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.

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.

We live in a city where there are no veterinary clinics. There’s one veterinarian in the city that we know of. 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. 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.

We saw more and more improvements. Charaka could jump and do all kinds of kitty 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).

Animals are good teachers.

UPDATE: Apparently people are still finding this post in 2017 and many have emailed about specific physiotherapy movements. I made a short video clip which you can watch here. Again, I am NOT an expert nor a person with any veterinary background. If your cat is paralyzed, take your cat to the veterinarian. We did not have this opportunity in Bahir Dar.

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.


28 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!

      1. I have a little kitten that sometime got injured and he is paralyzed in the back. I took him to have xrays and it showed no break. I was told it would be best to euthanasia him. I said no and left. I was so sad. When i got home i began physiotherapy. Crate isolation with lots of love. We’re improving as nerves take so long. Kevin is Neoplolan. I found myself crying asking “God” for help. He has alittle movement. I help him walk, pee and expel himself. I see slight improvement. What happen to compassion for animals. Kevin isn’t disposable. I won’t throw him away. Or give up. I loved your story.

  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!

  9. Thank you for sharing your story; I wish I would have found it two years ago! I might have been able to save my cat’s ability to walk.

    My boyfriend and I found Pyewacket on a road leading from a ghost town in Wyoming. She was six months old at most, and we don’t know how she got there. We took her back to Yellowstone National Park (where I was working at the time) and socialized her to being with people. She was fine, except that she seemed unable to jump up onto high places.

    About a year later, I was living with my parents in Michigan when, one day, Pyewacket started hopping like a bunny on her hocks. She stood up on her hocks, with her front feet in the air, like a kangaroo. It was pretty weird. We took her to the vet, who said she was fine, and would get over it soon. However, she then started to lose the use of her back legs, as well as her front legs. Her front legs curled inward toward her chest, and her back legs could not support her weight.

    I took her to many vets, who tested for FIV and other viruses and bacterial infections, and took X-rays and did a biopsy. It was all negative, and nothing was wrong. I took her to a holistic vet, who said nothing was wrong “except that she can’t walk,” which was not helpful.

    Then, about six months later, she started walking again, in a wobbly way. However, we had never gotten her spayed (we were afraid she was too weak) and my parents, unfortunately, decided to get her spayed without my permission. She stopped walking, and has never walked again.

    She used to be able to pull her self onto a tray with cat litter on it, but now she can’t even do that, and we’ve had to get puppy pads to set her on. We have to wash her a lot, because she soils her fur. She is not incontinent, but we both work, so we have to leave her on the pads when we are out, and she can’t get to the litter box. She spends most of the day in one spot.

    We try to move her to where we are, and we have put little seats in the windows to set her on. She has a strong will to live, and and is very happy when she is with us. and loves to snuggle in bed. (She meows if she needs to be put into the litter box.)

    However, the muscles on her back legs are totally wasted away, and the muscles on her front legs are mostly gone, too. If we pull the legs straight, they cramp and she meows in pain. Do you think it is too late for physiotherapy? Is there any way to bring back muscle strength to this poor kitty?

    I feel so guilty that there may have been a way to save her muscles, and I didn’t do it because the vets said there was no point in trying it. I should not have listened to them.

    Thank you for listening to my story; let me know if you have any advice!


    Stephanie (and Casey) of Royal Oak, Michigan

  10. What a lovely, heartwarming story! I’m curious how exactly the bathroom stuff went. What exactly did you do and when? Did you just take her regularly to give her a chance to go? Did she go on her blanket much?
    Thank you so much for sharing your story, I can see you have already helped others in similar situations.

  11. My 4 month old kitten was bitten by some dogs. His spinal cord is broken and we’re giving him medication. His hind legs are paralysed and he can only walk using his fore limbs. It’s been 2 days and he is still in pain. Will he be able to walk again?

    1. Hi Luvina, please take your kitten to the veterinarian as soon as possible, if you can. I did not have that opportunity. Going to the vet should be your first priority.

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