Don’t give up on a paralyzed cat – Physiotherapy saved our cat

We adopted Aizo almost two years ago. She was a street cat and I have no idea what she was doing in the early years of her life. She probably didn’t have a lot of contact with humans – or if she did, that contact wasn’t great because she was extremely timid when we first got her. Now we have her trust, but she still hisses at almost any new person she meets. She warms up to people very slowly. Aizo means ‘Be strong’ in Amharic.

Charaka was born in September last year. The litter she was a part of would be Aizo’s last – she was spayed later that year, under the mango trees, without any proper medical facilities (that’s another story). Charaka was one of three kittens. The other two died within a week, fading kitten syndrome, I guess, just not eating well enough and then one day those little creatures were lifeless.

Charaka grew strong. She ate well and played a lot. Then something happened. When she was about three months old, we found her in her usual spot on a blanket on the floor, but she wasn’t able to move. When we tried to lift her up and make her walk, she just collapsed and stared at the wall, somehow depressed, even lethargic. We panicked. It seemed she had lost her ability to walk.

The veterinary services in Ethiopia are not up to the standard I am used to receiving them in my home country. There are a few veterinarians who make home stops but their schedule is also tight and help doesn’t come immediately. My biggest concern was that should something happen, something really severe, and the cat would be suffering a lot, how would we put her down gently? Even anesthesia medicine is difficult to find here.

I didn’t expect the situation to get much better. Charaka wasn’t moving and didn’t show improvement. However, we got hold of our local veterinarian who said he had heard and seen how paralyzed or semi-paralyzed cats got better with physiotherapy. He urged us to give it a try but also warned us that this was something that needed commitment. Three therapy sessions a day.

Physiotherapy for cats? You are probably laughing right now. So were many people here. Better just to put the cat down, they said.

But we chose to try. So starting from those days, we had daily exercise sessions with Charaka. She was lying in my lap on her back and I would stretch her front and hind legs, make cat lunges, butterfly movements and various other things. She always enjoyed those sessions. She closed her eyes and sometimes even purred. This we continued for a long time. We didn’t see any immediate results. She was mainly lying on her blanket all day long except for those sessions. We had to bring her food and even help her relieve herself in the toilet. This was round the clock care for the little kitten (and luckily we had some helpers here in our home)!

But patience was rewarded. In January she started taking baby steps again. It looked so funny, I wish I had a video to show you. It was as if she was learning to walk again from scratch, and I guess that’s exactly what she had to do. But little by little it got better. She could get to the toilet and food bowl by herself. She could jump to the sofa if she could first grab the blanket on the sofa with her claws (her shoulder muscles got strongest first during the therapy).

To this day I am not sure what got to her initially. We have heard similar stories of paralyzed cats in this town – maybe a genetic failure? But cat paralysis can even be caused by some trauma, an accident or falling from a high place.

Although Charaka was showing signs of improvement, we continued with the physiotherapy. And we continued with another bonus number. It was our tradition that after the session I put on Jump by Pointer Sister (don’t ask why!) and held Charaka in my lap, her cheek pressed against mine. We would dance like this for minutes. Yes, she means a lot to me.

Then came more improvements. She could jump and do all kinds of kitty catty activities. By late February we were beginning to feel sure that she had got her head above the water. She had made it!

And all this with the simple act of physiotherapy! Without getting that tip from the veterinarian I would probably have given up. I wasn’t experienced in cat rehabilitation. Today I recommend it anyone who is in a similar situation. Now we have a Charaka who is a sturdy, playful 10 months old cat with a very strong bond to her owners (and vice versa).

I sometimes dream about setting up some sort of animal rescue place here in Bahir Dar (and yes, I know, I am probably the 1000th foreigner to come up with this idea). This place desperately needs a proper veterinary clinic and a place for animals to obtain operations and proper care. Sterilizations are needed and vaccinations are needed. There are so many street animals here.

I don’t understand how people can be unkind or cruel to living beings, may it be cats, dogs, other humans, cows or donkeys, dolphins, birds. If we valued every living creature as a sentient being, this world would be a better place. Animals are good teachers.

I realize some people can argue that it is easy for us from rich countries to be loving to pet animals since we are already doing well in our daily life and our basic needs are fulfilled. I have to say I strongly disagree. Circumstances shouldn’t prevent us from trying to feel empathy towards living beings. And that argument fails also because there are people in rich countries who treat animals like shit. State of mind, is all it is. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ll go and spend some time with Aizo and Charaka.

Charaka is a little baby here.


This was around the time when Charaka stopped walking. She collapsed every time she tried to get up.


Physiotherapy sessions.


When she couldn’t move by herself, we included her in our activities just to lift her spirit. We are baking here, haha!
Aizo is spayed.


22 thoughts on “Don’t give up on a paralyzed cat – Physiotherapy saved our cat

  1. The way you wrote this lovely story with a happy ending, in so great details, it shows the immense love you feel for your pets. It gave us a way, to us reading it, as if we were there phisically, or if we were watching it in a documentary on TV. I know how difficult it was to take care properly of domestic and non pets when they were sick and how difficult it was to get hold of a veterinary, that in many cases wasn’t showing up at the appointments because of a urgent meeting somewhere. But I also know that if in the first instant if we share love and make it feels in some way to our pets, it will give them some kind of relief.
    I miss my dogs.

    1. I am also so happy that this had a happy ending. It was such a learning experience for me, I didn’t know physiotherapy could have such an effect. Animals are the best!

  2. This dedication to caring for a kitty just confirms what a wonderful Mama you will be to your own baby. God gave us dominion over all the animals and we should cherish every one of them. You are a loving woman!

  3. Thank you for your blog post. My boyfriend found a most amazing 6-month old stray kitten, with a strong will to live despite having both hind legs immobile. The vet told us she most likely hit by a car. After reading your post, and other scientific studies about cat physiotherapy, we hope to rehabilitate Katy the kitten. We also read about the ability for cats to repair their nervous system which is incredible, albeit very slowly.

    This give us tremendous hope. Thanks you for sharing.can you explain what specific movements you used, how many times a day, and how long each time? Hope you, Aizo, and charaka are doing well!

    Houston, Texas

    1. Hi Amanda, I am so happy you found my blog post and that it gave you hope. How is your little kitten doing? First of all, you are in a very good place to rehabilitate her since you are living in a country with wonderful veterinary services available. Hang in there. It is not easy, it is time-consuming and hard but can be very rewarding. Our Charaka is a playful, happy kitten and doing very well! However, her muscles will probably never fully function, for example she can not jump to very high places. But otherwise you wouldn’t be able to tell she was once paralysed. About the movements: I wish I had taken some videos.. we did those exercises at least 3 times a day and usually for a maximum of 10 minutes. We’d sit on the couch or a chair and Charaka would lie on our thighs. We’d gently pull her front legs upwards and bend down again, then repeat the same for the hind legs. We’d make “butterfly” movements with her front legs (you know the butterfly swimming style? A bit like that). And then boxing movements with both her front and hind legs. Also just pulling the legs upwards and holding them flexed for a while. After a while, you notice how the muscles get stronger. It is good to be gentle but also not too gentle, this is exercise after all. Usually Charaka loved these sessions. We would repeat a mantra during this exercise: “This is Charaka’s own time” (sounds very silly) but I think she got used to that sentence and knew what was coming when we said that out loud.
      Good luck! You are great people for trying to help this little kitten, she is very lucky.
      Let me know if you need any more tips.
      – Laura

  4. kitten just now can’t even move her front legs. Her neck also a bit hard to move. This is so sudden. She didn’t eat well since yeaterday and this morning i woke up and saw her just lying and can’t move like she used to.

  5. Hi Laura found your story while Googling physio for kittens. I am foster carer for a rescue group. I look after the tiny baby kittens that need round the clock feeding. I have a beautiful il girl Dusty who was a strong healthy kitten til she climbed up the back of the kitten igllo which fell backward with her. She had trouble walking after that vet did xray found nothing wrong so think it was swelling on spine. She is just finishing a course of steroids without any change. She can’t walk or stand but has full control of her bowels can pull herself in out litter tray.She gets round by rolling or dragging herself round. She is in no pain & plays with my other cat Gucci. Vet said if it nerve damage can take up to 6 mths to repair itself. I am going to try some physio on her it can’t help if nothing else will keep the legs moving & muscle from wasting away. Thanks for your story it really gives me hope for my beautiful girl Oh & yes I have adopted her 🙂

    1. Hi Wendy, I am so happy you found my blog post! At the time when my cat needed physiotherapy I was so desperate, I was searching online for any tips or similar experiences. Our cat is doing really well now and living a nice life 🙂 I hope your kitten will recover, she is so lucky to have been adopted by you. Best of luck!

  6. Hello,

    I’m glad to hear your story!

    My cat is going throught a similar situation. Half his leg is paralized but there is improvement.
    I try to train him as much as possible and I’d like to know if you could post videos of the training you would practice on your cat for me to try them

    It would really be appreciated 🙂


    1. Hi Katerina, best of luck with your cat, I hope he will be better. Be patient! Unfortunately I don’t have videos, and now it is too difficult to film them because the cat is recovered and doesn’t like to stay in that kind of physiotherapy position. Think of swimming movements, such as the butterfly, you can do it!!

  7. Thank you Laura and all the others that share their stories. It is nice to read about people who care enough about their pets to help them through difficult trauma. I have rescued 10 of 12 cats in the past 10 years in my neighborhood all in terrible condition,  lost, lonely and hungry. I don’t understand how some people can just stop caring for a family pet or abuse an animal. It just breaks my heart, and reading this blog and the comments raised my spirits. So I thought I would share one of my experiences. A little more than two years ago one of the cats I took in, Candi, was hit by a car and just left. Some how she made it home and I rushed her to the vets. She was in shock and had no bladder function or use of her hind legs. This happened late Saturday night and as she hadn’t regained the use of her limbs or bladder by the  Tuesday, I was told the best thing to do was euthanize her! I just couldn’t believe they would give up on her so quickly. I did some research in between my visits with her and decided against the vets wishes not to give up on her.  The vet didn’t want to release her to my care, but I was determined. She wasn’t in pain or discomfort and I felt she deserved whatever effort  that may be required from me.
    If she had been morose and showed no interest in life, I would have done what was best for her.
    It took a few weeks to get her eating properly again, she had just been through life changing trauma. It took me time to learn how to express her bladder properly. But here we are more than two years later and though she hasn’t regained the use of her hind limbs or bladder function, she is a happy girl. She gets around on her own and prefers to drag herself around the house and back garden than use her wheelchair so I have to keep an eye on friction burns. I’ve made her some knee pads for  protection and I  express her bladder three times a day to stop her getting urine burns and bladder infection. (Contrary to the vets prediction she’s had one bladder infection and no urine burns or open sores in these past two years).  She is an independent lady, her upper body strength helps her climb and play. The other cats don’t treat her any different. The place she held in this ‘feline family’s hierarchy’ she has retained. Unlike humans they don’t see disabilities they just get on with life. I am so proud of her.  My feline family have taught me so much.To see what they have overcome and how loving and forgiving they’re and made me a stronger better person. As has been mentioned here we can learn a lot from animals and all living beings deserve love and compassion.
    Thank you all for sharing

    1. Thank you for sharing your beautiful and touching story. How lucky those cats have been to have found you. Wishing you all the best.

  8. I was so very relieved to find and read this account of your journey with Charaka. One of my kittens (Goblin) fell victim to a similar, strange malady and I had started Googling physiotherapy for cats; I was not expecting to find such a warm, uplifting and incredibly useful piece. Rather than regurgitate it here, I will leave a link to my kittens’ Facebook page where you can read all about Goblin’s journey, too. Thank you for sharing your experience, you have definitely made a difference to our little family and I feel more determined than ever to carry on massaging and moving Goblin’s wonky bits until she is able to walk again. Here’s hoping!

    1. Thank you for commenting! This is the best possible feedback I could receive for writing my piece. I am so happy it encouraged you to continue with physiotherapy for Goblin. Greetings from Charaka and Aizo, who are now living in Florida 🙂

    1. Hi Aiman,

      Sorry for the delay in my response. Sorry, I do not have an answer for you – I am not trained in this. For Charaka it took a long time, many weeks. But she is fine now. Hope you have the patience to help your cat!

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