Cats are agile, active creatures. Our feline friends love to run across rooms swiftly, leaping over objects in their way and jumping high up to sit on top of cat trees, boxes, countertops and more. Their activity is so common, in fact, that a sudden decrease in movement from our cats is usually cause for concern.
One of the main movement issues cats endure manifests in the form of limping. Whether on its front or hind legs, limping is almost always a sign that something is wrong with your cat. If it were in good health, there would be no reason your cat couldn’t put weight onto all its legs equally.
Unfortunately, identifying the cause of your cat’s limping can be challenging. There are a lot of potential issues that might be plaguing your four-legged companion, and most of them lie under the surface.
Most often, you’ll be able to tell your cat is having leg troubles by its inability to walk properly. Limping may include an uneven or abnormal gait, strange weight shifting or a refusal to put any weight on the leg at all.
Limping may also be accompanied by other behavioral changes, such as hiding, lethargy, lack of appetite, increased aggression or fear and a shabbier appearance, as if your cat is not grooming itself properly. Your kitty may also meow and sound like it is in distress.
By paying close attention to your cat, you will be able to more easily identify the cause of its limping and get it the help it needs to heal.
Potential causes of limping
There are a wide variety of problems that can cause leg pain and limping in cats. Here are some of the most common.
- Paw pad injury: Your cat relies on healthy paw pads to support its weight while walking. If these pads are injured, it can make walking extremely painful. Ingrown nails, scratches, scrapes, dryness and cracking are all possible problems afflicting your cat’s paws. If these issues aren’t addressed fast enough, infection may also settle in and make matters worse.
- Abscess: An abscess is a collection of pus under the skin. It is usually caused by an infection or wound. The area will usually be warm to the touch and very tender, and your cat may experience a fever and pain while the abscess is full.
- Arthritis: Arthritis comes in many forms and causes painful inflammation and the breakdown of shock-absorbing cartilage in your cat’s joints. One common cause of arthritis is simply old age. If your cat has arthritis, it will likely not want to move much due to stiffness and will not be as playful as it once was.
- Broken bone: Bone fractures can occur after a trauma or as a result of a disease that causes bone weakening. Broken bones are much easier to identify in cats because they will usually not walk on a broken leg whatsoever. The leg may also lie at an awkward angle and look extremely swollen.
- Sprains and strains: Soft tissue injuries like a muscle sprain might occur if your cat jumps or falls improperly. These problems will usually require veterinarian diagnosis and anti-inflammatory and pain medications or supplements to help your cat heal.
- Severe trauma: A traumatic incident like getting hit by a car may cause damage to the spinal cord, which can cause lameness or paralysis in your cat’s limbs. These accidents are very serious and should be treated by a vet immediately.
What to do if your cat is limping
If you notice that your cat is limping, take time to observe it. Identify the location of the limp and whether your cat is capable of putting any weight on the leg, or none at all. Only watch your cat for a day or two, though—do not wait much longer than this, or your cat’s condition could become much worse. If your cat is limping, it will likely not heal on its own and will require veterinary assistance.
Once you observe the limp, you might be able to examine the limb for the source of the issue. Start at the bottom of the paw and look for any scratches, signs of blood, foreign bodies or punctures. Then, place gentle pressure on the other parts of the leg to see if your cat reacts. Try to bend the leg to see if it will bend and flex appropriately.
If you see that the problem lies with the paw pad, you can try to safely remove any foreign bodies and/or wash the injured area with warm water. Apply antibiotic ointment to the injury and wrap, if necessary.
If the problem appears to be a sprain or bruise, apply ice to the area for 15 minutes to help reduce the swelling. Then, make an appointment with your veterinarian to have the injured leg checked out and a treatment plan implemented.
Many cats will not want you to touch the source of their injuries and may lash out or run away. Do not fight your cat, or else you may distress it further. Try to remain calm and move slowly and gently. If your cat resists, take it to the vet for examination under sedation.
With the proper diagnosis from a professional and a little TLC from you, your cat should be able to heal and get back on its feet in no time, pain and limp-free.