Little Buddy, flattered by green
Little Buddy, our cat with radial hypoplasia (RH), travels close to the floor. He is nearing 19 years of age.
In 1995, my late Mom found a stray cat, along with her two kittens, living in her shed. This tuxie momcat had an elegant face with a white stripe down her nose. Her extra toes put her over the typical feline toe count, making her a polydactyl. One kitten, a tabby, had regular feet. The other kitty had radial hypoplasia, a condition in which the radial bones fail to generate, resulting in bent forelegs. Also known as agenesis radius, most of the literature indicates it’s a rare expression of the polydactyl gene. These cats usually learn to walk on their elbows, crouched, with a rocking and crablike gait. Mom had the momcat spayed, and later found good homes for this sweet cat and her typically-footed kitten. Mom was told the RH kitty was less likely to be adopted. So when she’d walked into the house carrying him, setting him down carefully, he was with us for keeps. Little Buddy proceeded to captivate us all with those big gold eyes. He became a master snuggler.
Little Buddy was examined by two vets; Mom took him out of town to see a veterinary orthopedic specialist who had an interest in doing surgery on RH cats to straighten the bent front legs. The consensus of vet opinion was that Little Buddy was not in pain and had sufficient mobility as he was, therefore surgery was an unnecessary risk. Now that there are more radial hypoplasia kitties being cared for in homes you’ll see some pet parents who opt for surgery, and some who don’t. I’m not saying one approach is better than another. Every case is different, and RH cats should always be examined by a number of veterinarians. If the first vet seems really quick to recommend euthanasia on the basis of the condition alone, without in-depth evaluation, insist on gathering other opinions.
Sleeping next to The Budster
Little Buddy is also polydactyl, with six toes on each hind foot. His wide back paws and long hind legs are very strong and help compensate for his lower functioning front legs. As a young cat, he was bold, adventurous, and skilled at climbing and jumping. We kept finding him reclining on top of the refrigerator. To get there he had to leap up shelf by rack until he was on a high enough plateau to jump over to the fridgetop. We tried to always lift him down from any high place, to prevent him from making the hard landings RH cats can have if they jump down themselves. He moved with astonishing speed, especially when he was on a fast-waddle dash out the door, into the wild green yonder. Who knew he’d be quicker than we were? Once out, he’d hesitate long enough for one of us to grab him and bring him inside. He had no concept of being limited. He was the picture of “bright eyed and bushy-tailed” with his gold irises and floofy black fur. Mom had her house carpeted throughout to give him walking and running traction. He was more active than any of her other cats!
Hind foot with toes galore!
This links to an essay about black cats featuring more photos of Little Buddy:
The literature indicates that radial hypoplasia appears to be associated with polydactyl genes, although other causes noted are in utero events, such as mineral deficiencies. http://www.vetbook.org/wiki/cat/index.php/Radial_agenesis.
RH cats are also known as ‘squittens’, and ‘twisty cats'; they are now being adopted by caregivers who make social media pages for them, and write articles supportive of these cats. But there’s also a boatload of misunderstanding about them. Negative comments have turned up, including speculation that RH cats exist in the stray and feral population due to escapees from breeding programs. In my opinion that’s false. To the best of my knowledge there may have been one breeding episode in the past, but searches of Internet and general media do not turn up any breeding programs currently ongoing. I don’t say this to argue with anyone, but to establish a comforting truth. I personally believe that RH cats turn up naturally in randomly breeding feline populations. Little Buddy is an example of such a cat. His tabby sister had typical legs and feet. His polydactyl momcat and his own feet may be evidence of the association with polydactylism. This trait was noted to occur at a rate of less than ten percent of cats in most areas by Stephen Budiansky (The Character of Cats: the Origins, Intelligence, Behavior, and Stratagems of Felis Silvestris Catus, p. 53). It’s more common in or near seacoast areas, because polydactyls were favored for ships’ cats. There are also photos on social media of RH kitties’ hind feet that look like our cat’s, with six or more toes. Over the years two more RH kittens have turned up locally. Both were homed; there are no doubt others I haven’t heard tell of. In those cases and some described on the Internet, the RH kittens’ siblings had routine leg formations.
There is no frequency data that I can find at this time, but we see RH cats mentioned more often these days. I believe this is because many humans have become more educated, more active and more caring regarding animals. RH cats may not survive in the wild; as neonates, they may have difficulty milk treading, and if they survive that stage they may not be able to defend themselves in the outdoors. More people doing TNR means more of these kittens are discovered, raised, and homed along with their littermates. Another factor is that RH cats found in previous years may have been euthanized immediately by persons who thought they could not have normal lives. Both those factors, lack of survival in the wild plus early ‘euthanasia’ of those who did survive, would blur the true rate of random occurrence in nature. Now we know that the less severely affected cats like Little Buddy can have great lives with a committed caregiver. Sadly, some kill shelters likely still label these cats and kittens “unadoptable”, kill them immediately and never give them a chance to be adopted. Not only would that also obscure the real number of RH cats born, it’s just not necessary because these cats are adoptable. RH cats are a very small subset of the polydactyl population, but I see so many social media pages now devoted to them, in both the US and UK, that I expect they turn up more frequently than is generally known. I personally think that NO healthy or treatable animals should be killed; I also think the RH cats and other special needs animals should not be killed.
Certainly no one should be breeding cats for this trait; but those RH cats who already exist can be cared for. We’ve managed with Little Buddy for nearly 19 years. There are people out there who will adopt them and provide special care.
Tips on how to care for an RH cat:
- Get a number of veterinary opinions about your cat and his/her chances of living a pain-free life. It’s best to include an orthopedic specialist. Part of the orthopedics determination about Little Buddy was made through observing his walk. I would suggest that observing your cat’s demeanor while he/she walks is important, too.
- RH cats can’t be outdoor cats, or even indoor-outdoor. They can only go out in the company of a human and with close supervision, and only if there is access to a completely safe area such as a fenced-in yard.
- Watch their forelegs carefully for any signs of sores and abrasions. If this occurs, protective covering can be fashioned. Although skin toughens up as a kitten becomes an adult, it’s best to keep up inspections. Any covering will have to be changed frequently and the limb checked to see that the garment itself doesn’t cause abrasion.
- Lift the kitties down when they get into high places, whenever you see them. Making a carpeted ramp can help for high spots the cat might insist on reaching frequently. Or, make a cushioned floor area near those enticing summits, since there will be mountain climbing when humans are absent. Access to high places can be also be avoided by re-arranging the furnishings the cats use as “steps” to climb to high places.
- If you live on more than one level, prevent access to stairs with barriers that RH cats cannot breach.
- Tend the litterbox(es) often because RH cats may not be as agile about avoiding whatever is already in the box. You’d want to do this anyway.
- A larger than usual litterbox is helpful for RH cats; it also helps if the box has low sides.
- Rugs and carpets will help provide traction for walking. That said, when we had to urgently transport Mom’s cats to our home because of a tornado, Little Buddy scampered easily on the uncarpeted surfaces. Your RH cat’s results may differ. It’s all about finding what works for your individual kitty.
- Little Buddy is a sturdy character who kept the upper paw in both our multi-cat households. Nevertheless, having an RH cat in a multi-cat household means staying alert to inter-cat dynamics.
- Be extra careful about stepping around in the house yourself, in case the cat is underfoot. We cat caregivers do this anyway, but with an RH cat, it’s even more important.
Awaiting dinner, notice my long sweeping whiskers!
Little Buddy has lived a normal cat life, and he’s been beautiful and contented. As an elderly cat, he has now moved into the phase of life in which he has the same ailments as other older kitties. His in-depth story is part of my upcoming book and I hadn’t intended to excerpt part of it for this blog. However, seeing an increase in the numbers of radial hypoplasia cats on the web caused me to post these experiences. I wanted to get the message out there for all those individuals and animal advocates who may find RH cats like Little Buddy: this condition is manageable, and these cats can do just fine in homes with humans who accommodate their special needs. Like all cats, with the right care and understanding, they make sweet and loving companions. Little Buddy is a glorious pet!