Overview of Lameness in Cats
Any decrease in an cat’s ability to bear weight on a limb(s) or a decrease in the normal mobility and function of a limb(s) can be considered to be a lameness. Lameness can be extremely subtle or profound, affecting one limb or several limbs. It can be intermittent or constant, worse in the morning, worse at night, worse after rest, worse after or during exercise. Many cat owners refer to lameness as “limping”.
There is no breed, age or sex predeliction for lameness in cats. Lameness may be associated with a traumatic event, such as being hit by a car, or it may develop gradually, as in a bone tumor in an affected leg. The underlying cause of a lameness may be life threatening or it may be detrimental to a good quality of life such as debilitating and painful arthritis.
What to Watch For
Diagnosis of Lameness in Cats
Treatment of Lameness in Cats
Following a surgical procedure you will need to enforce a period of rest and restriction. This may not prove too difficult at first; however, in the case of many healing fractures, it will need to last at least six weeks, and your pet may not want to be restricted.
Some lameness problems may be treated with a cast, splint or soft-padded bandage. This will need to be kept clean and dry and, where appropriate, the toes at the bottom of the bandage should be checked daily for swelling, sweating or pain.
Follow your veterinarian’s instructions carefully with regard to medications such as antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs, and there may be a need for follow-up x-rays or a follow-up visit with your vet. If the lameness is resolving, gradually re-introduce exercise over a period of several weeks.
Lameness problems arise during normal everyday activity. Severe injuries such as falling from a height or being hit by a car can be avoided by keeping your cat indoors.
In-depth Information on the Limping Cat
Causes of Lameness in Cats
Sudden causes of lameness are generally more easy to define. If your cat was completely normal before taking exercise and suddenly comes up lame, obviously something happened that created a gait abnormality. Trauma of some type is most likely, although this can be extremely variable.
In all of these examples, the pet has gone from normal to abnormal within a short period of time, but this does not necessarily mean that defining the lameness is always easy. In some cases it is possible to hone in on the correct area, for example the knee, and from there, try to define the problem more accurately.
Sometimes cats will develop sudden onset lameness when the underlying problem has actually been around for some time. A cat with a low grade, partially torn cruciate ligament may suddenly progress to a full blown tear, but there can be chronic arthritis and soft tissue thickening of the joint suggestive of a more long standing problem. Some pets with bone tumors of the limbs can suddenly develop a severe lameness associated with a fracture of a bone at the site of the tumor. These fractures are often associated with more minor trauma, such as slipping on a kitchen floor, an incident that would not normally be thought of as causing a broken bone.
Sudden onset lameness may be the initial presentation associated with a variety of spinal disorders. Extruded disk material in the neck region can causes a profound, single front leg lameness, a so-called root signature, as can disk problems in the lumbo-sacral region of the spine. Disk disease and fibrocartilaginous emboli (FCE) can produce rapid onset weakness and clumsiness that can be misinterpreted as lameness.
Overt lameness of one or more legs may not be what an owner initially notices. It may be a reluctance to go up or down stairs, not eager to play, or just not acting as lively and bouncy as one might expect for a kitten.
Sometimes lameness due to an orthopedic disorder can be misinterpreted as a neurological disease. Cats with cruciate injuries to both stifles can find it extremely difficult to walk and when they do can appear to be weak and clumsy on their back legs, similar to cats with disk disease.