When your cat is limping, it's a sign of pain. Learn the most common causes of lameness in cats, ways to administer first aid at home, and how to know when it's time to see a vet.
Seeing your cat limping means he’s in pain, and it makes your heart hurt. Because you know your kitty is in pain. Many different things can make your cat’s front or back legs lame, from a simple thorn in the paw to a broken leg.
Figuring out why your cat is limping is the first step to helping them feel better. Learn the most common causes of lameness and when it’s an emergency.
Any number of things can cause cats to limp. Here, Erick Mears, DVM, DACVIM, medical director of BluePearl Pet Hospital in Tampa Bay, Florida, breaks down some of the most common issues.
Cat limping is usually caused by some sort of trauma such as falling off a high perch or getting hit by a car. Trauma-related injuries include strained muscles, broken bones, open wounds, and ligament and tendon tears. If your cat has this type of injury, you may see swelling, cuts, or bruises.
If your cat’s leg is hanging at an awkward angle, that could indicate a broken or dislocated bone.
A cat that’s limping could also have an injured paw that’s causing him pain. Cats may stay off a leg if there's something stuck in their paw, like a thorn or broken glass. A nail that’s grown into the paw or is torn or infected can also cause discomfort. Even walking across a bleach-coated surface could be painful for a cat’s paw pads.
Cats may walk stiffly or develop a limp when they get arthritis. Just like people, as cats get older their cartilage (material between bones) can wear down. When this happens, there’s more friction in those joints, which leads to irritation.
The best thing you can do at home is to identify the cause of your cat’s pain, if possible. When your cat is relaxed, you can gently touch the leg to see which area is sensitive. When you examine your cat’s leg, start with the paws and go up from there.
Remedying the problem may be as easy as pulling out a thorn or clipping an overgrown toenail. If you can’t determine the cause, and your cat is still limping after 24 to 48 hours, make an appointment with your veterinarian. They can do a thorough assessment of the leg and prescribe medications like pain relievers, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatories.
While waiting for your veterinary appointment at home, restrict your cat’s movement—in a carrier, dog crate, or bathroom—and never give your cat a pain reliever meant for people. It could be toxic to your cat.
“If you see swelling, an open wound, or your cat’s leg is hanging in a strange way, seek immediate veterinary attention,” Mears says. “Don’t wait for 48 hours to pass because infection could set in or the injury (like a broken leg) could worsen.”
If you’re not sure what to do, give your vet a call. Share how long your cat has been limping and any other symptoms you’ve noticed. Your vet can let you know if the situation is urgent and the best way to help your kitty get back to strutting on all four legs again.