Update on Kittens Born with Twisted Legs

Published August 2002


Over a year ago, PandEcats.com published an article titled "Born with a Twisted Leg".

Since we are now officially into the "kittening" season, I thought this would be a good time to share with you the response PandEcats.com has had to this article.

  • Since the article was first published, I have received 137 emails from breeders who have had kittens born with this condition.
  • I have corresponded with each of these breeders - and every kitten has grown up to be a perfectly normal adult.
  • The breeds involved included Korats, Persian, Exotics, Bengals, American Shorthair, Burmese, Bengal, Orientals, Pixie Bob, Turkish Van, Somali and mixed breed cats.
  • I received emails from breeders who had kittens born with twisted legs who lived in Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, Finland, Germany, France, Hong Kong, Great Britain, Lithuania, Belgium, Italy, South Africa, Israel and Russia.
  • Approximately 1/4 of the breeders who contacted me had veterinarians who had examined the kittens and advised putting the kitten down as the vets thought what they were looking at was a permanent deformity. In several cases, the kittens were needlessly euthanized.
So... let's all print out the article below and pass it along to our veterinarians and fellow breeders, so that no baby will be mistakenly put to sleep just because it is...

Born with a Twisted Leg

It was the spring of 1997 and I was on tenterhooks waiting for my first litter of Persian kittens. I had leased an older experienced queen who had gently initiated my virgin stud into the complexities of feline procreation. The nine weeks of her pregnancy were almost over. Now all I had to do was wait for the birth.

She started to have contractions in the middle of the night of her 65th day, had an easy delivery of her first kitten, and about an hour later delivered her second baby. As I removed the kitten from the sac and dried it off, I didn't at first notice anything was wrong. It was only as the newborns were snuggling up to their momma's side that I saw that the second kitten had something dreadfully wrong with his hind legs. Both legs were twisted across one another - almost like the kitten was sitting in a yoga position.

Words cannot describe the cold tightening I felt in my chest as I looked at that tiny newborn kitten with the deformed legs. Was it a monster? I was in tears.

I was in my car outside my vet's office before they opened the following morning. I took mom and her 2 babies in to be examined. My vet had never seen anything like it. We discussed euthanasia. My heart was breaking. After a lot of discussion, we decided to wait a little bit and see how the kitten developed. The affected kitten was nursing well although it required some help crawling to its mother's side since it couldn't push with its hind legs at all. I applied warm compresses, performed stretching exercises and some amateur physical therapy.

Well... eventually this kitten developed into a perfectly normal cat. You would never know that there had been a problem.

I have since discovered that all breeds of cats can have a kitten born with malformed front or hindlegs... and they eventually straighten out and become perfectly normal.

  • The Appearance The condition can affect the front or hind legs/feet, and can vary from curled under paws, to hyper-extended stiff legs, to a yoga position to actually appearing to have the hind legs have been put on backwards.
  • The Cause While the actual cause is not known, the most likely reason for the twisting is simply the way the kitten was laying and growing within the birth sac. If the kitten is crowded or the legs happen to be placed awkwardly as they grow, they become twisted, with some contracting of tendons and ligaments. The condition may be on one side (unilateral) or both sides (bilateral). If bilateral, the condition may be mild on one side and more severe on the other. It can happens in any breed. It is not genetic, and just because it happens to the kittens of a queen once, that makes it no more likely to happen again in a future litter than with any other queen.
  • The Cure Time is the greatest cure. Depending on the condition, you may want to apply massage, warm compresses, stretching, physical therapy, or splinting.

But a picture is worth a thousand words... so let's look at three typical case histories of kittens born with malformed legs.

    1. a Bengal kitten with curled paws and stiff hindlegs
    2. an Ocicat kitten with one hind leg mildly affected and the other severely affected
    3. a Korat kitten with severe bilateral tendon contracture

Case History # 1: Bengal Kitten
photos courtesy of Tracy Painter, DFRBengals

(above) The Bengal kitten was born with both hind legs that were stiff and
unbending and with the back paws curled severely under.

(above) By 5 weeks of age the paws and hind legs appear almost normal
(below) At 2 months, the kitten now named "DFRBengals Asian Twister"
can look forward to a successful show career.

Case History # 2: Ocicat Kitten
photos courtesy of Rich and Stephanie Schlossberg

(above) This kitten was born with the left leg mildly affected
and the right leg quite severely mis-formed.
(below) By 8 days the left leg has corrected entirely
and the right leg was almost normal

Case History # 3: Korat Kitten
photos courtesy of Dr. Susan Little,
Carine Risberg & John Ypma, Klahz Korats and Tonkinese

(above) This newborn Korat has severe contracture of both hind limbs
resulting in the "lotus position" often seen with the bilateral condition.
(below) Steady improvement resulted in a adult with perfectly normal legs.

As you can see, if you have a kitten born with this problem, there is no need to panic. The chances are good that the kitten will totally outgrow the condition. Just give it a little time. And a little love.

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