Limping in Cats

Limping (lameness) in cats can be subtle or very obvious. You may see your cat holding up his/her paw or hopping on three legs from time to time, or you may see your cat consistently not putting any weight on his/her paw at all. Severe lameness needs prompt veterinary attention, as your cat is likely very uncomfortable and in need of medication to relieve pain. Do not give your cat any pain medication without consulting with a veterinarian, as some medications are toxic to cats.

Signs that Your Cat Needs to See a Veterinarian

  • Limping persists for more than a few days
  • Swelling of the affected limb(s)
  • Inability to walk or run normally
  • Reluctance to perform an everyday activity, like jumping on a perch
  • Unwillingness to bear weight on the affected limb(s)
  • Affected leg(s) are at an unnatural angle
  • Vocal behavior (e.g., yowling), suggesting that your cat is in pain
  • Limping is accompanied by other signs of illness (e.g., fever, decreased appetite, vomiting, lethargy)

What You Can Do

  • Limit your cat's activity. Do not allow him/her to run, to jump on/off furniture, to go up/down stairs, or to play with other pets. You can do this by confining your cat to a large crate or a small bathroom.
  • Allow your cat to rest quietly without being disturbed by people or other pets.
  • Remember that cats who are in pain may try to bite or scratch you. Handle your cat with caution.

Common Causes of Limping

  • Wounds or abscesses on the paw or leg
  • Broken or overgrown toenails
  • Broken bones
  • Arthritis
  • Torn ligaments or tendons
  • Strained or sprained muscles

Treatment of Limping

  • If your cat is uncomfortable, pain medication that is safe for a cat will be prescribed.
  • Antibiotics are given if there are wounds or abscesses.
  • Any foreign bodies (e.g., broken glass, plant awn) stuck in the paw or limb will be removed.
  • If your cat has a fracture, a torn ligament, or a dislocated hip, he/she may need to be placed under anesthesia for splint placement, for surgery, or for reduction of the dislocation.
  • If your cat has arthritis, joint supplements may be helpful.
  • Physical therapy may be indicated.

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