Just like humans, cats often limp when they are injured.
There are a few different reasons why your cat might be limping, with muscle tears and soft tissue trauma being two of the most common.
Seeing your cat limp can be very disconcerting, and it’s important to get them to a vet right when you notice a problem. If the injury isn’t treated quickly, it could get much worse.
Here’s what you need to know about cat limping and injuries, including the causes, symptoms, and what to do.
Muscle tears are small tears in the fibers of your cat’s muscles, and they can happen if your cat moves too quickly or in a way that they wouldn’t normally move.
They can be very painful and can get worse if they aren’t treated appropriately.
What causes muscle tears?
Some of the most common causes of muscle tears are playing with other cats, jumping from a long distance, being hit or kicked, or accidentally running into something.
These muscle tears are more common in older cats, who aren’t as spry as their younger counterparts. They are also more common in overweight cats, who often have limited mobility.
While mild tears can be slightly uncomfortable, a more severe tear can be incredibly painful for your cat. These tears can also accompany more severe injuries, like broken bones.
The sooner you take your cat to see a veterinary professional, the more effectively you will be able to treat the tear.
Symptoms of Muscle Tears
In addition to limping, there are a number of other symptoms that can accompany a muscle tear.
You might notice that your cat has a hard time doing normal activities, like grooming, playing, eating, and going to the bathroom. They may also be less active.
Additionally, a cat who has a muscle tear might not want to be picked up or petted.
They might hide more than usual or act uncharacteristically standoffish. On the other hand, they may also be more vocal in an attempt to get your attention.
Treating Muscle Tears
Treating a muscle tear is fairly simple, and they typically go away in about two weeks as long as the injury isn’t re-aggravated. Your vet will likely prescribe pain medication and anti-inflammatory medication to help your cat heal faster.
You’ll need to make sure that your cat has a comfortable place to rest, and you may need to keep them in a crate or small room for parts of the day to ensure that they don’t run around and re-aggravate the injury. To prevent boredom, make sure your cat has plenty to do that don’t involve running, like puzzle feeders and cat TV.
Strains and Sprains
Strains and sprains are similar to muscle tears, but they happen to the tendons and ligaments in your cat’s limbs. These can be overstretched or partially torn.
Causes of Sprains and Strains
The most common causes of soft tissue trauma in cats are fighting or rough play. Jumping, twisting, and falling can also cause sprains and strains. For this reason, sprains and strains are common in young, active cats. Obese cats have more weight moving through their joints and are also prone to problems.
Symptoms of Sprains and Strains
There are other symptoms of sprains and strains to watch out for, many of which are similar to the symptoms of a muscle tear. You may see swelling, bruising, and an inability to bear weight on the affected limb.
Treating Sprains and Strains
Treatment of soft tissue trauma like sprains and strains typically involves anti-inflammatory medication as well as pain medication. Rest is essential to ensure that your cat does not re-aggravate the injury.
Your vet may encourage ice packs to decrease swelling as well, and some severe injuries may require a splint.
If your cat refuses to rest on their own, your vet may prescribe a sedative.
Other Reasons Your Cat May Be Limping
While muscle tears and soft tissue trauma are some of the most common causes of limping, they aren’t the only reason your cat could be walking funny.
Injury to the paw
For example, they may have something stuck in their paw pad, or they could even have an ingrown claw.
If your cat does have something stuck in their paw, you may be able to gently pull it out yourself without taking them to the vet.
Cat bites cause pain, swelling, and deep infection that commonly cause cats to become uncomfortable. The infection causes an abscess that may burst, easing your cat’s pain slightly.
Usually, a fractured bone will cause a severe limp or your cat will not be able to weight bear at all. Sometimes, however, cats are surprisingly good at hiding the severe pain they’re in, and your cat may merely have a bad limp.
The symptoms of arthritis in cats can be subtle, and some animals will not limp or be stiff at all. Having said that, limping is possible in cats with arthritis, especially if they’ve overdone it playing the day before.
Diagnosing Injuries in Cats
If you suspect your cat may have a muscle tear or soft tissue trauma, it’s important to take them to the vet to get a confirmed diagnosis.
While these conditions can go away on their own in some cases, they will heal much faster and be less likely to return if they are properly treated.
In addition, limping is a sign of pain – your cat is trying not to put weight through the limb because it hurts too much – so getting pain relief for them is a priority.
To diagnose the cat, your vet will watch them walk and move around, and may gently feel the cat’s muscles to identify exactly where the injury is. They may move the legs to check your cat’s range of motion and feel for crepitus – a sign of a fracture.
In some cases, they may order an x-ray, CT, or an MRI to rule out more serious injuries.
How to Help Your Cat Heal
It’s very important to closely follow your vet’s recommendations so your pet can heal more quickly.
You may need to limit them to a confined space for a week or more to prevent them from trying to run or jump. Monitor your cat closely to make sure their symptoms don’t return, and be sure to call your vet if you have any questions or notice any change in their behavior.