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How to Help Amputee Cats Walking Backwards

If your amputee cat walks backwards after surgery and looks distressed while doing it, try not to panic. We’ve seen this happen with a few Tripawd cat members. Take a deep breath and read on. Here’s what you need to know to discuss this amputation side-effect with your veterinarian.

Is Your Amputee Cat Walking Backwards During Surgery Recovery?

Tripawd cats and dogs have similar recoveries. Most will get their sparkle back in about two weeks. But occasionally, a new Tripawds member will join us to ask why their amputee cat suddenly started walking backwards during recovery.

“ My concern is that just days after surgery Darwin would have these episodes of walking backwards. He’d lift his stump in the air, sometimes cry out and seemed disoriented for a moment or two. Then he’d recover and all was well. These episodes increased for a time then almost went away completely.” – Cat Post-Amputation Strange Behavior

The backwards walk is an unusual amputation side-effect that sets Tripawd cats apart from dogs. Suddenly from out of nowhere, a new Tripawd cat will literally start walking or scooching backwards. They often flop and squirm on the floor and appear distressed. This is what it looks like:

For some reason, we have only seen this amputation recovery problem happen with rear-leg amputee cats, and never with dogs. This behavior looks scary and can come on suddenly, but usually it starts right after coming home from surgery. 

“I’m so thankful to have found this thread. I’m feeling so stressed and scared for my cat Marcel. I really hope some of you like Tracie121 are still here to offer advice.

My Marcel is having these same episodes! His can be very violent. He had a rear amputation 6 weeks ago. About 3 weeks ago after a second surgery to remove infection he started this backwards jolting, walking. He actually flips up, falls all over the place and looks like he could break his neck sometimes. The vets have nothing to offer me! Nothing! I’m so frustrated and feel so alone.” – Cat Displaying Strange Behavior After Amputation

What Causes Tripawd Cats to Walk Like This?

We wish we knew! Unfortunately, even vets are at a loss about what causes backward walking in amputee cats. Members have reported that their vet believed that the cat’s hind muscles are having spasms, but no clear causes have been pinpointed. 

If this is happening to your new Tripawd, ask your vet to prescribe the nerve-calming drug Gabapentin to see if it helps. Usually it does, but you’ll need to take a ‘wait and see’ approach. All cats are different.

My kitty did the same and it does pass. It was like a panic attack for her and very scary for me. She’d flip and couldn’t seem to catch her balance. Be supportive and gentle words. Before you know it she will be back to herself. — Nylarose

Most Tripawds members report that their cat stops walking backwards after a week or two, but sometimes longer.

The waiting is hard, but do your best to keep calm. Remember, other cats and their humans have experienced the backward walking phenomena too. 

No more backwards walking! It lasted for three months. We understood this to be severe nerve pain that requires time to heal. Every cat is different and some get severe nerve pain causing this odd walking backwards behavior. When I reached out to several other fur parents at that time to find out how long this might last one had said her cat had this backwards walking for three months and the other six. This at least gave us, first of all, hope and some point of reference how long it might last. Before we knew this, we didn’t know if it was going to last forever or there was hope there was a point it would go away. Reaching out to these two people was the greatest thing we could have done. During the three months, we gave her Gabapentin and as the episodes became less frequent we began reducing her dose and then completely got her off it.

Most of all, Harley got lots of LOVE, HUGS and KISSES sp_hearticon2! — @Rosalie

Need More Tripawd Cat Recovery Help?

If you are not seeing progress and your vet doesn’t know what to do, get a second opinion from a good veterinary pain management expert.

The International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management Directory is a good place to locate a pain management expert. The website is clunky, but you should be able to locate a vet who can help.

Veterinary Cat Pain Experts
Click to find a cat pain specialist.

We also recommend working with a Cat Friendly Practice®. These vets take a special interest in cats, and know to reduce vet visit stress for them, their caregivers and their veterinary team. To learn more about these special vets, download this brochure, What to look for in a cat-friendly practice

Cat Friendly Practice Directory
Click to find vets who understand cat amputee pain better than most!

You can also look for an animal rehabilitation therapist to help assess your cat for the underlying issue. The Tripawds Foundation may even pay for your first rehab visit!

feline amputation rehabilitation therapy

 If your Tripawd cat had a similar experience, please tell us more in the comments below. Your story may bring peace of mind to a new member who is worried for their new kitty.

It was hard to watch but we started to realize certain things triggered them. A big stretch would almost always trigger it as he finished stretching. And anytime it would begin, we would repeat in a calm voice until it ended, “It’s ok, you’re ok, it’s, you’re ok” and then reassure and love on him after. We kept him in a bathroom most of the time so there was really nothing he could injury himself on during and episode. Today, he’s a totally different cat, no episodes, he runs, climbs to the top of a 6 foot cat tree, etc. — Lego’s Momma, Bryanna

Recommended Reading

Cool Tips for Tripawd Cats book
Learn how to help a new amputee cat.

14 thoughts on “How to Help Amputee Cats Walking Backwards”

  1. I just want to say thank you for this site. My cat got feline injection site sarcoma at just 4 years old and I had to get her leg amputated. It was very devastating for me, especially with the potential of recurrence. I’m happy to say that she had clean margins and should be cancer free for good! But it’s hard to watch her struggle to adjust. She started walking backwards and whining about 2 weeks after surgery and I’ve been so worried it will be a chronic issue. This site gives me hope and has helped me to navigate caring for her the best I can. Thank you to everyone who posts in the forum and to the people that created this site!

    Reply
  2. I adopted my tripawd at 12 weeks old and was told by the rescue that he was most likely born with his 3 legged condition. He is now about 6 months old and has started doing the backwards walk/wobble. It looks very similar to the video posted. I guess I’m just curious if anyone else has had a kitty BORN with 3 legs as opposed to amputated that display this behavior?

    Reply
    • Hi Corina, welcome. Please consider posting in our Three Legged Cats Forum so you can get more feedback. If the rescue isn’t sure about how he lost his leg, anything is possible as far as how it will affect him now. Regardless he still sounds like he has some pain going on that needs to be addressed. For many young amputees who are just learning motor skills and coordination, the body takes a real beating as they figure things out. Please let your vet know as soon as possible so you can help him feel better.

      Reply
  3. I adopted a young (6-9 month-old?) cat about 5 weeks post surgery for hind leg amputation due to trauma (cause of trauma unknown-she was a stray). The foster family said she had some “episodes” but they gave her Gabapentin “about half the dose the vet prescribed, and only when she needs it”. When I picked her up, they said she hadn’t had any episodes for a couple days.
    Got her home, and she started to have multiple episodes of scooting backwards, crying, thrashing and flipping/rolling around. It was scary and heartbreaking to watch. My previous cat had had a seizure towards the end of his life, about six months before I adopted the new kitty, so it was extra tough to watch because it reminded me of watching him and being unable to do anything. She didn’t have the wide open, strained jaw or hugely dilated pupils (although her eyes did dilate some during an episode) or loss of bladder control like my kitty who had the seizure.
    I worked with the adoption agency vet to get more Gabapentin and figure out dosage, and also took her in for daytime observation (nothing happened while she was there, of course!) because these episodes were happening several times per day and had been going on for a couple weeks, even after doing the Gabapentin. The vet just kept saying, “I’m not sure why it’s still happening. I think it’s phantom limb. She should be recovered from the surgery by 6-8 weeks.” We thought there might be brain damage from whatever caused the injury to her leg, or maybe it was psychosomatic by that point.
    It was stressful for us humans and for her, just like everyone else has said. I would talk in a calm voice, sometimes offer a treat to try and distract her, and make sure she didn’t bump into anything. Once I discovered she would eat her wet food with the Gabapentin in the food, it was much easier to get her dosage in her instead of struggling to do liquid medicine orally. She still wasn’t trusting and didn’t want to be wrangled into position to take medicine.
    Eventually, I think the Gabapentin helped her relax enough that the episodes decreased. I veeery slowly decreased her Gabapentin over the course of about two months. Altogether, she was on meds for about 4 months.
    I did search the internet for similar instances, and didn’t find much. I’m not sure how I missed this page. It would have been really helpful at the time.
    She doesn’t have the episodes like I described above anymore, but she still will move very stiffly after getting up from a longer nap, and she doesn’t like to be held or have the amputation site touched.
    I’m grateful she got through those times, and for anyone else who is going through this, my heart goes out to you. If the vet says, “This shouldn’t be happening so long after surgery” get a second opinion.

    Reply
    • Natalie, THANK YOU for sharing your cat’s story. We are thrilled that she is better now, you are pawesome for not giving up! Yes, her story will indeed help others. Please consider contacting us with some photos and we will be glad to spotlight her in our Tripawds News blog.

      Reply
  4. Hello all – I took my cat to the vets as stated in my pervious post re appointment made from reading others experiences and videos that matched my Jimmy behaviour of walking backwards and going backwards up the walls crying. The vet prescribed Gabapentin x2 a day to which I’ve now got down to x1 a day but noticed he’s started to show the abnormal behaviour again. I will talk to the vet about increasing it again, but my question is, his back left leg was removed early December 2020 now going into April 2021, is this normal for him to still be walking backwards and without taking the Gabapentin x2 a day ? I’ve read nerve healing can take up to x3 months but I’m almost into x4 since his operation and getting worried he maybe on meds for Life. Feeling sad I’ve had to put my boy through all of this. I know cancer of leg unavoidable but sad none the less to watch him in pain

    Reply
  5. Thank you so much for your own experiences and advice. My cat started to walk backwards and flip after a back leg removal December 2020. Feel so help less when it happens. I’ve booked an appointment with the vet and have a video of the events but less panicked now read others experiences. THANK YOU

    Reply
  6. I have a 8 months cat that was amputated at 5 months old. Recently he started randomly walking backwards. I don’t know if this is normal..

    Reply
  7. My cat just had back leg amputation 3 days ago, and this started happening today. I really hope it will go away soon. Anyone else had this? How long did it last? any tips?

    Reply

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