convince them to let me keep him. he can run as fast as any other cat he can jump to about waist height and use his claws to climb anything higher he is a VERY vocal and very happy indoor/outdoor kitty

    • JaneA Kelley

      Awwww…sometimes those cats do manage to worm their way into the hearts of even flatmates who don’t want a kitty. You’re lucky your vet allowed you to pay in installments; the vast majority of vets don’t these days because so many of them have been burned.

      And how cute is the name Captain Black Sparrow? My sweet Dahlia (2006-2012) came from the shelter with the name Blackie, and I knew I had to do better than that. I was told she was a male, so the first name I came up with was Black Jack Davy, after the gypsy thief of women’s hearts, but I few days later she showed me her bum and I realized that she was very definitely female. Since she seemed to like the “D” sound, I tested all kinds of female names until I came to Dahlia, and she came running and purring.

  • Gillycg

    I have a tripod cat who recovered magnificently and most people don’t even know she is missing a limb. She was hit by a car 5 1/2 years ago and it shattered her shoulder and elbow. The vet said he could pin it and put her in a cast but he wasn’t sure if there was any nerve damage to her toes. We had the option of surgery, wait six weeks and possibly have to amputate or to save her the distress just amputate the leg. For her sake we asked the vet to remove the leg and let her come home. After the surgery it was a two person job when the cage was opened – one to open the door/feed her/clean her litter box etc and another person to stop her jumping out!! We got her back the next day and the vet gave us steroid pills (still impossible even with a post surgery 3 legged cat) and told us not to let her jump about. That was all but impossible because she likes to sit in the window and watch the world go by. She recovered really quickly and was soon screaming to get out in the garden. The only problem she has now is getting down from trees as she is missing a front leg. Other than that, oh and the thudding as she wanders round the house, there have been no lasting effects and she’s just as happy as before. It is a very tough decision to make but if it will save your cat (and you to a large extent) pain and distress it is worth it. Keep us up to date on Kissys progress. Love and cuddles from me and Her Majesty Lucy. x

    • JaneA Kelley

      Same thing with Kissy. She could have three surgeries and no guarantee they wouldn’t have to amputate the leg anyway — so I really believe it’s best for her quality of life to skip the three corrective surgeries that would cause her a lot more pain and suffering in the short term and probably not give relief in the long term. Love to Her Majesty Lucy. :-)

  • Barbara

    We had a tri-pod kitty. His name was Samster the Hamster. Hampy, for short. This was some years ago, long before I figured out that keeping cats indoors was the best thing for them. Hampy liked to roam a bit as cats will do. Some jerk shot him in the rear leg. The only hope was to amputate the leg. Hampy did just fine and didn’t even really seem to miss that leg. He did everything he’d always done.

    I have not a single problem with you deciding to amputate Kissy’s leg. From everything that’s been going on and the life-long pain she’s suffered as well as the prognosis for corrective surgery I’d decide for amputation too. I imagine that even immediately post surgery she’ll have less pain than she’s ever had in her life to date. To me, that’s the important goal. The other route, you could put her through all those surgeries, all that pain, and *still* have to amputate. The cost aside (and we have to be realistic about that too) the pain would be a huge factor for me in making the decision. Pain in cats can cause all kinds of behavioral issues. Kissy has come sooo far with your love and attention. Keep going forward. <3

    • JaneA Kelley

      You’re right, Barbara. It’s got to be about Kissy’s quality of life above all else. If there was a good chance that the three surgeries would leave her pain-free and able to enjoy a good life, I’d try to find a way to do it. But it’s pointless to put her through all that trauma — and spend all that money — with a 50-50 (at best) prognosis for pain relief.

  • Marty

    I fostered a kitty, a polydactyl kitty, Smitty Kitty that had been shot and by the time he was found needed a rear leg amputated. He did just fine, tho it took him a little faster to get going than my 4-legged cats, but when he did he ran like a rocket. He lives with two other cats, two Corgies, 1/2-doz horses and a few goats now on a friends farm, living the life of a king. I miss him so, but he doesn’t miss me! Amputation, I wouldn’t think a second if it takes her pain away. Three surgeries with no guarantee of success and amputation in the end most likely, you know what the best option is.

    I look forward to hearing about her recovery and antics to come!

    • JaneA Kelley

      Yes, I do. I called the vet on Saturday and set the date for the surgery.

  • Ingrid King

    I’ve seen a few amputation surgeries in cats during my days in veterinary clinics, and I was always amazed how quickly these cats recover. I think it’s much harder on the cat’s guardian – no matter how prepared you think you are, it’s jarring to see your cat for the first time after surgery. It sounds like this is the best solution for Kissy. All my best to both of you!

    • JaneA Kelley

      Thanks, Ingrid. I know it’ll be in Kissy’s best interest in the long run.

  • Hilda

    The first cat I ever really “owned” was given to me when I was a senior in high school. She was about 6 months old but had become a tri-pod at 3 months after being stepped on by a COW (!) as a kitten! Obviously, she was all healed up by then so I can’t comment on that but I can tell you that she lived a good long life, until the age of 18, when she died in 1998 of kidney disease. She was a rear leg amputee and could run and jump just like everyone else. I’m sure Kissy will be fine!

    • JaneA Kelley

      Thanks, Hilda. It’s been wonderful to get so many reassuring comments from you and all the other readers. It’s certainly made me feel I’m making the right decision to go ahead with the amputation.

  • Heather

    When my husband and I adopted a siamese stray we found in a Toys R Us parking lot, I would have never guessed how much she would teach us. Christmas morning of 2008 i woke to little bloody kitty paws all over the house. Of course I totally freaked out and we took Snowball to our vet as soon as possible. The vet determined she had cancer in her 2nd digit of her paw. We decided to amputate – after all you can live without a finger. I know that sounds harsh but it was better than having the cancer still in her body. While the amputation was successful it did not remove all of the cancer. We were sent to specialists and kitty oncologists to see what kind of cancer she had. It was hemangiosarcoma. We could have put her through chemo but I just could not see putting her all of that when all signs pointed to amputation being the best option. So Snowball ended up having her front leg amputated. And here is where the lessons begin – we found out what it really means to be a fighter and survivor from an 8 lb cat. Snowball amazed everyone, including the vet (not her normal vet), by being up and around the day of her surgery – she would not be stopped. In fact she was functioning so well that the vet sent her home early! For the next 6 months she would continue to amaze me. We lost her big sister kitty to kidney failure which was a big surprise and Snowball would comfort me even as her injury was still healing. It seemed as though she never missed her leg at all. No matter what we did or steps we offered, she was up and jumping from the minute she came home. She was a champ when we brought in her new little sister kitty. She showed Phebe the roped very quickly. Snowball never let anything stop her. I wish i could say that she was still with us but the cancer came back extremely close to her heart and there was pretty much only one thing we could do and that was let her go play with her big sister. I will never regret having her leg amputated though. She lived those last 6 months happily – playing and pain free and showing anyone who ever doubted her spirit that she was feisty. So knowing everything you have written about Kissy, I’m sure she will surprise you just as much as my Snowball did me. I’m sure she will be happier and as soon as she’s healed you’ll see what kinds of mischief a pain-free Kissy will get into :)

    • JaneA Kelley

      Oh jeez — Kissy gets in plenty of mischief already! :-O

      It’s great to hear about Snowball and I’m glad she was able to enjoy the last six months of her life pain-free.

  • Nancy Passow

    I’m so sorry to hear about Kissy! But reading about all of the happily functioning tripods has been really good. We have a new kitten, Mya, who’s just about 3 months old. Her foster mom had told us she had dislocated her shoulder and might have to have surgery eventually. Once we brought Mya home (Sept. 15), I realized it was her right elbow not her shoulder. Our new vet is affiliated with the local animal hospital, so we took Mya to be seen by one of the orthopedic specialists, who agreed it was her elbow not her shoulder. They took x-rays and found that she’d broken her humerus (probably when she was about 4 weeks old). The two ends of the bone had continued to grow, which messed up the elbow joint (the gap between the ends of the humerus are acting like the elbow). In another month or two, he’d like to see her again to see if the leg is still supporting her and that she’s not in pain. If there is a problem, option one would be to fuse the bone and option two would be to amputate the leg. Right now Mya runs around at the speed of light, is up and down all of our stairs, jumps on the bed, etc. I’m hoping things will continue this way, but feel better about the future after reading everyone’s comments. Thanks!! (Mya and her big brother Charley:

  • vagabond

    My sister in Texas has a young male cat that was shot high up in the left front leg. She didn’t know this until x-rays revealed a .22 bullet lodged in there ( thought he’d been mauled ). They amputated as a last resort, which went well but an infection did set in- it was touch and go for a few days there! Now Thom has adjusted VERY well, runs, hold his own w/ three large dogs, climbs, demands,DEMANDS treats, cuddles, etc. He sticks around the house more now, basking on the porch in the sun. I do want to say that I think there is a period of depression, or shock that he went through, the family just gave him lots of cuddles and quiet love. he’d been basically a stray that had adopted them, not too terribly tame- but that is certainly different now!
    By the way MIss Kissy- I love your commentaries and I hope things go well and you are pain-free soon!

    • JaneA Kelley

      That’s good to hear about Thom’s quick adjustment. Kissy says *purrr, purrr, purrr* :-)

  • Mistletoe & Hitch

    Hi! The huMom here! I’ve followed your love affair with Kissy since you visited Robin @ CICH. So I was wondering, I have a pretty sever back problem and even with medication and surgery I can get pretty cranky due to pain. I wondered if you think Kissy’s mood is effected by the pain she feels every day, all day? Do you think it makes her impatient with Thomas and Siouxsie? And even you? I know that due to my own behavior I think the answer is yes, but I also believe that cats are better than humans in many ways, so maybe they are better at ignoring pain. Maybe I’m crazy to compare a human with a cat, but I know that if I could leave behind my pain, I would. So I don’t know if having a crazy person’s opinion will help, but, well I know from the bottom of my heart how much you love your kitties and I don’t doubt for a second that you’ll make the right choice for Kissy. Be well, Dorothy

    • JaneA Kelley

      Dorothy, I absolutely believe that pain affects mood, and I have no doubt that Kissy’s pain is making her shorter-tempered — and more scared because she knows how vulnerable she is. All sentient beings (and I include cats, dogs, and many other creatures in that category) have similar nervous systems and we respond to similar stimuli in similar ways.

      You’re not crazy at all. I think she’ll be a brand new cat once she’s recovered from the surgery. :-)

  • Katherine

    Hi JaneA,
    Katherine here. I run Animals In Distress cat shelter in Wilton and know Robin very well as we’ve taken many Georgia kids for her.
    Last year after Irene hit we had a cat come in with a very bad front leg. He was about 1-2 years old. The vets determined it would be best to amputate the leg. They did, all the way up to his shoulder. He came home with a wrap round his torso and some meds, Neurontin they used as I recall. He basically slept and ate and figured out how to use the litter while he rehabbed in a cage in my living room. His bandage was changed a couple of times by the vet, his meds slowly reduced and by a week and a half he was zipping around my house, climbing every cat pole and wrestling with my cats! It was simply remarkable! He was adopted by a family shortly after and is doing GREAT! Kissy will be too!

  • Leisa

    I’m so sorry to hear about your kitty’s necessary amputation–I am currently fostering a little girl kitty that was hit by a car and is unable to walk, so I can sympathize with mobility issues for pet parents. Best of luck to you, and prayers for kitty’s speedy recovery.

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