Special Needs Cats Profiles

Steve, Blind Ambassador Cat Around Town
Steve, Blind Ambassador Cat Around Town. Photo Credit: © Wendy Grellinger
  • 01 of 07

    Special Needs and Other-Abled Cats: Amputee Cats aka Tripod Cats

    Amputee cats are not as rare as one might think; in fact, they have acquired a common name: Tripod Cats. Cats' limbs are amputated for two main reasons:

    1. Vaccine-Related Sarcoma (VAS)
    2. Injury, Intentional or Accidental
    Although its incidence is rare, VAS has been particularly controversial ever since the development of the Feline Leukemia (feLV) and Rabies vaccines. Prior to that, cats with feLV and rabies not only died from the disease, but, particularly in the case of feLV, spread the virulent...MORE diseases to other healthy cats. Unfortunately the vaccines also could cause death, as a result of vaccine-related sarcoma. When the vaccines were originally developed, they were commonly given in the "scruff" of the neck, as was common then. Thus, if a cat developed VAS in the vaccine site, death was inevitable.

    With the development of vaccination protocols by the Vaccine-Associated Feline Sarcoma Task Force, established in 1996, we first began to see tripod cats. The reason: the protocols called for the feLV and Rabies vaccines to be given in the rear legs, (Rabies: Right; feLV: Left), as distally (distant) as possible. The reasoning behind this, unpleasant as it may sound, is that a VAS tumor on the leg can be treated by amputation, allowing affected cats to survive.

    Amputee Cats Resulting From Injury

    As noted above, injury requiring amputation of a cat's limb can either be caused by accident, or cruelty. Tens of thousands of cats are killed or severely injured every year by vehicular accidents, a good reason to keep cats safely indoors.

    Sierra, the beautiful tripod girl pictured here, lost her leg as the result of being thrown out of a car window as a kitten. Sierra's adoptive mom wrote: "Sierra was a 6 month old Siamese who would soon become a tripod because some horrible person had tossed her from a vehicle and her leg was broken beyond repair. A few days after I signed the adoption papers, Sierra had her right rear leg amputated. She was up and purring within a few hours after surgery. The next day she was trekking around the shelter. She came home a few days after her amputation." Sierra, like Steve in the first step, was a winner in the "Most Unforgettable Adopted Cat Contest." Read the remainder of Sierra's story for an example of how tripod kitties can lead entirely normal lives.

    See Other Tripod Kitties:

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  • 02 of 07

    Special Needs and Other-Abled Cats: Blind Cats

    Steve, Blind Ambassador Cat Around Town
    Steve, Blind Ambassador Cat Around Town. Photo Credit: © Wendy Grellinger

    Special needs cats, or "other-abled" cats often need special care. They may have been born with special needs, contracted retroviruses such as FIV or fELv, or lost limbs through accident, cruelty, or amputation. Blind or deaf cats may have come that way at birth, through malnutrition or disease, or by other means. Some cats may have a combination of special needs, e.g., a blind cat may also be FIV positive. The one thing all special needs cats share is the fact that they can be active,...MORE loving companion cats, despite what we humans might call "disabilities.

    These step-by-step profiles will walk you through many of those conditions in cats classified as "special needs"

    Cats may become blind by a variety of causes, some preventable, and some not. They include:
    • Cataracts
    • Glaucoma
    • Tumors
    • Progressive Retinal Atrophy
    • Injury
    • Untreated Feline Hypertension
    Seeing a treasured cat go blind, either gradually or suddenly, can be a devastating experience, because we tend to equate vision loss in cats with human blindness. We need to remember, though, that cats are terrifically resilient. Cats don't need seeing eye dogs to find their way around, nor do they need to learn braille in order to communicate. They will use their enhanced senses of smell, hearing and touch (whiskers and other vibrissae hairs on their feet and their face) to compensate for their vision loss, so well that casual visitors may not even be aware that your cat is blind.

    Amy Shojai recognizes that fact. In her article 8 Ways to Help a Blind Cat, she offers tips to make a sight-disabled cat mobile, safe, and comfortable in his home.

    Steve, the cat pictured here, makes no bones about being blind. Blinded from birth, he had been in a shelter for seven months. Wendy Grellinger, Steve's mom, wrote "He would pace back and forth from side to side all day long in his cage. It was very sad to see him doing this. When I took him out, he seemed so grateful just to be touched and held. His spirit called out to me. It was time for this cat to get out of the cage and live a long fulfilling life."

    Today Steve now plays the role of "blind cat ambassador about town" on his daily walks on leash through the small community. Steve has the natural ability to make friends with everyone he meets. Wendy says, "The kids stop to pet him. They have learned that if they don't walk slowly and quietly, he will be frightened and bolt. When they interact with Steve they learn a lot about compassion for both animals and humans with physical disabilities. Although blind, he is no different from any other cat or human with a disability."

    Steve's story touched a lot of people - so much so that he was voted "The Most Unforgettable Adopted Shelter Cat" in 2010. Steve definitely qualifies as an other-abled cat. What he lacks for in sight, he makes up for by his role as a "poster cat" for overcoming the challenges of blindness.

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  • 03 of 07

    Special Needs and Other-Abled Cats: Deaf Cats

    Photo of Deaf White Cat Olaf
    Deaf Cat Prince Magnus Olaf von Skarabrae aka Olaf. Photo Credit: © Lisa Daoussis

    Hearing loss in cats falls into two general categories:

    1. Conduction Deafness
      Caused by tumors and/or infection (Otitis) Conduction deafness may be reversible by treating the root cause.
    2. Nerve Deafness
      Can be congenital, as in the case of blue-eyed white cats, or acquired, through toxicity (drugs toxic to cats' ears, or neoplasia (a tumor-like growth)
    Although cats don't yet wear hearing aids, there are several things that can be done to help deaf cats lead a relatively normal life. Please read Deafness...MORE and Hearing Loss in Cats
    to learn more.

    Olaf, pictured here, is a Norwegian Forest Cat who lives in Geneva Switzerland and who has been deaf from birth. You are invited to read more of Olaf's story.

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  • 04 of 07

    Special Needs and Other-Abled Cats: Diabetic Cats

    adoptable shelter cats, cat adoption, tabby's place
    Mr. Grey. Photo Credit: © Danielle Rice, Tabby's Place

    What is Feline Diabetes?

    It is a disease of the endocrine system, which includes the pancreas, thyroid glands, and parathyroid gland.

    Feline Diabetes Mellitus presents as one of two types: Type 1, caused by the insufficient production of insulin by the pancreas, and Type 2, related to the body's cells inability to handle insulin efficiently. Although diabetes can strike cats of any age, it is more prevalent in older, obese cats, and is found more often in male cats.

    Secondary Diabetes can be caused...MORE by drugs or diseases that either impair the natural secretion of insulin, or its effects on tissues, including hyperthyroidism and certain pancreatic conditions.

    One of the most common initial symptoms of diabetes is increased thirst and urination. Other symptoms include vomiting, weight loss, and poor skin and coat condition. Since other feline diseases such as hyperthyroidism, liver disease and pancreatitis share the same symptoms, a thorough veterinary exam should be done, including testing of blood glucose level, and a complete blood panel (to rule out other conditions.)

    While a diagnosis of feline diabetes may be disheartening, the disease can be controlled by working in partnership with your veterinarian to develop a program to manage your cat's diabetes .

    For T2 (Type 2) diabetes, it may be as simple as a diet change. Although traditional veterinary advice includes a diet high in fiber and complex carbohydrates, Elizabeth Hodgkins, DVM, J.D., vehemently disagrees. Dr. Hodgkins has been in practice for 30 years, and has studied feline diabetes in depth for 15 years. Her conclusion is that a strict diet of canned, pouch, or raw meat with a minimum of carbohydrates, can help obese diabetic cats lose weight, and actually can wean many insulin-dependent cats of insulin. You can read Dr. Hodgkins protocol on her web site, Your Diabetic Cat.com

    T1 diabetes will require a more complicated regimen, including insulin injections, and regular testing of the cat's glucose levels, as well as diet management, and regular veterinary check-ups.

    The cat pictured here, Mr. Grey, is a popular resident in the community room at Tabby's Place, a cat sanctuary in Ringoes, N.J. Presently he’s not on a special diet, mainly because he’s extremely picky and won’t eat it. He is on insulin twice daily. The staff also does frequent blood glucose curves, testing his BG levels throughout the course of the day, to make sure his insulin dose is working well. (Unfortunately, he’s one of the very difficult-to-regulate diabetics, so extra vigilance is given to monitoring him for signs of hypoglycemia.) Mr. Grey is a very happy cat, though, and popular with all who meet him. Read his story to find out more.

    You, too, may also be able to enjoy many happy years with your own diabetic cat, by providing the best foods, fresh water, a stress-free environment, mutual play and cuddle time, and following an insulin protocol as outlined by your veterinarian. It's all a matter of perspective.

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  • 05 of 07

    Special Needs and Other-Abled Cats: FIV+ Cats

    Photo of Shannon, my FIV+ Cat in His Prime
    Photo of Shannon, my FIV+ Cat in His Prime. Photo Credit: © Franny Syufy

    What is FIV?

    FIV (Feline Immumodeficiency Virus) is a retrovirus in the same family as the human AIDS virus, with a few significant differences. It is estimated that in the United States, 2% of cats are infected with the FIV virus. Saliva to blood (biting) is generally accepted as the primary source of spreading the virus, and it is unlikely (but not impossible) that cats will spread FIV by drinking or eating out of the same food dish, or by mutual grooming. It is not surprising that outdoor cats...MORE are particularly susceptible to the virus, and the best way to prevent infection with FIV virus is to ensure that your cat stays indoors only, which eliminates the possibility of contact with FIV cats.


    It is important to realize that a positive test for FIV is not a mandatory death sentence. With a high protein diet and aggressive treatment of secondary infections, an FIV-positive cat can lead a reasonably normal life span. Dr. Mike Richards says, "Feline immundeficiency virus infection does not lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome in cats as often as human immunodeficiency virus leads to AIDS in people." The largest threat to FIV-positive cats is secondary infections, such as bladder, skin, and upper respiratory infections. Kidney failure is also frequently seen in cats with FIV. These secondary infections should be treated promptly and aggressively in any cat, but especially with an FIV cat.

    My own cat, Shannon (pictured here), tested positive for FIV at 17. Since FIV is spread primarily by saliva to blood, i.e. deep bite wounds, and Shannon had deferred his territorial battles to a younger family cat several years before, it is highly likely that he had been FIV+ for at least five years by that time. Shannon was treated aggressively for his FIV, which is documented on my site:

    Shannon lived on two more years before succumbing to chronic renal failure. He died the way he lived: with valiant grace.

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  • 06 of 07

    Special Needs and Other-Abled Cats: Hyperthyroid Cats

    photo of Bubba, Who Later Was a Hypothyroid Cat
    Bubba, Who Later Was a Hypothyroid Cat. Photo Credit: © Franny Syufy

    What is Hyperthyroidism?

    Hyperthyroidism aka Hyperthyroid Disease is the enlargement of the thyroid gland, most commonly caused by a benign tumor on one or both of the thyroid gland's lobes. Although thyroid tumors can be cancerous, the chances are only 2% to 5% of malignancy.

    Hyperthyroidism is more common in older cats, although it may also be seen in younger cats. Some or all of the following symptoms may be present in a hyperthyroid cat:

    • Increased Appetite
    • Unexplained Weight Loss and loss of...MORE muscle mass
    • Irritability or Nervousness
    • Frequent Vomiting
    • Unkempt-looking Coat
    • Diarrhea
    • Excessive Thirst (polydipsia)
    • Weakness
    • Lethargy
    Since the symptoms of can mimic the symptoms of other diseases, such as CRF or liver disease, a blood panel will usually show the "big picture," when combined with a thyroid-specific test, usually the T4, which will show thyroid levels. Elevated levels of T4 will usually strongly indicate the presence of hyperthyroidism.

    Management of hyper-t in cats can often be successful with daily doses of methimazole, commonly sold as Tapazole. Other treatments include surgery or radioactive iodine therapy. You can read more details in my disease profile, Hyperthyroidism in Cats.

    Following the Treatment of a Hyperthyroid Cat

    Bubba, pictured here, was a fairly healthy cat until he was diagnosed with thyroid disease at the age of 15. Bubba's initial symptoms were vomiting, with a subsequent disinterest in food, and weight loss. I documented his initial treatment in
    . Around 18 months after diagnosis, Bubba's earlier symptoms returned and it appeared the Tapazole was no longer effective. I learned from my vet that this is not uncommon. We made the decision then to opt for Radioactive Iodine Therapy (¹³¹I). Please see the rest of Bubba's story at
    . Bubba is one of the rare (5%) cats that respond to the
    I treatment by going
    . In place of the Tapozole, he was back to a daily pill regimen of a thyroid supplement. All-in-all, though, I would make substantially the same decisions for any other of my cats who might develop hyperthoid disease.
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  • 07 of 07

    Special Needs and Other-Abled Cats: IBD Cats

    Photo of Cat Billy, With IBD, Diabetes, and HCM
    Billy, With IBD, Diabetes, and HCM. photo © Franny Syufy

    What is IBD?

    Feline Irritable Bowel Disease (disorder, or syndrome) are terms that describe a group of gastrointestinal disorders which display as inflammation of the lining (mucosa) of the digestive tract. Feline IBD can occur in the large intestine (colitis), the small intestine (enteritis), or the stomach (gastritis).

    The most common symptoms of Feline IBD are chronic vomiting and diarrhea, symptoms which can be present in a number of other conditions, such as hyperthyroidism, chronic renal...MORE failure, or pancreatitis. In some cases, inappetance, accompanied by weight loss, may occur. These symptoms are also common in other conditions.

    Since older cats may be afflicted with one or more of these conditions, it is important for the cat's owner to investigate continuing symptoms, rather than to assume they are caused by the existing disease.

    Billy, my tabby cat pictured here, was diagnosed with IBD several years ago, and has been on a limited diet since then. But with six cats, he sometimes does get into the others' food, and vomits. Billy is also diabetic, and was diagnosed with HCM (Hypherthropic Cardiomyopathy) around the same time as the IBD diagnosis.