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Why is My Cat Limping All of a Sudden? - Causes and Treatment

 
By María Besteiros, Expert veterinary assistant and canine/feline hairdresser.. April 4, 2019
Why is My Cat Limping All of a Sudden? - Causes and Treatment

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Cats are resilient creatures. Although not immortal, they are agile, can withstand high falls and will defend themselves if necessary. Such resilience means they are also able to endure a lot of pain without manifesting obvious symptoms. While this is a credit to the cat's strength, it makes it difficult for their guardians to see problems when they arise. This means if you are asking yourself ‘why is my cat limping all of a sudden?’, you should exercise some concern.

AnimalWised looks into the cause of why a cat is limping, but it is important to know that we should always go to a veterinarian. While it may only be a minor injury which could resolve itself on its own, more serious causes can require surgical intervention or other treatment.

You may also be interested in: Why is My Dog Limping on their Back Leg?

My cat is limping but not crying

To find out why our cat is limping, we need to take a look at the affected limb. By looking at how they place their leg on the ground, we can get a better idea of where the injury or wound is located. We should never assume the nature of the injury, but we also need to be careful when examining the limb. If we manipulate it too much, we might exacerbate the injury. This is why it is so important to first observe how they walk.

Through observation, we can see if the cat is limping on their front leg or limping on their back leg. We can also see how they put pressure on the ground. If the cat is trying not to touch their paw to the floor, it is possible there is an injury to their paw pad. If the cat is limping, but they are able to place their whole foot on the ground, the injury is likely further up the leg.

As we state above, cats are known for their durability. This means it is not uncommon for a cat to be limping, but not make any sound to alert us to their pain. They may have cried out when the injury happened, but we won't necessarily have been present. Even if we touch the affected area, they may still not make a noise. Hopefully this is a good sign that the injury is not serious. However, it can become worse by not healing properly or even leading to infection.

If your cat is limping on their front paw, carefully examine their paw pad. Look at the skin for signs of wounds and don't forget to look between their toes. While cats are generally cautious animals, it is possible they have stood on something they shouldn't. If they have a splinter on their food, then they should have it removed. Serious burns will change the texture of the skin, so look out for this also.

With mild or superficial wounds on your cat's paw or leg, we can treat them at home. This will require removal of any foreign body and disinfecting the wound. If their lameness or limping still persists, you will need to take them to the vet.

My cat has a very swollen leg

If the cat has a small wound, it usually means the cat is limping, but there is no swelling. Some causes of limping in cats do present more obvious symptoms. If your cat has swelling on the leg, then it is likely there is something more seriously wrong with it. The swelling is generally caused by one of two things:

  • Infection: when an infection is present, the body's immune response kicks in and send antibodies to the infection site. This results in swelling which should go down as the infection clears up.
  • Breakage: if the cat breaks a bone, then fluid mainly in the form of blood can collect at the site of the break as the body's attempt to keep it protected from further harm.

We will discuss fractures and breakages further below. For infections, we need to be very careful as they can stem from various causes. Although cats are very clean animals which will try to lick their wounds, it is still possible for even small skin abrasions to lead to infection. If this is the case, the infection can grow bigger and lead to swelling. If the infection is bad enough, antibiotics may need to be prescribed.

Parasites can also lead to limping. While many parasites infest the gastrointestinal tract or skin of a cat, some may localize themselves in a limb. For example, some species of roundworm such as the Dracunculus insignis are mainly found in the connective tissue in the skin of their host's legs[1].

When the swelling becomes more acute, it may lead to an abscess. This is when the pus has accumulated to the point is forms a ball shape under the skin. The abscess may need to be drained, with follow up antibiotic treatment to heal the infection. However, skin tumors are also possibly the cause of the swollen lump. A veterinary diagnosis is necessary to determine the right course of treatment.

Why is My Cat Limping All of a Sudden? - Causes and Treatment - My cat has a very swollen leg

My cat is limping all of a sudden

Infections, abscesses and infestations may develop over time. The limping might become more and more acute if left untreated. If we see the cat starts limping all of a sudden, then it is more likely caused by a physical trauma to the leg. Since cats are naturally inclined to spend time up high, falling from a great height can lead to a fracture of the bone or a snapped tendon. This is something known as high rise syndrome which can affect some cats more acutely than others. Similarly, cats often don't understand road safety and can be prone to road accidents.

As with other causes of limping in cats, they may not manifest many other signs of evident pain. In most serious cases, however, the cat may be limping or trembling due to shock. They may have dilated pupils, visible hemorrhages (bleeding), breathing difficulties or other expected symptoms of a serious injury.

Whether or not the cat has more symptoms, the sudden presence of a limp will require a veterinary visit. It is possible a fracture occurs and the broken bone is unable to heal because the cat is walking on the limb. In these cases, a specialist will x-ray the cat to confirm a fracture. There may also be non-visible injuries such as internal bleeding or a pneumothorax.

The treatment may require surgery. This is usually for compound fractures or serious breakages. Otherwise, it may be resolved with a bandage or cast. The postoperative or recuperative periods after a break are essential for the cat's well-being. As they will not likely understand the reason for the bandage, they may try to remove it and exacerbate the situation.

My cat is only limping sometimes

It is possible you notice your cat is limping all of sudden, then just as suddenly, seems to be fine. If the limping comes and goes, then we might worry it is a degenerative disease. While the cause is believed to be influenced by genetics, it is something which occurs most often in older cats.

Osteoarthritis is one such degenerative disease which leads to the joints becoming inflamed and worn down. The cat will not only limp, but have difficulty in getting up, have stiffness in their gait and will avoid jumping. Problems with mobility may also lead to the cat avoiding certain tasks such as hunting or playing, eventually leading to basic tasks such as eating or using the litter tray more difficult.

Part of the problem is that arthritis is progressive, so the cat may only be limping for some periods of time and not at others. As the disease progresses, the limping will be more permanent and their limbs will never quite recover.

Treatment of these types of degenerative diseases are usually managing the symptoms. The reason for this is because it is not curable. Medicine to treat the pain and reduce inflammation may be required. Food supplements or dietary changes may be recommended to help strengthen their joints. Modifying their environment to make daily tasks easier will likely be required. A full treatment plan will be discussed after veterinary diagnosis.

Why is My Cat Limping All of a Sudden? - Causes and Treatment - My cat is only limping sometimes

My cat is limping and has fever

Another explanation for your cat limping all of a sudden may be due to an underlying disease. Many infectious diseases have limping as a symptom. Feline calicivirus can lead to lameness as the infection progresses. There will be other symptoms concurrent to limping, particularly ocular and respiratory problems. In these cases, fever will likely be present. Taking the cat's temperature can help us to determine if infection is present, but a vet will need to diagnose the problem.

All with all viral diseases, the treatment will be based on making the symptoms subside so the body can fight off infection. Administration of drugs will also help to prevent secondary infections. Since viral and bacterial infections can seriously damage the cat's health, prevention is always better than cure. This is why it is recommended we vaccinate cats when they are kittens and maintain a vaccination schedule throughout their lives.

Particularly virulent strains can be life threatening and be accompanied by acute symptoms, limping being just one of them. However, when caught in time, the virus can abate and the cat will return to normal mobility. Either way, we need to go to the vet to ensure the best treatment is administered.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Why is My Cat Limping All of a Sudden? - Causes and Treatment, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.

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