Why Is My Cat Displaying Signs of Lameness?

Lameness in Cats

Any cat owner will tell you that they get to know all their pet’s quirks and foibles. Noticing any changes in how they move about is one issue that can set alarm bells ringing. 

If you think your cat has suffered some sort of accident or fall then you should contact your vet. 

More often than not, however, a limp or difficulty getting around could be due to something far less serious or dramatic. Read on for everything you need to know about lameness in cats and what you can do to help.

Watching Out for Unusual Behavior

If you notice anything out of the ordinary, gently examine the affected limb. If there is no obvious sign of injury and if your cat is in no pain, keep an eye on them for 24 hours and see if the problem settles down. 

When cats display other unusual behaviors as well as limping, this may be a reason to become more concerned. You may need to put on your detective hat because investigating what’s going on might take time and expertise.

When these symptoms accompany limping you should seek help:

  • Fever
  • Problems with breathing or changes in the way your cat breathes
  • Pain when you touch your cat
  • Loss of appetite
  • An unwillingness to move and difficulty getting comfortable for a nap

Limping can typically be due to a soft tissue injury such as an injured ligament or strained muscle. If your vet thinks this is the cause, they’ll probably take an X-ray. They may prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication once they’ve confirmed the diagnosis. 

Common Causes of Lameness in Cats

On top of a limp, you should also watch for other signs that something is wrong. These include: 

  • A general stiffness in moving around and/or problems getting up and down
  • An unwillingness to jump
  • Difficulties getting up the stairs
  • Overgrooming a particular area of the body
  • Any swollen joints 

In these cases, limping, stiffness and a general ”slowing down” could be due to a wide range of potential issues. Here are some of the most common ones:

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This condition tends to be more prevalent in older cats. Younger cats tend to only develop arthritis if they have an injury or when their joints have failed to develop properly. Arthritis is very manageable and you should not ignore it. 

The normally smooth surface of arthritic joints becomes worn down and uneven. Instead of sliding past one other, the bones in the joint rub against each other causing pain and swelling. 

Arthritic joints can eventually produce extra bone that gets in the way leading to pain when your cat moves. Treatment can include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medication prescribed by a vet for pain relief
  • Joint supplements like glucosamine or omega 3 
  • Therapies such as acupuncture and hydrotherapy (only if the cat enjoys water)
  • Surgery involving the fusion of affected joints

There are lots of things you can do to help your cat if they suffer from arthritis. These include providing a selection of beds in the home for your cat to choose from. Memory foam and a heated bed can both provide relief. 

You might also need to ensure your cat’s food and water bowls are higher to prevent any painful bending. A healthy diet is also essential as carrying unnecessary, extra weight will likely cause the painful symptoms of arthritis to be far worse. 

More extreme measures could be to create ramps and steps so that your cat can reach their favorite places. You might be able to use pieces of furniture to do this. 

Ingrown Toenails, Insect Stings and Claw or Paw Pad Injuries 

Ingrown toenails can cause a cat to limp. They’re not always obvious to the naked eye, particularly in certain breeds such as Maine Coons, Persians, and other kinds of cats with long fur. 

When cats have an injury in their claw or arthritis in their toes, they might be reluctant to scratch a post or tree. This can then lead to ingrown toenails. Your vet can normally remove these and prescribe pain medication. 

Cats can also pick up an injury from the barbed bristles of a cactus plant, a piece of glass or when the pads of their paws touch a hot stove. An insect sting on or near your cat’s paw could also cause them to limp and display signs that walking is painful.

You may need to remove any hair around the wound or sting, clean the affected area and administer a course of prescribed antibiotics.

Cat Bite Abscess

It can often take between 2 and 4 days for an abscess to develop after a bite or scratch, typically as a result of a fight with another cat. Abscesses are most common on the tail, legs, neck and face.

They can be extremely painful and when they’re close to leg joints can cause a cat to limp. Treatment usually includes:

  • Lancing the abscess in order to release pus
  • A course of anti-inflammatories and antibiotics
  • Regular cleaning of the affected area with saltwater and cotton wool

Less Common Causes of Lameness or Stiffness in Cats

In rare cases, some cancers or neurological disorders can affect the way a cat walks. Cat flu is also a potential cause of lameness in kittens. 

A spinal issue such as a slipped disc would make it difficult for a cat to move about. A  hip, shoulder or knee cap dislocation could cause similar issues.

A cruciate ligament injury can cause the knee to become unstable. The leg bones can move abnormally creating difficulty for your cat to bear any weight on the affected leg. 

Cartilage problems and blood clots are more rare causes of lameness in cats.

If in Doubt, Contact the Experts

Sprains, minor injuries, broken bones or wounds from road traffic accidents and falls are typical causes of lameness in cats. 

Do you still have any questions about unusual behavior with your cat? Then schedule a video consultation with one of our qualified vets! One of our qualified vets is on hand to provide you with expert help and support. 

We are also able to offer you further reassurance through our hassle-free, pet insurance products.

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