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why is my cat limping

Why Is My Cat Limping? [Identifying the Cause & How To Treat It]

Cats are well-known for their athleticism, so it can be alarming when your feline friend gets sidelined with a limp. Mobility is an important part of your cat’s physical and mental wellbeing. Naturally, you’ll want to help your cat, but before you can do so, you have to answer one question: “Why is my cat limping?”

You can’t ask your cat to explain the problem (well, you can, but see where that gets you), so we’ve got the answers right here for you. There are many signs, causes, and treatments for limping in cats. They depend on the cat’s size, age, genetics, and medical history. Read on to learn how to identify a limp and its cause, what you can do about it, and when to go to the vet.


What Is a Limp?

Limping is a response to a leg injury, joint discomfort, or other health concern. The subject will not bear weight on the affected limb, resulting in an abnormal gait and slower pace.

Humans with a limp tend to sway side-to-side as they walk, but cats have four legs to deal with. Limping cats tend to lurch back and forth as they shift their weight between their front and hind legs.


Why Is My Cat Limping?

Limping in cats can be caused by a few things. There are two broad categories of limping: sudden onset limping and gradual onset limping. These two types of limps may share symptoms, but they have vastly different causes. Let’s break things down and look at the causes and effects of sudden limping versus gradual limping.

fluffy cat on fence


Sudden Limping

Sudden limping happens, well…suddenly. It occurs when a cat suffers a leg injury. Common causes of sudden limping include:

  • Sprained leg: A sprain is a twisted or overextended ligament caused by an awkward landing after a jump or a fall.
  • Torn ligament: Some injuries stretch the ligaments beyond the point of spraining so that they tear. Sprains can heal themselves, but torn ligaments need medical attention.
  • Broken leg: Broken bones are perhaps the most frightening injury for cat owners to contend with. Open wounds are easy to spot, but smaller fractures may only be seen via x-ray. Fortunately, the vet is well-equipped to deal with a broken bone.
  • Dislocated joint: Dislocations occur when a joint pops out of place, leaving the cat’s leg dangling at an awkward angle.
  • Injured paw pad: Thorns, burrs, broken glass – these can stick in a cat’s paw pads or wedge between their toes, causing serious discomfort.
  • Ingrown toenails: Cats tend to put up a fight when you try to trim their nails, but don’t give in. Regularly clipping their claws prevents ingrown toenails, which cause discomfort and can lead to limping.

Gradual Limping

Gradual limping begins with mild symptoms that get worse over time. It is typically caused by an underlying condition that will need a vet’s attention. Common threats to a cat’s health include:

  • Stiff joints: Stiff and swollen joints are typically caused by cartilage loss. This is common in older cats. Other risk factors are genetics and medical history.
  • Bacterial infection: Infections can threaten a cat’s joint health and slow them down. Bacterial infections are most commonly contracted through open wounds, so if your cat gets injured, take them for an exam and follow the vet’s recommendations to prevent infection.
  • Patellar luxation: Patellar luxation is a condition where the kneecap slides out of place, causing recurring dislocation. Certain species like the Devon Rex and Abyssinian may have a genetic predisposition to patellar luxation.
  • Hip dysplasia: Dysplasia occurs when the hip joints do not develop normally, causing loose hips that dislocate easily. Some cats are genetically predisposed to hip dysplasia, especially large, heavy-boned cats like Maine Coons and Persian cats.
  • Obesity: The more weight is placed on a cat’s joints, the more vulnerable they are to injury. Overweight cats are also more likely to develop joint diseases. You can prevent this by keeping your cat on a consistent feeding schedule and treating them to high-quality, nutritious cat food.


Common Signs of a Limping Cat

The clearest sign of a limping cat is, you guessed it, a limp. Watch your cat’s movement for that telltale lurch and, of course, any signs of major injury.

Some milder limps may not be as obvious, but other changes in your cat’s behavior can indicate something amiss.

  • Difficulty breathing: Heavy breathing or hyperventilation could be a sign that physical activity has become very difficult for your cat. Difficulty breathing can also signify other health issues, so it’s a good thing to ask your vet about it.
  • Won’t jump: Cat’s are known for their incredible leaping ability. If your cat starts avoiding jumps that they used to nail with ease, it may be a sign that something is amiss.
  • House soiling: If your cat starts using the floor or furniture like a litter box, you have every right to be upset, but don’t assume bad intentions on their part. Failure to use the litter box can be a sign of distress and mobility issues in cats.
  • Overgrooming: Cats are notorious neat freaks. They spend up to 50% of their waking hours licking themselves! However, excessive grooming could be a sign of an underlying issue. The act of grooming releases endorphins in a cat’s brain, so injured cats sometimes lick themselves compulsively to soothe their discomfort.


Is a Cat Limp Serious?

The severity of a cat’s limp depends on its cause. Some serious cases are obvious at a glance. If you notice a broken bone, open wound, or dangling limb, you should immediately take your cat to a veterinarian. On the other hand, you can treat most minor injuries at home.

If your cat is limping and you cannot tell why, the cause could be minor or serious, but you should still treat the situation as serious. If your cat has no apparent injuries, the limp may be caused by an internal condition. To find out for certain, have a veterinarian examine your cat.

orange tabby cat on wall


What Should I Do if My Cat Is Limping?

Depending on the severity and cause of the limp, you may be able to treat it yourself, or you may need to go to a vet. Pet owners can administer first-aid for torn footpads at home. One of the most common causes of limping in cats is the presence of a foreign object, like a pebble or a burr, wedged between their toes. You can easily remove these foreign bodies with a pair of tweezers.

You should not try to fix serious injuries like a broken leg at home. It could make the problem worse. A veterinarian can safely perform a thorough examination of your cat and diagnose the issue.

Even when you can care for your cat at home, it’s still a good idea to check in with a vet. They can make sure that the problem has been treated correctly and take measures to prevent their wound from being infected.

Limping can be a symptom of something more serious, so it’s also good for the vet to check your cat for any underlying conditions. Serious situations may require surgery and physical therapy.


Can a Limping Cat Heal Itself?

Cats can sometimes recover from a limp on their own, but they usually benefit from human assistance. It depends on the severity of the limp and its cause.

Bruises, scratches, and minor sprains usually heal on their own over time. If your cat appears to have a minor limp, monitor it for a day or two. If the limp persists or worsens, you should seek veterinary advice.

Recovery Time

Recovery can be just as tough for your cat as the limp itself. Playful and adventurous cats have an especially hard time staying off their injured limb and getting ample rest. The most important role for a pet parent at this stage is providing care and kindness to their feline friend.

During your cat’s recovery, make sure they have a comfortable place to rest and recuperate. Keep your cat indoors to minimize the risk of infection or re-injury. They are sure to appreciate extra pampering during this trying time.

Cat treats infused with CBD are an excellent, all-natural way to soothe discomfort and promote calm in a stressful situation. You can also apply a CBD tincture to your cat’s food, directly into their mouth, or underneath their tongue. You should never give your pet medicine intended for humans, like aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen.


When Should I Go to the Vet?

You should seek veterinary care immediately if your cat has a serious injury like a broken bone or dislocation. Treatment options in these cases include splints, slings, and surgery. If your cat is put in a cast or receives surgery, follow-up appointments will be necessary. As long as your cat is diagnosed correctly and given prompt treatment, they should be able to make a full recovery.

When it comes to your cat’s wellbeing, it is always best to play it safe. Our cats care for us and deserve the same in return. Even if you can tell why your cat is limping, and the cause does not appear to be not serious, it can still be a good idea to place a call to the vet to hear what advice they have.


Final Thoughts – Why Is My Cat Limping?

There is no universal remedy for a limp, so before you can help your limping cat, you need to understand what caused the problem in the first place. Sometimes, you can identify the cause of your cat’s limping on your own, but it’s better to play it safe. A licensed veterinarian is the most knowledgeable health resource for any pet.

Your primary role as a pet parent will be as a source of love and kindness for your cat during this challenging time. Injuries are distressing, but worry and restlessness complicate the recovery process. Tend to your cat’s physical and mental wellbeing by keeping them comfortable and tending to them regularly. You can offer them gentle snuggles, snacks, and therapeutic products like CBD treats to make the process a little easier for both of you.