This is Why Your Cat is Limping And How To Help Her

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Approved By: Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM

Certified Content. This article has been fact checked and verified by our veterinary adviser.​

cat limping

What should you do if your cat is lame? Well, you could get him a trendy haircut and some dance lessons. You can tell him to stop making comic book references every few seconds and update his Tinder profile.

Oh, wait, you mean cat paw injury, cat limping, that kind of lame. If what you really meant was “Why is my cat limping?” then keep reading.

Symptoms That Often Accompany Limping in Cats

Does your cat show reluctance to bear weight on any of her legs? Do you notice any swelling or abnormal appearance of the limb?

Other symptoms that may accompany stiffness in a cat include skipping gait, lumps or bumps and obvious trauma. She may not be jumping around as much or be reluctant to use the stairs.

Why Your Cat is Limping? 

So you're thinking “My cat is limping…why?” That could be any of a number of reasons. Best case scenario is she just got her paw squished in a door way, but she'll be fine after sulking behind the couch for a few hours.

Perhaps she just walked in some mud or the new kitty litter sticks too much to her feet. In that case, the solution is just to clean your cat's feet with a mildly damp cloth.

If the has a stinger, burr or thorn in her paw, you have to grab the tweezers and make like Androcles. A minor cut is painful but easily cleaned and bandaged. Just remember to use antiseptic formulated specially for cats.

A torn claw can be fixed with pet nail clippers. If it's bleeding a little, silver nitrate or styptic powder could clear it up. Cornstarch also works.

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There are more serious causes of limping that may require veterinary care. While you are discouraged from declawing a perfectly healthy cat, damage to the base of the claw may mean you have to take her to the vet to get it removed. It could be frostbite or damage to her joints or ligaments. A bone could be damaged. It could be an infection or an abscess. Heartworm migration can cause limping. It could be cancer, but arthritis is much more likely, especially in older cats.

1. Injuries

Many injuries a cat might have can be treated with first aid or even just letting Kitty rest in private until the pain goes away. Pain in your cat should not be ignored, but investigated to see just how bad it is.

A simple burn can be treated with a cool rag. A more severe burn may need a vet to look at it. Most thorns, splinters and burrs can be picked out.

The foxtail, AKA grass awn, can be so deeply embedded that the only way to get it out is to have the animal sedated first. Any cut on the skin needs to be cleaned, disinfected and bandaged.

The cone of shame might be necessary to keep her from biting the bandage off. Wounds that are very deep, puncture wounds or animal bites need veterinary care. A broken leg can be mended with a cast or molded splint. Kitty may be wearing the cone of shame for four to six weeks.

image of a sad kitty

2. Arthritis

Though you may think it only affects senior cats, arthritis can cause lameness and other mobility problems in cats of all ages. Because it's so subtle, arthritis can be harder to recognize than a broken bone or other wound.

However, cats most definitely feel the effects. Arthritis causes severe pain and causes it to be difficult for animals to carry out ordinary functions. Besides limping, some arthritic cats may reduce their physical activity.

3. Infections

By instinct, cats do not like to show that they are in pain. In the wild, pain is weakness and weakness makes you someone else's snack. If your cat has been hiding an injury from you, it may get infected.

An infection can make a pain grow from merely irritable to unbearable. If your cat is limping, don't just look at the paw. Look at the whole leg. There may be an infected wound that makes walking painful.

4. Other health related reasons

If your cat has dilated pupils, drools or vomits and is bleeding from the nose, mouth or gums, she may have made the mistake of toying with a venomous snake or spider. She needs to be taken to the vet right away for antivenin.

Bites even from non-venomous creatures can get infected easily and need immediate treatment. Back pain can also cause a cat to walk more stiffly.

Though rare, neurological diseases such as lumbosacral disease and intervertebral disease can affect the way a cat walks. Cancers such as sarcoma and lymphoma can have a limp be the first symptom.

When the vet declares a diagnosis of lameness

Your vet will perform a thorough examination on your cat and ask for a full history from you. The cat's age may be one of the first questions you are asked. An older cat will often have different reasons for not bearing weight on a leg than a kitten. You will also be asked which leg your cat has been favoring, a back leg or a front leg.

The vet will figure out where your cat has the most pain and check for any irregularities of the bones or joints. Your vet may express a desire to perform a few tests, which may include x-rays or even some blood work.

image of a kitty with lameness

Should the vet recommend an x-ray, the procedure will be performed under a general anesthetic. This will make it easier for the vet to adjust the limb to get a good look without causing further pain or discomfort.

The cat will typically stay with the vet for a few hours and be able to come home the same day. This of course depends on the diagnosis. Once your vet has looked at the x-rays it will then be decided what the next course of action will be.

Possibly, it will be necessary to refer your cat to a specialist vet, e.g. an orthopedic vet or a neurologist.

How to treat lameness

First of all, take care to be very gentle. A cat in pain may react by lashing out. Cage rest may be required. You may need to keep her in a crate with bedding, a litter box with low sides and low food and water bottles.

Keep her company to let her know she isn't being punished, she just needs her rest. If she likes TV or radio, you can keep it on for her. Let her have any comfort objects that make her comfortable and the odd low calorie treat. (You don't want her plumping up, after all.)

Only give her the medicine prescribed for her. Human medications, even topical ones, may do more harm than good.

Signs that your cat must see a veterinarian

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Remember that a cat in pain may try to hide. If she's been doing this more than a day or so, this is a bad sign. If she can no longer walk, run or take part in other normal physical activities, there is something wrong. If the leg is held at an unnatural angle, it's probably worse that just a burr.

While a cat may try to hide her pain, she may yowl if it's just unbearable or if she knows that will get your attention and help her. Fever, a decreased appetite, vomiting and lethargy are all reasons to be concerned.

Risk factors

Senior cats are more at risk for arthritis, ingrown claws or cancer. Arthritis as well as cruciate ligament rupture are often problems for overweight cats. Outdoor cats, especially unneutered males, are more apt to be involved in territorial fights resulting in bite wound abscess, broken bones, lacerations and Lyme disease.

Hip dysplasia tends to be congenital particularly in large breeds such as Persians and Maine coons. These two breeds along with Devon Rexes, British Shorthairs, Siamese, Bengals and Abyssinians are prone to patellar luxation. Some breeds are predisposed to hemophilia, which seems more common in toms.

cat limping


How can I tell if my cat has cut her paw?

Try to look at the bottom of her paw. Be careful, as cats can be testy about letting people observe their wounds. If there are any foreign bodies stuck in the wound, you can pick them out. If it’s very deep, you may need a vet’s help.

A mild anti-bacterial soap or can disinfect the wound. If there is bleeding, control it with pressure with a clean towel for ten to fifteen minutes. If it hasn’t stopped, take her to the vet.

You can bandage it by putting gauze on the wound and wrapping it. Don’t do this too tightly. You should be able to get two fingers in. If she really hates the cone of shame, you can spray the bandage with something foul tasting to make her leave it alone.

How can I tell if my cat has a broken bone?

As you can imagine, this is an unbearable pain for a cat who will cry out in pain, especially if touched. Be gentle, you don’t want to hurt her more than she already is nor do you want clawed up.

She may limp, or she may not walk at all. Even grooming or just trying to make it to the litter box may feel more painful than it’s worth.

The injured area may have swelling or bruising. A compound fracture may even have bone protruding through the skin. In any case, a cat with a broken bone needs a vet right away.

Can I let my cat go outside if she is limping?

This is not a good idea.

An injured animal gong outside runs the risk of becoming even more injured. Cage rest until fully healed is for the best. If she's going a little stir crazy, you can take her out for a short bit, provided she never strays from your lap or arms.

How can I tell if my cat in pain?

This is tricky. Not only can a cat not tell you what exactly is wrong, a cat in pain may try to hide that anything’s wrong. If your cat is hiding more than usual or otherwise acting out of the ordinary, something is up.

The one thing a cat can’t hide is her breathing patterns and pulse rate. If her breathing is faster than usual and her heart rate seems elevated, something is upsetting her.

Cats are more likely to bite or scratch while in pain. Don’t be fooled if she purrs. She may be trying to comfort herself. If she no longer grooms or solely grooms one part of her body, something is wrong. Basically, just look for anything out of the ordinary.

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If your cat is limping, you need to get to her and check out her injury before she crawls into some hidey-hole where it might be difficult to get her out. Remember this doctor’s aphorism: If you hear hoof beats, think of horses, not zebras. Sure, zebras exist, but you’re more likely to have a horse; something simple that can be easily tamed.

You must first of all have a bond of trust with your cat so she’ll let you handle her even when she’s injured. If the injury turns out to be more than you can handle, get her to a vet. When your cat needs you, be what she needs.

Why is my cat limping all of a sudden?

She may have gotten something stuck in her paw pad, or she may even have a slight muscle strain. Wait until your cat is calm and lying down. Then, try to inspect her leg and paw. Arthritis is another issue that can cause cat limping.

Should I take my cat to the vet for limping?

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.

Is cat limping an emergency?

It can be hard to know when a gimpy pet means an emergency. It never fails, your dog or cat always gets hurt at the most inconvenient time. Your regular vet may not be open, or you might have a long list of things to do. Simply inspect the cause of the limp, if pet is in pain, it is best to see your vet.

How do you treat a limping cat?

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.

  • Updated June 3, 2022
Mary Nielsen

A huge animal lover, born and raised around dogs, cats, chickens... Self-educated pet care nerd. Currently parent of three adopted cats and one small mutt. Animal adoption advocate. Loves a good book (about animals) and playing the piano.