Humans have adored and spoiled pet cats for thousands of years. Egyptians worshipped their cats and are thought to be the first to domesticate them.
French archaeologists found remains of a human and a cat buried in the same site on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. The remains of the companions are estimated to be about 9,500 years old!
In many ways, we have evolved, but the human-cat connection hasn’t changed. We still have our cats by our sides, and love them for the independent creatures that they are.
Cats are willing and capable of taking care of themselves, and it shows. Cats rarely give, even the most doting pet owner, any inclination that they are experiencing pain. So if your cat is exhibiting obvious signs that it is suffering, you rightfully get worried and will go to any measure to avoid unnecessary distress.
Since cats hardly ever make their discomfort known, if a cat is limping, it’s obvious that something is wrong. Reasons for a cat limp can range significantly in severity, but they are all cause for concern when you are a loving cat owner with only the best intentions for your pet.
Why Is My Cat Limping?
here are several plausible reasons why your cat is limping. From a thorn in their paw to a degenerative condition, to broken bones, some conditions are easier to diagnose than others.
Your cat may show evidence of lameness in the following ways:
- Running and walking slower or abnormally
- Showing apprehension or avoiding making leaps, jumps and landings that they used to nail like a pro
- Grooming inconsistency
- Obsessive licking of a specific area
- Not placing weight on the affected area or holding the paw off of the floor
- Loss of muscle around the affected area
- Swelling around the joints
What Are The Top Reasons For Limping In Cats?
We’ll go through these in-depth below, but some of the common causes for limping in cats include:
- Foreign object in the paw
- Genetic diseases
- Feline arthritis
- Immune diseases
1. Foreign Object in the Paw
Outdoor cats can get into some mischief. Cat owners are all too familiar with their feline coming home from a “night out” with burrs in their fur, leaves affixed to their bellies and thorns, pine needles or random pieces of brush caught in their paw pads.
You may notice signs of something foreign in the paw if your cat is:
- holding one foot off of the ground
- obsessively licking one paw
Cats are adventurous creatures. If you let your cat go outside, you can’t exactly tell them not to get dirty or acquire the occasional thorn in the paw. These things come with being an outdoorsy thrill seeker. What can you do?
Hopefully, most of these cases are simply remedied at home without the need for help from the veterinarian. Pulling a little stick or pine needle out of your cat’s paw is one thing, but if your cat’s injury seems serious, vet intervention is necessary.
If your cat is losing blood from stepping or falling on something more dangerous, call the vet or emergency and have them deal with it immediately. In severe cases, as with our serious wounds, removing the object that has penetrated the skin can cause more damage than good if done incorrectly.
Obviously, injuries can cause limping in cats. They may have forgotten they don’t have wings and landed funny when they jumped from the top of the refrigerator to the floor again.
When cats tend to jump from extremely high places, it is referred to as high-rise syndrome. This syndrome is less about cats making poor decisions and more about cat parents assuming responsibility for their cats’ well-being and safety.
We know that cats don’t feel the same about heights as we do. Cats show no fear when it comes to 2, 3 or even 20 story open windows. Just because your cat acts invincible doesn’t mean they are. Of course, high-rise syndrome can cause any of the following injuries:
- Broken bones
- Sprains & strains
The most serious and frightening injury for a pet owner or parent of any species is a broken bone. Your cat will probably handle the pain like a champ but don’t let them fool you, it hurts them as much as it would anyone else.
Signs of a broken bone:
- Severe limp from a fracture or
- Avoidance of putting any weight on the affected leg
|Broken Bone Dos and Don’ts!|
|Be incredibly gentle & take your time scooping up the injured animal.||Don’t try to reset the bone yourself|
|Use a soft familiar blanket or towel to pick up skittish cats who may otherwise harm themselves avoiding being handled.||Don’t touch the affected area unless absolutely necessary|
|Contact vet and get there ASAP||Don’t allow the broken leg to hang or swing|
When ligaments and tendons become damaged because of a prior injury like a broken bone, sprain or strain, the damage can cause laxity or “loose ligaments”. Laxity allows for joints to pop in and out of place often, which causes limping in cats. The consistent rubbing of bone to bone and degeneration of cartilage in the joint can lead to swollen and painful joints or osteoarthritis in cats.
Underlying conditions that can cause dislocations:
- A hip dislocation often happens in animals with hip dysplasia, a hereditary disease in cats, dogs, and humans where the hip joint ball and socket are misaligned and “loose” due to the ligaments and tendons stretching out around the joint.
- The sliding knee cap or a luxating patella occurs when the groove that contains the kneecap is too shallow. The kneecap then slides in and out of the socket.
- Tail dislocation most likely comes from trauma to the tail, such as being accidentally shut in a door or window.
Sprains and strains
Sprains & strains are bound to happen to cats with active lifestyles. A sprain stretches out the ligaments that connect the bones while a strain occurs when the tendons overextend. Both can be painful, impede movement and result in limping in cats. Sprains and strains can lead to Arthritis as cats get older.
Sprains & strains are caused by:
Whether your house or apartment has more than one story or you just want to make the place as safe as possible for your limping cat, these things can help curb the possibility of injury:
- Keep your windows closed and get an air conditioner for the stifling months
- Installation of cat hammocks or beds that mount onto window sills is readily available.
- If you allow your cat to sit by an open window on any floor, with or without a cat hammock, make sure screens are strong, sturdy and securely affixed in the window.
- If your cat didn’t start as an outdoor cat, keep it that way.
Injury treatment will depend on the type and severity of the injury. Broken bones will need to be set back in place by a licensed veterinarian and splinted. Healing time for broken bones in cats ranges from six to eight weeks.
For other, less serious injuries like sprains, strains and dislocations NSAIDs or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, supplements, healthy nourishment and some good old rest and relaxation are the tickets to your cat’s recovery.
Infection can occur in the joint after an injury or surgery to the joint. Septic arthritis is an infection that can arise in cats, though it is rare and more common in dogs.
Septic arthritis happens when an infectious agent or bacteria is introduced to the joint. This infection causes swollen and painful joints where affected.
Symptoms of septic arthritis:
- Warm, swollen and sore joints
- Lack of appetite
- Reluctance of movement
To prevent infection to joints and other parts of the body:
- Provide proper aftercare for an injured cat or recovering cat.
- Go to your follow-up appointments after a cat’s surgery or injury.
- Stay aware of your cat’s actions and report symptoms to the vet as soon as possible.
- The best prevention is aiding in the retention of healthy joints and cartilage.
Cats with severe infections may need:
- Hospitalization allows for the administration of intravenous fluids, antibiotics to treat the infection, and consistent monitoring.
- Surgery and removal of the affected joint may be necessary to remove the infection.
- Flushing of the joint with a solution to clear infection.
A veterinarian needs to clear all exercise after any treatment for infection to ensure that illness and pain don’t resume.
4. Genetic Diseases
Some common genetic diseases in cats include:
- Hip dysplasia
- Musculoskeletal disorders
Hip dysplasia is a hereditary disease where the ball and socket of the hip joint are misaligned, causing laxity in the ligaments and preventing smooth movement. Persistent dislocation of the hip joint causes pain and swelling.
Some breeds are more likely to be troubled by hip dysplasia than others. 20% of long-haired cats are afflicted by hip dysplasia, while only 5% of shorthair breeds are affected!
What breeds are at the highest risk for hip dysplasia in cats?
- Mainecoon cats
Hip dysplasia will inevitably manifest in some cats, but there are certain things you can do to keep things lubricated and moving more smoothly:
- Joint and mobility supplements to help keep healthy tissue and repair damaged tissue
- Omega-3s to aid in lubrication and healing
- Avoidance of twisting and tweaking the hip joint.
In most cases, cats respond well to non-surgical solutions.
Hip dysplasia can be treated in one of two ways:
- Non-surgical treatments
In most cases, cats respond well to non-surgical options like:
- Medical management
- Physical Therapy
- Weight loss
NSAIDs or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can be very helpful in managing symptoms or degenerative joint disease as well as limping in cats.
Supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin cocktails and Omega-3s can offer relief as well as probable regeneration of tissues and cartilage.
I know what you’re thinking, “how is my cat going to sit through someone manipulating their extremities?” Particular cats might not stand for it, but remember, these are trained professionals with years of schooling and knowledge to back up their practice. Physical therapy could be worth a shot.
We all love to indulge our pet cats with their favourite treats, but spoiling them too much is bad for their health as obesity increases the risk of hip dysplasia. You can manage your cat’s weight and encourage weight loss by swapping treats for toys and asking your vet for a safe and effective weight-loss program.
Surgeries for hip dysplasia in cats are few, but largely successful if necessary. They can vary depending on the age of the cat and the activity level.
Two types of surgical procedures are available to cats with hip dysplasia:
- The femoral head and neck ostectomy – The ball and neck are removed from the remainder of the femur in hopes that the body will grow another hip joint.
- Complete hip replacement – The ball and socket are eradicated and replaced with a new synthetic hip joint.
But there are also other conditions that may require surgery:
- Musculoskeletal disorders – that extra toe that you think is so cute is actually a musculoskeletal disorder that has been passed down through generations. Extra digits on the paws can cause a misaligned gait which can cause damage to the joint over time.
- Myopathies – generally affect the voluntary control of muscles in the body. Myopathies cause extreme muscle weakness and can be a reason for cat limping in some instances.
Is surgery necessary for treatment? Definitely not! Some diseases are not preventable and will need surgery or other more extreme care. In cases of hip dysplasia, there may be no other option but a full hip replacement if the damage is too severe.
However, in a lot of cases, non-surgical treatment has been very successful in cats, with the use of NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), supplements, physical therapy and weight management.
5. Feline Arthritis
Arthritis or degenerative joint disease causes swelling in the joints due to the degradation of the cartilage.
There are two types of feline arthritis:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis – a condition that causes the immune system to attack healthy joints. Luckily, this is less common in cats.
- Osteoarthritis – also known as “feline degenerative joint disease” is a condition caused by an array of things. From past injuries to hip dysplasia, osteoarthritis is a widespread condition where cartilage is damaged, and bone grows around the joint. Without cartilage to cushion and protect joints, bone rubs against bone making for stiff joints and painful inflammation.
60% – 90% of all cats will develop a feline degenerative joint disease within their lifetime.
But what exactly causes arthritis?:
- Trauma or injury
Certain breeds of cats may be more likely to develop osteoarthritis than others. Cats with hereditary conditions like hip dysplasia are very likely to develop arthritis later in life due to consistent bone to bone contact, recurrent dislocation of the hip joint and degeneration of cartilage.
Trauma or injury
Injuries can cause damage to the joints, tendons, muscle tissues and ligaments. This damage, along with natural degeneration, is a common cause of arthritis and limping in cats.
Cats are virile and bold animals; they’re going to take some risks. Could you do your best to keep an eye on them? Please take into account what risky behaviours your cat does most often and start safeguarding against them.
Notice risky behaviours and find ways to accommodate risky behaviours if possible, safely.
|Risky cat behaviour||What you can do|
|Sitting in high window sills|
|Jumping from high furniture and appliances|
|Hyperactivity due to boredom|
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that the more weight you put on your joints, the more likely damage will result. Preventative measures are the best option.
Some cats are capable of being “free eaters”. Cat owners can leave food out for these types and trust that they will not engorge themselves to the point of over-eating.
Other cats, particularly feral or stray cats turned house cats, may benefit from more strict guidelines to keep a healthy weight in check. Feral and former stray cats may be overeating because of past emotional trauma and fear of starvation. We all know old habits die hard!
Choose quality, nutritious foods along with setting a consistent feeding schedule for your cat. Be sure to feed your cat enough; cats don’t do crash diets like humans. Use the serving sizes advised based on your cat’s body weight.
As mammals get older, degeneration occurs to the muscles, cartilage, ligaments, tendons etc. Age is the most common reason for Arthritis. Cats may start to experience signs of Arthritis around seven years old.
No matter how much we would like to keep our cats young forever, it just isn’t in the cards. However, preventative measures can be taken to prolong and stimulate the growth of healthy cartilage, like:
- Healthy nutrition
6. Immune diseases
Immune disease that may be included are:
- Bone cancer
- Feline Calicivirus
Osteosarcoma or bone cancer accounts for 95% of all bone tumours.
Types of Osteosarcoma are:
- Chondrosarcoma – in cartilage cells
- Fibrosarcoma – in soft tissues or skin
- Hemangiosarcoma – in blood vessels
What are the signs of bone cancer in cats?:
- Swelling or a mass
- Loss of appetite or difficulty eating
- Limping and lameness
- Breathing difficulties
- Neurological symptoms like seizures or a wobbly walk.
Proactive is more of the name of the game in this case. Like with humans, the sooner you can diagnose osteosarcoma, the better chance you’ll have of fighting it off.
There are several treatment options for a cat with bone cancer.
- Amputation of the affected limb or you can opt for
- Limb-sparing surgery – affected bone is removed and replaced with a bone from either your pet or a bone bank.
Feline calicivirus is the leading cause of cat flu or feline upper respiratory tract disease and can also cause limping.
Signs of FCV:
- runny nose and eyes
- oral ulcers
Studies have shown that calicivirus can affect the membrane surrounding the joints. In some cases of FCV, the virus can be completely isolated to the joints, causing lameness varying from a confined area to some cats showing unwillingness to move at all.
Lameness in cats is reported so often in correlation with feline calicivirus that the condition has been named “limping syndrome”. Lameness and limping are associated with pyrexia or a high body temperature. Stiffness and pain usually subside two to three days after the virus has run its course.
Feline calicivirus is most likely to be seen in kittens between 8 and 12 weeks old. Similar to the human influenza vaccine, the calicivirus vaccine can induce some of the known symptoms, particularly in kittens.
FCV can cause the swelling of more than one joint. This condition is referred to as polyarthritis.
Cats usually recover from the flu caused by feline calicivirus relatively quickly without much medical management or intervention. However, your veterinarian can prescribe anti-inflammatories or antibiotics if signs are severe.
What Can I Do To Prevent Or Deter The Onset Of These Conditions?
If possible, prevention is the best plan of action, but it’s not always possible. The trickiest parts of prevention are consistency and application. Since the animal doesn’t have any symptoms yet, in cases of preventative care, it’s easy to let it go by the wayside.
Persistent preventative measures can benefit your cat greatly, especially later in life when signs of degeneration start to show themselves.
Aim to prioritize:
- Quality supplements like Integricare’s TRI-ACTA help keep healthy tissue and encourage reparation of damaged tissues.
- Purchasing healthy, quality pet foods and nutrition as recommended by your vet.
- Safe living areas with safeguards in place to discourage possible injuries.
- Omega 3’s for lubrication health benefits.
- Weight management of your cat.
Your mind may be running rampant with all of the possible reasons for your cat’s limp. If your cat is not putting any weight on its leg, refuses to eat, or is becoming increasingly more lethargic—get to the vet now.
If your cat is limping, but they don’t seem to be in pain, remember that cats don’t show signs of mild to moderate pain often.
Know that your veterinarian is there to help you in times like these. Don’t hesitate to call and voice your concerns. Your vet will help you decide your next step.