A tendon contracture is when the
tendon in a leg joint is too tight and pulls the
joint tight. This is a self correcting condition
and is not associated with any deformity. It is
not "club foot," although as you can
see in this picture of a Korat kitten at birth,
the position into which the feet are pulled can
resemble the club foot position.
Tendon contractures in newborn kittens are a
somewhat common condition, and it is not yet known
exactly why they happen. I have had two kittens
with tendon contractures, both born to large litters.
It seems to be from the position of the kitten
in the womb, where perhaps the joint did not have
room to extend.
This condition has been studied more fully in
cattle and horses, where it is seen much more
frequently. There is little information available
to breeders and vets regarding treatment for it
in smaller domestic animals. This FAQ page will
hopefully be able to provide a reference for people
who come across this for the first time. If you
have had an experience with tendon contractures
and would like to contribute, please e-mail
Some breeders have experiences that lead
them to believe the condition has a genetic influence,
although most who see this only see it once or twice in
their lives. The photo above and the ones below are of
the same Korat kitten, one of four kittens born with this
condition out of the same Korat stud and four different
females. This suggests an inherited condition, although
all four kittens corrected completely. (continued...)
I began this page when Twister was born,
when he was 10 weeks old I had another kitten born with
identicle contractures. The mother of the litter is the
full sibling of Twister's father. The new litter, born
6/13/02, was an accidental product of a father-daughter
breeding. If there is a genetic component to these kittens'
condition, then this situation certainly demonstrates
it. Here are pictures of Twister and the newborn kitten
side by side for comparison, the resemblance is obvious.
Baby at one day old |
Twister at a few hours old
Oriental Longhair kitten born with
tendon contractures in three joints.
This little guy was born with tendon contractures
in both front legs and the rear right leg. Notice how
the rear right leg appears twisted towards the center.
Both front "wrist" joints can not extend further
than a 90 degree angle. I named this little guy Twister,
an appropriate wind name for him I think. :) I will follow
his progress with his condition on this page as he grows.
Some kittens need gentle physical therapy or
splinting as they grow, and some correct on their own.
Twister's rear leg is already almost straight it 2 weeks
of age. The front feet are more flexible, but still not
able to extend fully.
In the picture on the right you can see
that he has his right rear leg in the proper position
underneath him. He is still walking mostly on his wrists
in the front, but can get his paws under him when he tries.
When they start walking he will be exercising this joint
more and the progress should pick up. He will start having
splints on for a few hours a day at three weeks. It has
been suggested that I use a heat compress first to loosen
the tendon, and my vet has agreed. I will take pictures
of what I come up with and document the relative success.
Here is little Twister at three weeks with his
first set of splints. They are made of a 1"x1/3"
piece of tongue depresser covered in gauze and help in
place with stretchy vet wrap. Twister has gotten used
to walking on his wrists, so despite the splints help
in straightening his legs, he is still struggling to walk
in them. They are encouraging him to put his paws underneath
him, but he gets very tired and rests a lot. Because of
this, I am only leaving the splints on for an hour, and
no more than twice a day for now. I also left his front
claws unclipped to give him as much traction as possible.
(As you can see, his rear leg has straightened completely.)
I am having trouble finding the right splint for Twister.
When I add a stiff brace (platic, wood or cardboard),
his paws swell. When I leave it out and do a soft wrap,
it slips above or below the bend and doesn't help much.
Everything seems to slip off.
Twister had a severe upper respiratory infection
at five weeks of age, which progressed to pneumonia by
six weeks. I almost lost him, but his little spirit didn't
give up and he pulled through. During this time, however,
I did not splint him at all. I didn't want to deter him
from the few feedings that he took on his own or stress
him further than necessary. I continued the physical therapy
and massaging, but he learned to walk on his wrists and
the inward bend in his right wrist became quite pronounced
because of this.
These pictures are at 7 weeks and he is
recovered completely from the URI, this is right before
I started splinting him again. As you can see, he was
walking on his outer toes only and the wrists are bent
inwards in addition to not fully extending. He did not
walk on his paw pads at all. Because of this he can not
really run, he kind of hops, and he can't climb or catch
a toy with his paws. :(
I finally found the right splint! It doesn't slip off,
his paws don't swell, and it is light enough that it doesn't
hinder his walking. This meant I could finally leave them
on for more than a few hours. He sulked and refused to
walk for the first night, but I resisted the cute kitten
face and left them on anyway. In the morning he as walking
like a champ, up on his paw pads for the first time! He
figured out that it was much easier and quicker, since
his feet didn't get caught underneath him. I let the kittens
out to play in the living room, and I saw Twister run
for the first time ever. He looked so happy, I nearly
cried. Even after just one night, the flexibility in his
wrists improved a great deal. He started to play like
a normal kitten, it was wonderful to see.
- Johnson & Johnson Hurt-Free
Tape, 2" inch - stiff padded gauze wrap
that sticks to itself but not skin (or fur).
- Small 1/75" carboard piece,
rounded on edges. Cut from center of vet wrap,
has a slight curve to mold to the leg.
- Flexible cloth medical tape
- Nexcare Self-Adherent Wrap, basically
For each paw: cut one length of the gauze
wrap long enough to wrap around twice, from top of toes
to elbow. Wrap firmly but not tightly, only a slight stretching
of the material is needed. The 2" size is ideal,
no cutting required. Place the cardboard in the best position
to brace the contracture, and hold in place with a piece
of medical tape on the top and bottom. It is not necessary
to go all the way around the limb, but if you do make
sure it is not tight. Cover with a layer of vet wrap,
just enough to cover and protect the gauze. Again, be
careful not to wrap it tightly. This adds support, but
should not add too much weight.
Here's Twister on a break from his splints showing
off how he can walk on his paws now! He runs around and
chases his sisters, and loves to attack the little fuzzy
As you can see, he still buckles his right
ankle over without the brace, but does place his paw down
correctly. The left ankle can almost extend fully, the
right is showing a lot of improvement. The most important
step is that Twister has learned how to walk correctly
and will now be building the correct muscles and stretching
those tendons on his own. At this point the braces are
on at least half of the day with several long breaks.
I want to stretch those tendons but still force Twister
to build the muscles and use the joints. They make his
little legs itchy, so he really enjoys the massage he
gets when they come off. :) The physical therapy of course
is still very important.
Twister still has to wear a brace on his right
leg to keep his wrist from collapsing inwards when weight
is placed on it. It is only a soft wrap of vet-wrap, like
an ace bandage. Both legs can be flexed into a near normal
position, but only the right collapses.
As you can see from the pictures above,
I can hold the right wrist in a normal position. He can
sit with it fairly straight, but as soon as weight is
applied the joint can not hold it's position. I started
wrapping his right leg only for 12 hours at a time in
hopes that it will help him build muscles to hold it correctly.
The wrapping of his right leg worked very well
and within two days his leg was able to withstand weight
with only a little collapsing. Over the next week or so
it continued to bear more and more weight without collapsing.
Twister is visually corrected to about
98% at this point, although I can still feel a little
stiffness when manipulating his joints. They do not flex
quite as flat as they should, but I am confident that
they will get there. He walks, runs, jumps, and plays
Twister is 100% corrected with no more stiffness on his
joint. His right wrist can not be forced into an abnormal
position. He doesn't know anything ever was wrong with
him. :) He is now ready to find a wonderful loving pet
home who will cherish him as much as I do.
Twister went to his new home with Paula
and his new cat buddy Deisel. He's adjusted very well
and loving every minute of his little life!