This study was undertaken to determine the locomotor capability of kittens whose spinal cords were transected at birth. The postnatal development of reflex and goal-directed locomotion was examined during the first 5 postnatal months in kittens that received low thoracic spinal cord transections as newborns. Some spinal kittens developed aberrant quadrupedal forms of locomotion. The onset of quadrupedal locomotion, however, was delayed by 2-3 months compared to the normal kitten (42) and deteriorated by 5 months of age. Qualitative and quantitative analyses demonstrated that the quadrupedal locomotion was abnormal. Although some step cycles were characterized by full weight support, the typical hindlimb step cycle of the best performing cat showed inadequate weight support and balance. No spinal cat was able to coordinate the hindlimbs with the forelimbs during overground locomotion on a runaway or during quadrupedal locomotion on a treadmill. Neuroanatomical tracing with WGA-HRP and immunocytochemical techniques showed no axonal regeneration or growth into or across the lesion sites. The aberrant form of quadrupedal locomotion developed without descending input to the caudal spinal cord. The variability in performance among animals suggested that compensatory strategies were important factors in the spinal kitten's achievement of quadrupedal locomotion. Hindlimb weight-supported stepping during quadrupedal locomotion in some animals underscored the capacity of the isolated caudal spinal cord to generate both rhythmical stepping movements and weight support. The maintenance of developmentally immature, but functional, hindlimb postures suggested that the development of the isolated caudal spinal cord was arrested in the absence of descending input.