Why is my cat limping?

November 16, 2014

It can break your heart if your cat is limping. Cats are more difficult to assess for injury or illness since they are less likely than dogs to show discomfort or pain.
Does your cat exhibit any of the following symptoms? If so, they may be suffering from an injury or issue that demands immediate attention.

  • Changes to gait when walking
  • Refuses to put weight on a limb
  • Less active than usual
  • Reluctance to jump up or down

The following symptoms of limping cat range from benign to serious:

Foot or nail injury

One of the most common causes for a cat limping is an injury to the paw. Check your cat’s footpads as well as between the toes for evidence of cracks, dried blood or foreign objects. Rocks and debris can easily become lodged between the toes. If it’s a foreign object, simply removing it may alleviate the issue.

A torn or split nail can cause pain if it reaches the base where the skin meets the nail. An open wound at the base of the nail can invite bacteria and could lead to infection.

Infections, abscesses and bites

Any wound on your cat has the potential to become infected, from nail injuries to simple scratches and bug bites. An infection can lead to an abscess, where pus builds up under the surface. Give your cat a daily inspection for surface issues, feeling for swelling and tenderness along the skin.

Joint issues

Just like humans, cats can suffer from arthritis. They can have trouble sitting, squatting or lying down; they may show signs of struggle moving from one position to another or have an irregular gait. An arthritic cat may exhibit signs more often in the morning or in times of cooler weather. Arthritis usually affects the back legs in cats older than 10. Older cats are also susceptible to arthritis of the back or back injuries due to degeneration in the spine.

There is no cure for arthritis, but with help from your veterinarian you can take measures to make your cat more comfortable.

Muscle issues

An active cat can strain or sprain a muscle or ligament causing them to limp. These injuries are temporary and should heal themselves within a day or two. A partial tear to a ligament, however, is more serious because it can quickly evolve into a full tear if the problem is not addressed early. Torn ligaments often require surgery.

Bone injuries

A broken or dislocated bone can be difficult to assess if the cat continues to put weight on the limb and only shows intermittent signs of limping. In more serious cases, they may refuse to move or put any pressure on a limb. Feel for signs of swelling or extreme pain.

If you’re unable to immediately assess the cause of your cat’s limping, watch for any change in their comfort. If they do not improve in 24 hours, seek veterinary care.

Why is my cat limping?
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