This condition is commonly called tendon contracture even though the tendons don’t actually contract. Rather, it is generally a soft tissue problem that involves the flexure tendons, the muscles, ligaments and joint capsules of the distal extremities.
If caught early, preferably at birth or within a day or two, there is a reason to excellent chance that the condition can be rectified with a combination of massage, physiotherapy (stretching/flexing the limb), warm compresses (to ease muscles which have locked into position) and by splinting (or very rarely pinning) the leg into the proper position. One thing that is certain is that the longer the elapsed time between birth and treatment of a twisted contracted limb, the less likely it is that the kitten will fully recover due to atrophy of nerves and muscles. This is particularly important in rescue work where a litter may not be found until the kittens are several weeks old or older. By that stage, the twisted limbs may be beyond correction, or at the very least, require more extensive treatment and time to recover.
Clinically, the kittens present as healthy animals with an inability to walk normally because their feet are twisted and contracted. In some longer standing cases, the kittens are walking on the front of their ankles or wrists as their toes are pointed straight back. In this case, Oliver (“Twist”) presented as an older kitten with a long-standing history of deformity. After a few months of physical therapy and corrective splinting (with a very patient, understanding and attentive mom) Oliver’s bilateral rear limb deformities were corrected and he has returned to normal function, as can be seen in the before and after photos as well as the video where he can be seen running and jumping and playing with his bro. With appropriate and consistent care and time, many of these kittens will do very well with physical therapy and splinting and can live out a normal happy and healthy life as fully active cats.