Causes of Limping in Cats

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Causes of Limping in Cats

Is your cat limping? Is the leg swollen and he won’t put any weight on it? Has your cat stopped jumping up onto the bed? All of these scenarios indicate a lameness problem that can happen to cats of any age. In this article, you’ll learn more about the signs, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of lameness in cats.

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Signs of Lameness in Cats

Lameness (limping) in your cat is a sign of pain and discomfort. Usually, signs of lameness are obvious, but it’s important to know that cats are skilled at hiding their symptoms. If you notice any of the following changes in your cat’s usual behavior, we recommend you contact your vet.

  • Not putting weight on the affected leg, obvious limping
  • Walking, jumping, running on 3 legs
  • Increased grooming/licking of the affected leg
  • Change in behavior, for example, hiding/sleeping in a new spot
  • Unusually irritated/aggressive
  • Decreased appetite
  • Swelling and or heat in the affected leg
  • Wound with or without discharge in the affected leg
  • Lumps or bumps
  • Fever
  • Less active

Possible Causes of Limping in Cats

  • Trauma or injury causing a broken bone
  • Trauma or injury causing a strain or sprain to tendons or ligaments in the leg
  • Infection and inflammation due to a splinter or other foreign material
  • Infection and inflammation due to a bite wound from another animal. Untreated bite wounds often form an abscess which is the body’s way of fighting a local infection.
  • Osteoarthritis (arthritis), especially in older cats. Read more about arthritis in cats by clicking here.
  • Nail or paw inflammation or infection
  • Spinal cord injury or trauma
  • Osteosarcoma (bone cancer) or other types of cancer affecting the bones or joints. Click here for more information about cancer in cats.
  • Sudden lameness, inability to move, and pain associated with a front leg, back leg, or both back legs may be due to an underlying heart problem. Read more about heart disease in cats by clicking here.

Diagnosing Lameness in Cats

If your cat is limping, it’s important that she see your vet right away. The vet will begin by asking you about your cat’s history, including when you first noticed the problem, the last time your cat was outdoors, your cat’s behavior, appetite, litter box habits, and more.

Your vet will then observe your cat to determine which leg(s) is affected. Findings on the physical exam will determine which tests will be recommended. These may include blood tests, sedation to explore/drain an infection or abscess, sedation to take x-rays, or sedation to further palpate or feel specific joints.

How is limping treated in cats?

Treatment depends on the cause of the lameness, but the main goal is to relieve pain and inflammation. Your cat may need pain management for a short while or long term depending on the diagnosis.

Common treatment plans include:

  • Broken bones or fractures often require surgery or stabilization using splints and bandaging
  • Infection or abscess also requires surgery to drain, explore and flush the area
  • Laser therapy after surgery and for osteoarthritis, strains, sprains, and more
  • Rest and decreased exercise for strains and sprains, spinal cord injury, heart problems as well as cats recovering from orthopedic surgery or abscess surgery.
  • Medication and other treatments including acupuncture and joint supplements.
  • Treatment goals for arthritis focus on pain relief by decreasing inflammation. Weight reduction for overweight cats helps diminish the strain on the affected joints.

When to Contact a Veterinarian

If you know your cat had trauma such as being hit by a car or in a fight with another animal, contact your vet or pet emergency hospital right away. Likewise, if your cat is suddenly unable to use one of his legs, or drags the leg when walking, he must be seen by a vet immediately. The sooner your cat is seen the sooner he can receive pain medication and appropriate treatment for the injuries.

Use a towel or blanket to slowly pick up your injured cat. Often, they will bite due to pain, so you must use caution. Place them gently in a pet carrier (you may have to take the carrier apart to gently place your cat inside to prevent further pain or injury).

If your cat is occasionally limping or not putting any weight on one or more of his legs, you should schedule an appointment with your vet to determine the cause and treat for pain and discomfort. Cats that are limping, not putting weight on one or more of their legs, or not jumping up/down as usual are experiencing pain and they need treatment.

Read more:

Joint Supplements for Pets

Obesity in Cats: What You Need to Know if Your Favorite Feline is Overweight

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Published: 1/20/2021
Last updated: 9/11/2021
Dr. Denise Michanowicz, Veterinarian

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