Why is My Cat Limping?

Your loveable and energetic cat suddenly no longer wants to jump around and play. They may have started to avoid stairs and now have a limp. You may replay the last few days in your head and try to determine why they’re suddenly in pain. Did they fall when you weren’t home? Are they sick? You may start to panic that something is seriously wrong. Before you worry yourself sick, let’s investigate the possible reasons to answer, “why is my cat limping?”

It should be noted that if know your cat was recently injured, has bleeding, or dangling limbs, then it’s time to go to the emergency vet or make an appointment immediately.

Why is My Cat Limping?

Causes for cat limping varies. You may never find out what caused the limping. However, there are a few main causes of limping in cats.

Jumping from high points

Cats are curious creatures. They love to jump around to higher areas and sit near or on windowsills. Your cat may not realize the window is open and miscalculate their jump or they can fall asleep and fall. Contrary to popular belief, cats don’t always land on their feet.

Take caution against open windows, screen-less windows, and high points in your home. Cats love to jump from dresser to dresser or even from a cabinet to a fridge! These can result in various injuries, especially in senior cats and kittens. Keep your cat from jumping higher than 3 feet whenever possible.

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Cats that have had previous injuries, like broken legs or back, or illness may experience arthritis. Age is also a major factor. You may start to notice your cat change the way they walk. There may be stiffness, difficulty jumping and climbing, and limping.

Limping that occurs more than 24 hours should be examined by a vet to rule out any serious conditions.

Cardiovascular disease

When a cat’s hind legs no longer function properly, it’s cause for major concern. A symptom of cardiovascular disease in cats is the weakness of the hind legs. The weakness in the limbs comes from the blood clots that stop the blood flow to the legs.

It doesn’t just stop at the hind legs. Sometimes, it extends to other areas of the body. More than one heart condition may also be present. Most conditions are treatable with medication, changes in diet, and exercise.

Neurological conditions

When your vet examines your cat, they’ll check for every possibility. If your cat is 9 or older, there’s a greater chance a neurological injury has occurred. This can be due to a stroke or spinal cord compression. Your cat may even need to visit a specialist to determine the issues.

Paw problems

Injured paws are a common problem that causes limping. Cats might avoid the leg that has an affected paw. Your cat might have a thorn, splinter, or glass shard in their pad or toes. It can be something as simple as a broken nail or an ingrown nail. If you clean surfaces with bleach, it may irritate their paws too.

How Can You Tell if Your Cat’s in Pain?

Cats are very good at hiding their pain. It’s difficult to tell when they’re in pain and where the pain comes from. Chronic pain conditions often go undiagnosed and are chalked up to old age.

Cats instinctively hide their pain and injuries. They do this to avoid predation. It’s thought to be a hereditary trait from wild cats. However, it should be noted that each cat treats pain differently. One cat may show their pain, while another hides it at all costs.

To determine the pain your cat is in, vets use the Glasgow Feline Composite Measure Pain Scale (CMPS-Feline). This requires knowledge of cat behavior, ear position, vocalization, and posture. As a pet owner, you know your cat best, but you’re not trained in the pain scale or cat behavior.

What you can do is observe your cat. Check for changes in vocalization. If your cat is normally chatty, take note if they respond less often, or more often but aggressively (hissing, growling). Take note of changes in their daily activities.

Your cat may pace or have decreased energy. Their legs may tremble at rest. They may be no longer jumping or playful, they may avoid stairs or slick surfaces. Cats may also sleep less or more, stop grooming habits, have loss of appetite, have bathroom accidents, or sleep in odd places.

The facial expressions on your cat may change to a grimace, a squint in their eyes, or a sleepy look. Cats with pain often adopt abnormal postures. They may stand with their front legs under the chest to relieve hip or rear leg pain.

They might tuck their legs under once they lay down instead of stretching out. You might notice your cat doesn’t practice scratching techniques anymore or perform the usual cat stretches.

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Reasons Why My Cat is Limping All of a Sudden

Your cat may start limping for a variety of reasons.

Reasons can include:

  • Arthritis
  • Paw pad injuries
  • Ingrown nails
  • Walking on hot surfaces
  • Sprained leg or a broken leg
  • Torn nail
  • Insect or animal bites

Sudden limping may cause concern. Before you ambush them and try to see what happened to them, let them calmly lay down. Approach your cat slowly to avoid stress or upsetting them. When your cat has calmed down, check their paws first and look for sensitive areas.

If nothing at the paw shows results, slowly move up the rest of the leg. You might notice splinters or thorns. You can use tweezers to pull them out or consult a vet for assistance. If you’ve examined the paw and leg and can’t see any visible signs, take your cat to the vet after 24 hours.

Cat limping symptoms may mirror other conditions or injuries like a sprain or broken bones. If you do suspect broken limbs, speak to a vet, and schedule an appointment. The most important thing is to make your cat as comfortable as possible before their visit. You might have to crate them to keep them from walking around or jumping.

Should I Take My Cat to the Vet for Limping?

The general consensus is mixed. If you suspect the injury is severe, then don’t wait and head to the vet immediately. Your cat may have a splinter or thorn lodged in their paw. When this is the case, you can safely and gently remove the problem. Some pet owners get nervous at care such as this. If you’re someone that feels it’s best for a vet to handle minor issues, then make an appointment. Should you choose to do it yourself, clean the affected area first, then remove the object and clean it again. Apply ointment as well.

There are some instances where you won’t be able to tell what caused the limping. Some vets say it’s okay to wait 24 hours before going to the vet. Other vets recommend following this guideline on when to go to the vet.

When to go to the vet? If any of these situations apply, make an appointment, or go to the emergency vet as soon as you can:

  • Swelling
  • Open wounds
  • Limp has occurred for more than 24 hours
  • The limp is hanging or dangling
  • Your cat appears to be in severe pain
  • You can’t determine the cause
  • Bleeding is present

Even if you believe the cause to be simple or easy to care for, it’s always a good idea to speak with a vet about what you should do. A vet can tell you what steps to take or how to prevent infections or worsening damage until you’re able to bring your feline in.

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How Do You Treat a Limping Cat?

During the exam from your vet, your vet will ask you to describe your cat’s behavior to get a clearer picture and pinpoint what may have caused the limping. Your vet may find the initial cause at first glance. If they can’t, they’ll perform more diagnostic measures like X-rays, blood tests, CT scans, ultrasounds, biopsies, or neurological exams. Once the cause is found, treatment begins.

Your vet will want to first and foremost make your cat comfortable. They will want to manage the pain and start with the less evasive means first. Then, they will move to more aggressive measures if it doesn’t work. Pain medicines like NSAIDs will be prescribed and closely monitored. If they don’t work, stronger medications like opioids will get prescribed. Your cat may receive injections or oral medication.

Medications like chondroprotectants protect the cartilage around the joint. The medication slows the degradation of the cartilage in the damaged limbs. Laser surgery, surgery dietary changes, or physical therapy may also be recommended.

At-home treatment and guidelines will be provided by your vet. If you haven’t visited the vet yet, do your best to keep your cat from running around, keep any wounds clean and protected, and make your cat comfortable until the visit.

Cat Lameness: Difference Between Older and Younger Cats

Lameness in cats have the following signs regardless of age:

  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Bleeding
  • Bumps
  • Less physical activity
  • Not as affectionate
  • Broken bones
  • Won’t bear weight on the affected limb
  • Limping
  • Avoiding stairs
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Abnormal behavior (excessive meowing, aggression, panic)
  • Unable to walk or stand
  • Nerve damage
  • Bone cancer
  • Infections
  • Stroke
  • Poor nutrition
  • Development conditions

Cat lameness symptoms may not differ but there are differences in the causes.

Cat Limping in Older Cats

Lameness in older cats has different causes than in younger cats. Lameness typically doesn’t occur in older cats unless they’re suffering from neurological disorders or arthritis. You’ll notice your older cat start to sleep more and become less active. Your cat may even hesitate to jump on surfaces and avoid stairs. When it comes to your cat having arthritis, it’s difficult to diagnose. As mentioned, cats hide their pain well.

After a visit to the vet and some testing, you might get a diagnosis. When you do, your vet can prepare you for the treatment and care. Most care guidelines recommend a change in diet and supplements. A change in diet to a more anti-inflammatory and healthier one can alleviate symptoms. Additionally, the supplements will ensure your cat gets the essential vitamins and minerals it may have been lacking. These supplements aren’t cures, but they can help manage symptoms too. Medications for symptoms may also be recommended.

A diagnosis for a neurological disorder may take time to discover. Your cat will most likely have to visit a specialist and undergo rigorous tests to rule out any other conditions. As your cat ages, they become more susceptible to these types of disorders the same way a human can. These conditions are manageable with medication but cannot be cured.

Nerve disorders can cause lameness too. Typically, these types of disorders may disrupt motor skills, diminish reflexes, or delay cognitive abilities. Your cat may have been born with the disorder and only began to display symptoms as they aged. They could have experienced a spinal cord trauma, developed tumors, or gotten an ear infection. Often, it’s treatable with medication or surgery. Some cats may benefit from massaging the joint too.

Cat Limping in Kittens and Younger Cats

Lameness in young cats or kittens happens for a few reasons. They may have a health condition called Panosteitis. This is inflammation of the bones. Your cat will have a limp and experience extreme pain. All breeds are susceptible, but it happens more often in medium and larger breeds of cats. It’s diagnosed in younger cats from 5 months to 18 months. The condition is treatable and requires frequent vet visits.

Limping calici is another cause for limping in kittens. It’s a viral infection that typically affects the respiratory system and causes painful ulcers. However, in some kittens, it doesn’t have any symptoms other than lameness. Any cat can develop this condition but it’s more common in kittens. It’s believed to happen due to underdeveloped immune systems. Sometimes, it’s found in kittens that have had a reaction to the FVRCP vaccine. It’s a treatable condition that clears up within a week with proper care.

Another cause for lameness in young cats or kittens is falls and jumps. Kittens and young cats may have trouble making long-distance jumps or jumps from higher surfaces to lower ones. They might fall and sprain their leg or break a bone. You can’t stop your cat from jumping, it’s in their nature. But you can make it more accessible for them until they age. If you can, try to keep your kitten on lower surfaces to avoid accidents. The recommended standard is no more than three feet.

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What to Do if Your Cat is Limping?

If you noticed your cat has been limping, you may be inclined to pick them up and begin looking for what’s wrong immediately. If your cat is lying down, try to inspect their paw on the leg they’re limping on. Should your cat indicate pain, stop immediately and call a vet.


Care tips for cat limping depend on whether it’s an emergency limp situation or non-emergency.

For non-emergency situations, you’ll need to identify the hurt area. Your cat can’t speak, so you can’t exactly ask where it hurts. You can start examining.

Look in between their toes. Many times, they have thorns, splinters, or foreign objects lodged. Take careful note of the paw pads. There may be cuts, punctures, or infections. Gently apply pressure to the areas you think are the source. Cats will generally quickly pull their legs back when you reach the spot. Don’t continue to probe your cat.

Check for areas that seem swollen. Gently bend and flex the joints. If there’s resistance, it’s a sign of pain. Compare both legs and look for differences in each one. Once you’ve made a thorough investigation, call your vet with findings, and see what they recommend.

In the meantime, here are a few tips you can follow until you seek care from a vet.

Remove foreign bodies

If you locate it in between the toes and can remove it, do so. Clean the area with antibacterial soap and soak it in Epsom salts to reduce swelling. Apply antibiotic ointment.

Treat the wound

Sometimes, it’s the pads of the feet or broken nails. Care for these wounds with antibacterial soap and ointment. Control any bleeding should it occur.

Reduce swelling

Apply ice packs to the affected area for up to 15 minutes, twice per day. If your cat doesn’t mind water, place them into a tub and swirl the water around the affected area.

Don’t force your cat if they hate baths or water. That will only cause distress and could injure them further.

Treat abscesses

If your cat has an abscess, use warm compresses on the wound. Soak in Epsom salts if possible. If the abscess bursts, don’t treat it on your own. Take your cat immediately to the vet and follow their guidelines.

Restrict movement

Cats who suffer from lameness need rest. Confine them to rest as much as possible. Try to stop them from jumping around or unnecessary movements.

If your cat is seriously injured, it’s imperative you take them straight to a vet. Don’t try to treat emergency instances on your own. You can cause further damage or worse to your cat.

Joint Care for Cats

Nodens Cat Hip and Joint Supplement

Nodens uses all-natural ingredients to effectively treat your pet’s pain. It comes in a liquid form, which makes it much easier to give to your pet. You can mask it in their hard or soft food. Some pet owners have better success adding it to their water.

It contains several known ingredients to help with joint pain and mobility. It has 260mg of glucosamine, 50mg of chondroitin, 120mg of MSM, and 10mg of hyaluronic acid. These natural ingredients are designed to increase flexibility, ease joint pain, increase mobility, and improve fluid in the joints. It can be given to cats of all ages, from kitten to senior.

Users of the product claim it helps greatly with mobility issues. One owner used it on their 12-year-old cat. Prior to the medication, the cat was sluggish and not as playful as it once was. It even had trouble landing its jumps. Once the medication was started, the cat began to play more often. The cat has increased energy and now jumps around.

Joint Genie Supplement

Joint Genie is a product from The Healthy Dog Co. The company uses all-natural, safe, gentle, and non-toxic ingredients. It has some of the most widely known natural ingredients like sage, rosehip, ginger root, cayenne, turmeric, Devil’s claw, and liquorice. This combination of ingredients has been shown to aid in mobility, joint, hip, muscle problems, and age-related conditions. This product is a liquid making it easier to mask in your pet’s food. It also absorbs into the bloodstream much quicker than tablets or other methods. This provides immediate relief to your pet.

You can use this product on your pet at any age, but older pets tend to have the best results. This is because the lack of mobility is more noticeable.

Users of this supplement report positive results. One user with a cat reported pain relief from early arthritis. The cat went from lethargic and in pain to livelier and less pain. There was also an improvement in walking. Another user reported their senior cat had an increased appetite within the first couple of days. By the 4th day, the cat was running and playing around.

Final Thoughts

Cat lameness doesn’t always have a direct cause at first glance. You may notice your cat’s behavior has changed from happy-go-lucky to frequent meowing, hissing, and hiding away from you. When your cat’s behavior has changed, it’s easy to become alarmed.

Lameness has many causes and the ones you can’t see will be determined by your vet through a closer look or testing. Most causes of lameness are treatable and can be managed. When your cat has lameness, try to make them as comfortable as possible until you can visit a vet. If it’s been more than 24 hours, seek help immediately.

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