In 2000, PandEcats.com first published an article title, Born With A Twisted Leg . The article discussed a condition that can affect the front or hind legs/feet of newborn kittens, making them appear deformed at birth. The twisting of the legs can vary from paws that are slightly curled under, to hyper-extended stiff legs, to legs bent into a yoga position to the severest condition where it may actually appear like the back legs have been put on backwards. The condition was due to contracted tendons, most likely a result of positioning or crowding in the uterus.
Tendons run down the leg onto the foot. Usually there are opposing tendons and they contract or expand as needed. If the leg or foot is awkwardly placed while the kitten is confined in its amniotic sac, the tendon on one side of the leg may grow shorter than normally and its partner on the other side grows longer. This abnormal inequality leads to a twisting of the leg to various degrees.
When we first published the article about twisted legs the response was beyond our expectations. We began to receive reports and photos of kittens born with twisted legs from around the globe. Kittens were born this way in all breeds - from show cats to feral cats - and were born in small litters and huge litters. We were amazed.
We decided to follow the progress of individual cases. This led to several follow-up articles:
- Update On Kittens Born With Twisted Legs
- Bracing Twisted Hindlegs
- Contracted Tendons of the Front Legs
With a wide variety of individual cases observed and a broader perspective, I have some observations and suggestions to make regarding the general care of a kitten born with this affliction.
Care of the Newborn With Twisted Legs
- If you have a kitten born with twisted legs, don't panic.
- The first thing to do is make sure the kitten can push or pull itself into position to nurse. Occasionally the twisted legs prevent a kitten from competing with its littermates to reach and attach to the mother's nipple. If the kitten is having problems feeding, you may need to hold the kitten in position so it can nurse without being pushed aside by its littermates.
- Once you know the kitten is nursing well, you can turn your attention to helping the leg "untwist". You are going to give the kitten physiotherapy :-)
- Begin by warming the affected limb. Warming helps prepare the shortened tendon to be stretched, in the same way warmth helps sore muscles. There are several ways of warming the leg. You can apply a heating pad. You can use a warm compress by heating a moistened cloth in the microwave and wrapping it around the leg. This will lose heat fairly quickly so have a second cloth ready and keep replacing it with a warm one. You can even emerse the leg into water as hot as you can stand it. Or use your hair dryer to direct warm air on the leg.
- Heating the limb is in preparation to massage and stretch it into the normal position.
- Once the leg has been warmed, begin a gentle massage up and down its length. As you massage, you can also carefully begin to stretch it towards a normal position. The stretch is the most important part of the therapy.
- At first, you will probably not be able to bring the leg completely into the correct position. Try to stretch the contracted tendon a little bit at a time. At the same time as the shortened tendon stretches, the tendon on the other side which is too long will have the opportunity to contract back. Gradually as the tendons come back into a more equal relationship with one another, the leg should also come into a normal position.
- The more often you perform the warming-massage-stretch routine, the faster the kitten is likely to correct. Conduct the physiotherapy at least 3 times a day. Up to 10 times or more a day is preferred.
- Once the legs seem to be in a normal position, you can help build strength in them. If dealing with the hind legs, hold the kitten up under its front legs and try to get it to "stand" on its hind legs. Bounce it slightly so it tries to use the hind legs, strengthening them. If it is the front legs that need strengthening, reverse the technique so it is standing on its "hands". Do not use these strengthening exercises if the legs cannot support the weight without twisting again.
- You should be seeing weekly improvement following the warming-massaging-stretching routine.
- If you don't see improvement, you may need to consider bracing the legs.
Bracing Front Legs
Bracing front legs is usually necessary if the twisted leg tends to collapse when weight is put on it. If the leg collapses, the tendons never have the opportunity to recover. The contracted one remains too short. The long one remains too long.
Apply bracing as needed - usually from above to below where the twisting is occurring. Bracing forces the leg into the correct position and supports it in that position while the tendons have the opportunity to grow normally.
Bracing Hind Legs
Bracing hind legs is a bit more complicated than front legs, but thankfully is required less often.
Besides bracing the hind legs into position, they often have to be connected to one another or the kitten will either splay them out at an unnatural angle or drag them.
When bracing hind legs, be sure that the stifle (knee) is left free to move if possible.
- Most kittens born with twisted legs self correct by the time they are starting to walk - about 5 weeks of age.
- If the kitten starts to stand and walk and the twisted leg is too weak to support the kitten properly, it will need to be braced . It cannot self correct if it cannot support the weight of the kitten.
- Twisted front legs need bracing more often than twisted hind legs.
- If the kitten needs to have the legs braced, do not delay. The longer you delay, the longer the leg will need to be braced and the less the chance of 100% success.
- Kittens grow VERY fast so bracing will need to be replaced almost daily or it will become too tight. A sign of being too tight is swelling in the toes meaning circulation is being cut off.
- The best bracing materials depend on your kitten and its problem. Tongue depressors, metal finger splints or Velcro vet wrap are a few good options.
Most veterinarians are not familiar with a kitten being born with twisted legs. If the owner takes a kitten born this way to a veterinarian, it is not unusual for the veterinarian to assume the kitten will be permanently deformed and recommend euthanasia. Please tell your vet about this condition and that is usually corrects on its own. By simply informing your vet about this problem, you may be saving a kitten's life!