Limping in cats is never normal and it may be caused by a variety of reasons, some more serious than others.
Limping may be a result of muscle and ligament strain, wounds, broken bones, back problems and more. Cats are very good at hiding pain or discomfort, make sure to look for more subtle signs of discomfort. If you see your cat limping, keep them indoors until you can speak to a vet.
What to do
What to do if your cat starts limping
Check your cat
- Can you see any wounds or scabs?
- Is there any bleeding?
- Check the paws and between the toes.
- Check the nails.
- Check for swelling or hot areas on both legs using your two hands at the same time.
- Press along their limping leg and look for any pain or sensitivity.
- Care! The sweetest-natured cat may also try to bite if you find the sore spot. If you are unsure, press the good leg to confirm their response.
Did you notice what happened? Are they an outdoor cat? Is it an ongoing issue with a flare up?
If your cat is showing no signs of leg movement or is visibly in pain contact your local vet for an emergency appointment.
Other limping types
If your cat is limping, but can take weight on the leg, we recommend strict rest indoors for 24 hours.
After the first rest period:
- If no better or any worse: contact your local vet in the next 12-24h to book an appointment
- If improving, continue strict indoor rest.
- Keep your cat in one room if necessary.
- Discourage jumping until your cat is free of a limp for several more days.
- If improvement stalls or limping comes back again: contact your vet for an appointment within the next 2-5 days.
If your cat isn’t putting weight on the leg:
- Contact your local vet in the next 12-24h.
Common causes of lameness in cats
- Trauma (such as a cat bite wound)
- Muscle and ligament strain
- Broken bones
- Dislocated joint
When to worry
When should you worry about your limping cat?
Contact your local vet practice now if your cat:
- Has a broken leg or suffered a road traffic accident
- Is in pain
- Has no leg movement
- Is limping and there is a wound or swollen area on the leg
- Is not putting weight on the leg
- Is limping for more than a week
- Is not improving despite treatment
Joii can help if:
- Your cat is putting weight on the leg but visibly limping
- Your cat is stiff, less active, not willing to jump as before
- You are unsure
How to prevent your cat from becoming lame?
Cats that go outside may be more prone to injuries since we can’t control where they go and how far they explore.
Accidents involving cars, height jumps, and cat fights are the most common causes of injury leading to limping in cats.
Subtle signs of pain or discomfort in cats
Not all limping or leg injuries are obvious. Some are more subtle than others.
Check for other signs of mobility problems:
- Stiffness or shuffling gait
- Difficulty jumping
- Swelling and heat in the leg
- Increased grooming on the affected leg
- Change in mood or behaviour (e.g. hiding/sleeping in a new spot)
- Grooming less
- Pooing or weeing outside the litter tray
- Eating less
How to diagnose the cause of lameness in cats
To help determine why your cat is limping, a vet will:
- Talk through the history of your cat’s recent events
- Check your cat’s skin
- Do an orthopaedic examination
- Take radiographs (x-rays)
Additional tests to rule out other conditions might be recommended by your vet:
- Swab a wound and send it for culture and sensitivity
- Blood tests
- Urine test
- Joint aspirate and cytology
- Occasionally MRI or a CT scan
Home remedies for limping cats?
Ibuprofen and paracetamol are highly toxic to cats.
- Don’t give human painkillers to a cat. For pain relief contact a vet.
If you see a wound we advise you to:
- Stop them from causing any further trauma by licking the area using a cone collar, a sock or a body suit.
- Bathe the affected area with saline (1 teaspoon of salt in 500ml of cooled boiled water) twice a day.
- Contact a vet if no significant improvement is seen after a few days.
How to treat lameness in cats
Vet treatment for limping depends on the underlying cause. It can include:
- Pain relief
- Joint supplements
Cats at higher risk for lameness
Lameness is more likely to occur in:
- Younger cats who are very active
- Cats who go outside
- Older cats (with arthritis)
- Cats with birth defects like hip dysplasia
- Cats who get into fights with the neighbours
Other causes of lameness or limping in cats
- Cat bite abscess:
A very common cause of limping in cats is cat bite abscess.
Cat’s mouths are full of nasty bacteria. One single bite can result in a limping leg due to an abscess and wound.
Check for any swelling or scabs on your limping cat.
- Spine or disc problems:
Back problems are less seen in cats then in dogs, but can be a cause of lameness. When they happen are more related to a traumatic event (being hit by a car or a falling). Paralysis of one or more limbs can be a result of this.
After any traumatic accident you should always take your cat to a vet. Not all injuries are obvious.
- Saddle Clot or Thrombus:
A rare cause of limping is a type of blood clot called a saddle clot or thrombus.
Different materials in the blood can travel through the circulation blocking blood supply usually to the back legs.
A saddle thrombus is an emergency!
- Contact your local vet for an urgent appointment.
- Call Joii vets to help you identify the symptoms.
Symptoms of a saddle clot include:
- Sudden onset
- Severe pain
- Extreme lameness and even paralysis in one or both back legs
- Paw and limb cold to touch
Saddle clots are most likely in cats with other illnesses:
- Heart disease
- Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)