Elf the Cat’s Recovery from a Dislocated Hip

cat dislocated hip feldenkrais for cats feline injury Nov 28, 2019

Placing the white and grey cat on my lap, I let him choose how he wanted to arrange himself, knowing that he would position himself in a way that would afford comfort and security for his dislocated right hip.

About ten days before, Elf had started dragging his right hind leg. A veterinarian determined that Elf’s right hip had been dislocated and it would take at least several weeks for it to heal.

Elf’s person, Amie, had brought him to me for a Debono MovesSM session, since she wanted to give her kitty the very best chance that he would recover fully from his injury.

Debono Moves works by teaching an animal, through kinesthetic touch and non-habitual movements, how to move in a way that enhances healing and prevents the strain that often accompanies limping.

When one part of the body is favored, other parts have to work harder. This harder work can result in new strains and injuries.

I wanted to minimize the strain on Elf’s non-injured parts while allowing Elf to take weight off the right leg as much as he currently needed to.

I began the Debono Moves session by very gently outlining Elf’s spine with my fingertips. He was lying on his left side in a curled position like the letter “C”. Amie said that this is his usual position since his injury. Resting in this curled up position means that the muscles on his right side were shortened, or contracted. There is usually no problem in doing this unless it is done exclusively for a prolonged period.

If that occurs, it may become difficult for the muscles along the right side of his spine to return to their normal length. These habitually tightened muscles may eventually create a curve in Elf’s spine. This may then create problems in locomotion and balance.

I very lightly touched Elf’s spine and ribcage in a way that slightly exaggerated the curve he had created. This supportive touch allowed his muscles to stop contracting (shortening).

Elf was not at all resistant to my touch, because I was merely doing for him what he was already doing. I never attempted to straighten his spine; I just continued to support him in his habitual way of resting. Elf seemed quite content, his eyes closed.

After a few minutes, I slowly released my touch and Elf lay straight on his side. Because of the support I had afforded him, his previously shortened muscles had relaxed. There seemed to no longer be stress or strain on the muscles along his spine.

Because Elf had been dragging his right hind, his front legs were working harder than usual in an effort to pull himself along. To alleviate the strain, I gently moved each shoulder blade in different directions, feeling the muscles soften.

I also delicately outlined his ribs and lightly moved his ribcage, feeling how when I gently brought it a bit forward, the muscles around his shoulders eased their tension. Elf’s content expression let me know I was onto something good!

Elf got up and laid down again on my lap, this time on his right side. I gently put one hand under his pelvis and my other hand on top. I very slowly and gently initiated tiny movements of the pelvis, to imitate how he needed to move his pelvis when walking.

By keeping my movements extremely delicate, Elf had no anxiety about them. I just did what felt easy. I never tried to make the pelvis move in any way that wasn’t readily available.

My intent was to give his nervous system a pleasant experience of one facet of walking – pelvic mobility – without any of the anxiety, pain or limitation that would be associated with attempted weight bearing on the injured right hind leg. I was careful to fully support his right hip, so that it moved along with the pelvis.

With Elf now on his back, nestled between my knees, I delicately moved Elf’s hind legs, supporting them at the greater trochanters (outside knobby bone of the hip), as if for walking. I alternated the movement, so the right side could learn from the non-injured side. I also moved the legs together.

Elf was now on his side and with my hand supporting his right hip; I crossed the hind legs, rubbing his rear paws against each other. My intent was to give his nervous system the stimulation it needed to ask for some tone in the muscles of his right hind leg, which had been flaccid since Elf had dislocated his right hip.

One of the things the veterinarian had explained to Amie was that the muscles around Elf’s hip needed to tighten in order to hold the hip in place. With my touch, I was helping Elf realize not only could he use those muscles, but I was giving him a reason why he needed to.

Previously, he had been getting around by dragging his right rear leg behind him. I wanted to provide his nervous system with the sensory stimulation it needed to “turn on” those muscles.

One way to do this is through providing contact and stimulation to the bottoms of the feet. I also did some gentle scratching between his toes, to encourage tone in the whole leg.

When the nervous system encounters firm pressure on the bottom of the foot, it begins to organize the individual for standing, even if that individual happens to be lying down.

With Elf on his side, I gently touched his paws with an audiocassette cover. Happily, Amie and I could see his leg muscles become more “alive,” increasing in tone. Elf was starting to remember what it was like to stand fully upright.

Since Elf was safely and securely lying down, these steps toward walking were without pain or anxiety. They were pleasurable and easy, making them likely to be recreated by Elf on his own.

At the end of the session, Elf’s right hind was no longer dangling behind him. Instead, he had both hind legs tucked under himself and he appeared ready to stand or jump! Amie telephoned me the next day to say that Elf had been standing and walking in a much more organized and upright manner. He was on his way to full healing.

Debono Moves, which is informed by the work of Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, can be applied equally well to other animals, such as horses and dogs. 

Debono Moves has been used successfully with animals with hip dysplasia, spinal problems, ligament injuries and aches, pains and stiffness. Geriatric animals especially like the improvement in flexibility. 

Debono Moves can also improve athletic ability and help minimize the chance of injury.

Here’s an excerpt from the note that Amie (Elf’s “mom”) sent me:

“I am already a fan of Mary and her incredible Debono Moves work so I was prepared to see small changes in Elf after his first session and even if I didn’t see anything, I knew he’d FEEL much better.

But I have to say, my jaw dropped open the next morning when I saw how differently he was walking. He had been walking with that right side shortened as he used the muscles of the side and back to do the work of the injured leg. He also never extended the right hind.

The next morning, he was moving around with a straight back! It was really dramatic… I’m so lucky Elf and I had access to Mary and to Debono Moves! It’s just great to see how well he’s doing.”