Cat limping with foot bandage

Key takeaway

Your cat may be limping due to an acute injury, an underlying illness, a chronic condition, or even a blood clot. Limps that come on suddenly may be due to an injury, while ones that develop gradually could be caused by arthritis. Only your vet will be able to determine the cause for sure.

Seeing your cat limping can be frightening, especially if it seems they are also in pain. If your cat is limping all of a sudden, it may be due to an acute injury, such as falling from their perch or getting into a fight. Limps that develop slowly over time may be due to some muscle, bone, or tendon problem—or an underlying disease that’s causing their joints to be in pain.

Whatever the cause of your cat’s limp, it’s a good idea to get to the bottom of it quickly. Your cat may be in pain, and they may also have some treatable condition that medication or other supportive care could relieve. This guide will explain the various causes of limping in cats, how a vet might diagnose your cat, plus what you can do to relieve their pain.

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Before seeking treatment, it’s a good idea to get a handle on what the causes of your cat’s limping might be.

What Causes Cats To Limp?

There are several different potential causes for a limp in cats. These are some of the most common.

Causes of Limping in Cats

Trauma

If you see your cat suddenly develop a limp, it may be due to physical trauma. Trauma events might include falling off something high up and landing improperly, getting into a fight with another cat or other animal, getting hit by a bike or car, or sustaining surface damage, such as a cut or bad splinter.

In any of these cases, getting your cat directly to the vet is critical. If your regular veterinarian is not available, it’s wisest to use an emergency vet service that can get your cat seen immediately without scheduling an appointment ahead of time. It’s also important to transport your cat as carefully as possible, as too much motion could risk further fracturing an injured bone, straining torn ligaments, or pushing a foreign object deeper into the skin. Placing your cat in a carrier is a great way to safely transport your cat.

Injured cat laying down

Degenerative joint disease or feline arthritis

Another common cause of limping is joint disease or arthritis. Around 90% of cats1 over age 10 are affected by arthritis, as well as many younger cats too. Arthritis is a painful condition that makes moving difficult, and can get progressively worse over time if left unchecked and untreated. If your cat is struggling with arthritis, there are medications that can help, but you’ll need to make an appointment with a vet first.

Veterinary researchers estimate 45% of all cats and 90% of cats over age 10 are affected by arthritis

Orthopedic problems

Hip dysplasia, luxations in the hip or elbow, torn ligaments, such as cranial cruciate ligament, sprains, strains, and other similar orthopedic problems may also be the cause of your cat’s limp. In many of these cases, supportive care and rest will be necessary for recovery. In more severe cases, your vet may recommend surgery to repair damage.

Paw problems

Sometimes, your cat may be limping due to problems with their paws. This might be something like an ingrown toenail or a foreign object in the paw like a burr, cactus spine, foxtail, splinter, or a cut or bruise. If you do notice a problem with your cat’s paw, gently inspect it to see whether it’s something you can resolve at home (removing a small splinter) or something that may need the attention of a professional veterinarian.

Heart disease

On the more severe end of the spectrum, heart disease can be a cause of feline limping. Heart disease can lead to poor blood flow and other complications, which in turn lead to poor joint function and limping. Heart disease is manageable in many cases, but you’ll need to work closely with your veterinarian to determine the course of medication and diet alteration that works best for your pet.

In more serious cases, Cats with heart problems might suffer lameness or paralysis, which is the inability to move a leg suddenly. A blood clot near the back leg, known as a saddle thrombus or arterial thromboembolism, is the most prevalent cause of rear limb paralysis in cats. The clot prevents blood from flowing to the afflicted legs. The cat is suddenly unable to put full weight on the afflicted limb due to a clot in the back leg. The cat might be vocalizing a lot, which is generally an indication that the limb is hurting. It's possible that the leg will feel chilly to the touch. The clot generally affects both back legs, although it can also affect one rear leg, one front leg, or other body parts.

Neurological issues

In rarer cases, neurological issues affecting brain or spine function may be the root of your cat’s limping problem. While this is less likely than some of the other items on this list, it’s good to rule out when visiting a vet.

Diagnosis

A veterinarian will need to hear a detailed description of the cat's mobility problems, past injuries, and overall health and history in order to identify the condition. A comprehensive examination will be performed by the veterinarian to determine the specific site of the ailment as well as any changes in the joint tissues.

Observing the cat when it sleeps, stands up, and walks is one example. The veterinarian may also examine the cat's bones, joints, and soft tissue for anomalies including swelling, discomfort, instability, a grating or crackling sound, a decreased range of motion, and muscle wasting. It's possible that you'll need more than one exam, with some exercise in between.

If the cause of the limp is not clear by observing your cat’s behavior and hearing your description of the symptoms, more advanced tests may be necessary. X-rays, ultrasound, and other imaging methods may also be used by a veterinarian to determine the source of the lameness. Removal and evaluation of joint fluids, surgical inspection of the interior of a joint using an endoscope (a device to see inside the joint), electromyography (a test of the electrical activity of the muscle), and tissue biopsy and examination are some of the other procedures that may be performed to help in the diagnosis.

Treatment

The treatment for your cat’s limp depends on the root cause. If the limp is caused by a simple sprain or surface wound, they may only need time and rest to heal. More serious conditions, like heart disease and blood clots, could require medication or even surgery to resolve.

Cat resting

Pain relief is often a vital part of treating injured pets, and it can sometimes help them recover quicker. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) and other pain relievers are frequently used to treat cats with persistent limps. There are no over the counter NSAIDs that you can give your cat at home. Giving human medicine to your cat could cause further health issues. Your veterinarian is the best person to advise you on the best treatment for your pet.It's critical that you follow all of the instructions to the letter, as administering the wrong medication or other treatment could be harmful to your pet.

Cat Limping: Frequently Asked Questions

Review some of our most frequently asked questions below to learn more about taking care of an injured cat.

Why is my cat limping all of a sudden?

A limp that appears seemingly out of nowhere may be due to trauma. Your cat may have fallen, gotten into a fight, or been hit by a vehicle. This is especially likely if your cat goes outdoors. In this case, it’s important that you get your cat to a veterinarian immediately, as untreated wounds sustained from trauma can become infected or may even be lethal if not addressed. If your cat starts limping when your regular veterinarian is closed, seek emergency care right away.


What should I do if my cat is limping?

If you notice your cat limping, be sure that you observe them carefully before doing anything else. If the limp looks highly painful, it may have been caused by trauma, in which case it’s imperative that you have your cat seen by a vet immediately.

If the limp seems mild, or develops slowly over time, it may be due to something less acute. In that case, be sure that you carefully document symptoms and report them to your vet as accurately as you can. It’s also a good idea to take your cat to the vet soon so that they can observe your cat’s behavior first hand in order to determine the cause of the limp.

How do you transport a limping cat?

When transporting an injured cat, keep their head, neck, and spine as still as possible. To offer support, utilize a flat, hard surface such as wood or cardboard, or a towel can be used. Keep your cat’s head level or slightly raised during transport if they appear confused or disoriented following trauma. Any jerking or thrashing actions should be avoided, as should anything that presses on the head or neck. It is best to transport your cat in a hard-sided cat carrier.

In some cases, it is possible to ease your cat’s anxiety by transporting them in boxes, especially ones in which they already feel more comfortable. However, it’s a good idea to be able to see the cat via the openings in the box to ensure they have not injured themselves further.

Final Notes

Noticing a limp in your cat can be a serious sign, and it’s important to get them to the vet quickly so that you can determine what the underlying cause is and get the treatment they need quickly.

For chronic conditions, such as allergies and anxiety, there is another option. Dutch.com offers online telemedicine for pets, so you can get your cat the medication they need at an affordable rate that’s convenient for your schedule. Whether your cat is sneezing or gets anxious while you’re away, contact us today to find out how we can help your cat overcome chronic conditions and get back to purring and playing like they love.

References

  1. Does Your Cat Have Arthritis?, NCSU, https://news.ncsu.edu/2020/05/does-your-cat-have-arthritis/

  2. Lameness in Cats, Merck Vet Manual, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/bone,-joint,-and-muscle-disorders-of-cats/lameness-in-cats