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Cat Limping? Possible Causes and What to Do

Cat Limping May Indicate a Veterinary Emergency

If you notice your cat limping, it could be an injury or other medical condition impacting a muscle, joint, bone, paw, or other tissue. Cat limping can result from trauma like jumping, falling from a high surface, or being hit by a car. If your cat’s leg is hanging at an awkward angle and they cannot and will not walk on it, or if there is an open wound, bleeding, or if your cat has been limping for more than 24 hours, it could be a veterinary emergency. Please call us or bring your cat in immediately to our 24/7/365 vet hospital in Castle Rock.

Cats tend to hide their pain, so if your cat is exhibiting signs of trauma or pain, their condition is likely severe enough that a vet should examine your cat right away. If you do not think that it is an emergency, call us to make an appointment with our veterinary specialists.

If not due to major trauma, your cat limping could be for several reasons.

Lameness Might Still Need Veterinary Help

If your cat has something stuck in their paw pads or if they have a minor muscle or other soft tissue injury or strain, it could be enough to cause them to limp. Note that most cats will not walk on a broken leg or dislocated joint. If your cat is clearly in pain, do not try to examine them for broken bones or dislocations.

If your cat is lying down and calm, you may try to inspect the paw on the leg that is causing the limp. Stop if there are indications of pain (flinching, meowing, or abnormal behavior or hissing when you gently touch the area). Do you see signs of:

  • swelling
  • redness
  • bleeding
  • a foreign object
  • excessive licking
  • lameness (avoidance of walking on that leg or paw)?

If any of these conditions are present, please call or bring your cat to our vet hospital.

Even if you do not see anything but your cat is limping for more than 24 hours, please contact your family veterinarian or make an appointment with Veterinary Specialists of the Rockies. There could be a soft tissue injury, broken bone, or infection that needs treatment.

Possible Causes of Cat Limping

Though you may never know what happened to cause your cat’s limping, there are some common causes of lameness or limping in cats.


Orthopedic Problems: Jumping from Heights Can Hurt Cats
Be cautious with open windows as our cats are naturally curious. They could jump or fall from an open window and be injured or worse. Be sure that your window screens are secure or have an extra guard or grate in place to prevent your cat from pushing screens out. Never leave windows open when you are not at home, and monitor behavior if windows are open. Many cats love to explore high perches in our homes, too. Even jumping from a tall dresser or shelf can result in injuries and cat limping, especially in older and smaller cats.

Other orthopedic conditions, like a kneecap being out of place (known as patellar luxation) may also cause limping. Your veterinarian or our specialists can examine your cat to determine if this is the cause.

Arthritis Can Also Cause Cat Limping
Cat limping, changes in walking, stiffness, and difficulty jumping or climbing could mean that your pet is getting older and that they are suffering from arthritis joint pain. If your cat limping or other pain symptoms do not improve within 24 hours, have the limp examined by a veterinarian to avoid any additional, long-term damage.

If Your Cat’s Hind Legs Are Not Working, It Could be Cardiovascular Disease
You may be surprised to learn that cardiovascular (heart) disease in cats can also cause issues with their hind legs. Hind leg weakness can occur in cats who have heart disease known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). This disease causes a thickening of the heart muscle, which can cause blood clots that interrupt the blood supply to the hind legs, known as feline aortic thromboembolism (FATE). Other heart conditions may also be present. Our cardiologist can help you better understand what is happening to your cat after a thorough examination. Please bring your cat in immediately or call and request an urgent appointment if your cat cannot move, is dragging one or both hind legs, or is vocalizing and expressing pain. Note that other limbs and even other areas of the body may also be affected.

Neurological Conditions Should Also Be Considered
If your cat is limping and there are no clear orthopedic, soft tissue, cardiac, or other disease indications, your veterinarian or our specialists will consider possible neurological issues. Just like people, older (nine or more years, usually) cats can experience neurological injuries that can cause the loss of motion, including strokes or compression on the spinal cord (intervertebral disc disease or IVDD, which occurs when the cushioning discs between the vertebrae of the spinal column harden).

Treating a Cat Limping

Depending on the severity of your cat’s condition, your veterinarian will explain your cat’s treatment plan and can work with your family veterinarian to be sure that they are also aware of your cat’s medical status.

Veterinary Examination

When you bring your cat to our 24-hour vet hospital or your family vet, we will begin with an examination to better understand your cat’s condition. We will address pain and determine the need for x-rays or other diagnostic imaging, which can allow us to see if there are broken bones or damage that is otherwise not visible.

Cat ACL Tears and Other Possible Causes of Lameness

Just like ACL tears in dogs and people, cats can also experience ACL injuries. Cat ACL tears can result from jumping or falling from high perches and may be more common in overweight cats. The specialty vets at Veterinary Specialists of the Rockies can help to confirm if your cat needs surgery, if they would benefit from pain medication, or if other treatments, like veterinary acupuncture, could help.

NOTE: Do not give your pet human pain medication unless specifically prescribed by your veterinarian. Human medications may be toxic to pets, causing internal injury or worse.

Helping Your Cat Limping to Heal from Trauma

After a visit to our clinic or your family veterinarian, you will know if your cat limping or treatment means that you should limit your cat’s movement. Placing your cat in an environment where they will not run or jump may help with healing. Placing your cat in a large dog crate where the cat has enough space to walk around, with a small, low-profile litter box, water bowl, and bed or blanket is one approach. It may also help to place the cat in a room away from other pets, kids, and noise so that they can easily sleep and potentially speed their healing.

Provide a litter box in the room that is easy to enter and exit, like a baking tray or pan for kittens to prevent additional injuries and accidents, along with easily accessible water, and food as prescribed.

Spend Time with Your Cat While Healing

If your cat’s limping is due to a major injury or minor mishap, you should still spend time together, sharing gentle touches and limited treats to help with recovery time. Your cat will be less active so follow your vet’s recommendations for feeding to prevent weight gain and further leg injury.

With the right veterinary care, support during healing, and your time and attention, your cat companion should feel much better soon and return to the playful pet that you know and love.

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