Everything you ever wanted to know about radial agenesis but were afraid to ask
Ok, you’ve probably never even heard of radial agenesis – I hadn’t, not until Roo and Thumper came into our lives.
Early this spring when Will and I were looking for a friend for Tigger (who has since gone on to the rainbow bridge – I couldn’t bring myself to write a post about it), we found lots of really cute, really sweet cats on petfinder that would’ve fit the bill. But none of them really spoke to me until I found a pair of brothers that were marked as special needs. To be honest, I passed by their listing at least once, specifically because they were special needs. Radial agenesis, the posting said.
They’re missing bones in their front legs? I thought. How it that even possible? How will they get around? Will Tigger hurt them? (the answer was a resounding no – they can both be pretty feisty)
So, what exactly is it? Well, it’s a genetic condition that causes a cat’s radius to be unusually short, sometimes so much so that it looks like it’s missing. Here is a diagram showing the skeleton of an RA cat from The Messybeast.
Radial agenesis most commonly occurs when two polydactyl cats are bred. Polydactyl cats are the ones that have an extra “thumb”, so it looks like they’re wearing mittens. Cute, right? Well, yeah, but the unfortunate occasional side effect of a pair of polydactyls having kittens is radial agenesis, in some cases so pronounced that the forelegs look more like flippers than feet.
That’s not to say that our cats aren’t cute. They are. They’re freakin’ adorable. Roo, for instance, has overdeveloped back legs, to compensate for his weak front legs. As a result, it is very common for him to sit up on his haunches like a tiny kangaroo. How can you not love a cat that looks like a tiny kangaroo??
As you can see, the difference is much more pronounced when looking at a live cat rather than a drawing. Roo has it in both of his front legs, while Thumper is only affected in one leg. The result is that it looks like Roo has broken his front legs and is walking on his elbows. I admit, it was a little unsettling to see him walking around at first. Doesn’t that hurt, I kept thinking. But the answer is no – it’s a non-degenerative condition that does not cause them any pain. Because he walks on the sides of his front legs rather than on the paw pads, navigating slippery surfaces is a bit difficult to him. He knows it, too. Even when he’s completely absorbed in chasing the laser pointer, he stops short at the edge of the carpet and waits for that bewitching red dot to float back onto the rug before resuming his frantic chase.
Because Thumper is only affected in one leg, it looks a bit like he’s hurt one paw and carrying it close to his body. His gait is very irregular because one leg is shorter than the other, but he’s just as mobile as a regular cat would be.
That’s not to say that we haven’t had to make any adjustments for them. Roo likes to sleep on the bed at night, so despite the fact that we would like the bed to be a little higher off the ground, we keep it low so he can jump up and down without difficulty. Since our apartment is not carpeted, we have runners and throw rugs everywhere to make getting around a little easier for them. When the time comes for us to buy a house, we will have to take Thumper and Roo into consideration – they would never be able to navigate stairs that were too steep, or didn’t have carpet on them, and even then that still might give them problems.
They certainly have their fair share of issues – Thumper has 3 or 4 more toes than he should have (at least…it seems like we find new toes and nails all the time), and he does not enjoy having his nails clipped. They wouldn’t last more than 10 minutes on their own outside, and will be indoor cats their whole lives (not that that’s a bad thing – the average lifespan of an outdoor cat is almost 10 years less than its indoor counterpart). Roo can’t keep his own nose clean, and I mean that in the literal sense; we have to do it for him. They can’t jump as high as a regular cat, which is something that Will and I are pretty thankful for – we never have to retrieve them from the top of the fridge or worry about them leaping onto the bookcase and knocking everything over.
But I wouldn’t trade them for anything. They can be a royal pain sometimes, but come on – they’re cats. That’s what they do. God bless ‘em.