A cat with twisted front legs

Radial and Femoral Hypoplasia in Cats

Hypoplasias are among the least-known deformities among felines, but they have a very big impact on quality of life. The radial (RH, front legs) and femoral (FH, hind legs) variants are hereditary birth defects that prevent the bones in the legs from developing properly. Cats with such hypoplasias are also known as squittens, polydactyl cats, and more informally as twisty cats, which is a name derived from the fact that the legs are shorter and sometimes twisted in an abnormal shape.

In this article, we will discuss some of the common challenges that felines with RH and FH face. If you own such a cat, this article will also help you discover some ways in which you can help your disabled cat get through day-to-day life.

Complications

As you can probably imagine, living with legs that don’t work properly presents some unique challenges for a cat. If you are the type who seeks a low-maintenance pet, such a cat is probably not the best match for you. Here are a few of the common problems and challenges that cats with hypoplasia need extra help with:

Walking

Most cats with radial or femoral hypoplasia can get around just fine in all but the most severe of cases. Cats with RH/FH will typically cope by learning to walk on their elbows, crouched, with a rocking gait. In the worst cases of RH, the legs are so impaired that a cat can only push themselves forward with the hind legs while using their front as a steering wheel.

Tip: Rough surfaces such as carpets provide a lot of friction, making them easier to traverse compared to smooth floors like hard-wood

Climbing

Ascending objects and jumping down becomes difficult or even impossible, since the legs are too weak to pull up or absorb the kinetic energy from a fall. Some cats with disabled front legs are able to adapt to this challenge by teaching themselves how to descend objects backward.

Litter box troubles

Disabled cats will typically find the use of litter boxes challenging, but this depends on the severity of the condition. A large litter box with a wide opening and lowered sides might prove easiest to use, but since each cat is unique, you will likely have to experiment before finding something that works.

Going outdoors

Unless you have a fenced-off yard or an outdoor cat tent, you can not let your cat go outside unsupervised. The nature of this complication makes it very difficult for them to survive outdoors, so you will have to come to terms with the fact that this kitty will always remain an indoor cat.

We recommend providing plenty of indoor stimulation; play games with your cat, make frequent time for cuddles, and perhaps try to find a few toys your cat likes (or make some yourself). Cats with RH can be perfectly happy indoors, as long as you provide them with enough challenge and fun.

How to care for a cat with Radial or Femoral Hypoplasia

Caring for a disabled cat is a bit more involved, but also very rewarding. Here are a few tips to help your kitty get through life:

  • Rough surfaces like rugs and carpets will make walking a little easier because they provide traction. Hard-wood floors make things more difficult.
  • Build ramps to things like feeding bowls and litter boxes to make them more accessible
  • If you want accurate medical advice, you may have to search for a veterinarian who knows about RH and FH. These conditions are very rare, and most vets do not have much knowledge of the topic. You may even want to consult multiple specialists, including an orthopedic.
  • Inspect the legs at least once a week for any signs of trauma.
  • If you own multiple cats, be sure to keep an eye out for signs of dominance and other inter-cat dynamics. Cats that live together tend to form a hierarchy, where the weakest get pushed around by the most dominant ones.
  • If you live in a building with multiple floors, make sure to prevent access to stairs, as they are bound to get your cat in trouble.
  • If you see your cat venturing into high places, gently lift them up and put them down to prevent them from jumping off.
  • When your cat regularly visits high places, place a few cushions or blankets on the floor to soften their fall.
  • Neuter your cat to make sure the genes are not passed on to offspring. RH and FH can get worse from one generation to the next.
  • Instead of a vertical scratch tree, try to place smaller scratchable items on the floor or walls.

Find support

Radial Hypoplasia and Femoral Hypoplasia are such rare conditions that you probably will not find much recognition among regular cat owners. Thankfully, there are some places on the internet where you can meet fellow owners and find support.

Sources:
https://americanpetsalive.org/uploads/resources/Austin-Pets-Alive-Twisty-Cat-FAQ-52F6.pdf
https://catwoodsporchparty.wordpress.com/2014/08/04/our-cat-with-feline-radial-hypoplasia/

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes Radial Hypoplasia in cats?

RH is a hereditary trait that is present from birth. A faulty gene related to polydactylism disrupts the
development of the paws, leading to unnatural twists and shortened legs. The toes may also look unnatural.

Does it hurt?

No, the condition is not painful in itself, but certain complications as a result of the deformities may lead to stress.

What is the difference between Radial and Femoral Hypoplasia?

RH is the name for deformed front legs (also known as twisty legs), while femoral hypoplasia is a deformity in the hind legs.

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