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Have you noticed that your cat is walking strangely on its back leg? Limping on the back legs can happen for many different reasons. When the limping comes on suddenly, it is usually due to injury. Your cat might have an ingrown nail, a lodged foreign object, or even a broken bone!
If you notice your cat is limping, you need to figure out what is wrong right away. Leaving your cat to struggle can make the condition worse. Besides, limping is a sign of pain. Even if your cat is limping but not crying, it doesn’t mean they’re not hurting. They need your help to ease their suffering.
In this article, I share the most common reasons why your cat is suddenly limping. So, if you have a limping cat, you’re in the right place! I’ll also give you some at-home first aid you can carry out on your pet. Finally, we will talk about when you need to go to the veterinarian for their expert advice.
Why is My Cat Limping on its Back Legs?
There are many reasons why your cat might be limping on its back legs. For example, you might see a cat walking weird with its back legs if it has arthritis. Its stiff joints hinder mobility and make movement difficult. This can lead to limping.
Yet if limping comes on suddenly, it is usually a sign of acute injury to the back legs or paws. Cat sleeping positions can also give an indication something is wrong. If your cat has injured its leg, it will choose a position that is kindest to its leg and the wound.
Below are just some of the back leg injuries your cat may have sustained. Have a read-through and see if you think any could apply.
1. Infected Nails
An infected nail could explain why your cat is limping all of a sudden. The infection can make it painful for your cat to put its weight on its back leg. As a result, they limp whenever they walk. There are several different nail infections in cats. With that being said, the two most common are:
- Paronychia: This is where the nail bed becomes infected. It leads to inflammation of the tissue surrounding the nail, causing pain and limping.
- Onychomycosis: This is a fungal infection of the nail itself. It is usually caused by the trichophyton mentagrophytes fungus and causes the nails to turn swollen and yellow.
The latter of these two is the most easily treated. Your vet will be able to prescribe an anti-fungal medication to help fight off the infection. This treatment usually needs to be administered for 2-4 weeks to be effective. On the other hand, skin inflammation is more difficult to treat. Depending on the severity, it may require surgical intervention.
2. Ingrown Claws
If your cat is limping all of a sudden, it could have an ingrown claw. This is where their nails become so long that they eventually curl backward and grow into the paw pad. Initially, the claw will cause a little callus on your cat’s paw. This is uncomfortable and can cause subtle limping.
If, however, the nail continues to grow, the situation can become worse. The claw will eventually puncture the paw pad. This can cause bleeding, swelling, and discomfort. What’s more, ingrown claws are prone to developing infections such as those mentioned above.
Most cats will keep their nails trim by scratching and exploring the outside world. However, indoor cats are more prone to developing ingrown claws. As they are less active, their claws naturally get filed down less. It is important to keep an eye on your cat’s claws and trim them if needed. This can help with ingrown claw prevention.
You can trim your cat’s nails by following these steps. If your cat isn’t used to having its nails trimmed, this needs to be done as a gradual process. Stop at each step until your cat is happy:
- Wait until your cat is in a relaxed mood and chilling out next to you.
- Take one of their paws in your hands and press gently on the paw pad so the nails extend. Your cat might try to pull their paw away immediately. If so, stop here and repeat on a different day, otherwise, continue.
- If your cat is happy with you playing with their paws, you can introduce clippers. Use the clippers on a piece of spaghetti at the same time you press on their paw pads. This will help your cat get used to the noise of the clippers.
- Once your cat is unbothered by the noise, you can attempt to clip their real nails. Be sure to only cut off the very end part that is white. If you cut the lower pink part it will be painful, bleed, and become prone to infection.
- If you successfully cut one claw, you can move on to the next. Gradually work your way around to clip all nails. This might take several sessions.
3. Object Stuck in its Paw
If your cat is suddenly limping on its back leg, you should always check to see if there is anything stuck in the paw pad. Sharp objects can easily get lodged in their paw pads after stepping on them. Examples could include pieces of glass, shards of metal, or thorns and spines from plants.
When your cat walks, the foreign object will press into your cat’s paw. This will cause them pain and discomfort. It can also push the object deeper into the skin, making the injury worse. İf you can easily grab and remove the object with tweezers then go ahead. Otherwise, leave it alone and take your cat to the vet for their help.
4. Burns or Cuts
Sometimes, a foreign object won’t get stuck in your cat’s paw. Instead, it will puncture the skin and leave a wound behind instead. This can still be just as painful to walk on. Open wounds are also prone to becoming infected, especially when they are on the paws. This part of your cat’s body will come into contact with the most dirt.
Burns are equally as painful. Your cat could easily have stepped on something hot, such as a wood burner or stovetop. Burns fall into one of three categories depending on severity:
- First Degree Burns: The least severe burns that cause the skin to turn red. They cause minor pain, discomfort, and limping. Some of the hairs on your cat’s paw might be singed.
- Second Degree Burns: These are more severe burns. The skin will still be red, but blisters will also have started to form. They’re more painful and limping is worse.
- Third Degree Burns: The most severe burns that cause damage to the skin and the tissue underneath. The skin might be blackened and the fur will be missing.
If your cat’s paw is injured or burned, my best advice is to visit the vet. You can also provide basic first aid which I will talk about more below.
5. Bites from Animals
Bites on your cat’s back legs can also cause limping. This will usually happen if your cat gets into a fight with another animal. In most cases, bites come from other cats. Cats are naturally very territorial and won’t be afraid to pick a fight if another cat is in their vicinity. However, dogs, rats, and other rodents can also bite your cat.
Wounds from fighting are more common in male cats than females. This is because males are instinctively more territorial than females, so tend to fight more often. Even neutered male cats can get into fights, though much less frequently than unneutered males.
Regardless of what animal bites your cat, the result is the same. The teeth can puncture their skin and leave several small but deep wounds. Where the wounds extend into the muscle, it can make walking and movement very painful. If the bite is on your cat’s back leg, they might start to suddenly limp when moving.
Moreover, bites are prone to infection. Bacteria can enter the wound and get trapped inside as the skin heals. Infections often go unnoticed for several days until your cat gets a fever. You might also find your cat suddenly lethargic and weak. They’ll need a treatment of antibiotics from the vet. In some cases, abscesses will form as well which require further medical treatment.
6. Sprained or Broken Leg
Finally, your cat could be limping because they have sprained or broken their back legs. If you cannot see any other sign of injury – such as an ingrown claw, infected wound, or burn marks – a sprain or break is highly likely. Aside from limping, common symptoms are:
- Avoiding putting any weight on the leg whatsoever
- Wincing in pain when moving
- Vocalizing, such as meowing or hissing
- Aggressive behavior toward you when you try to look at the leg
- Bruising and swelling around the break or sprain
- Behaving differently, such as a cat hiding and acting weird
If you think your cat has sprained or broken its leg, you should contact your vet. They will be able to perform an x-ray to confirm the injury. Mild sprains usually heal well on their own. Your vet might simply recommend pain relief medication to help in the meantime. In cases where there is a bad break or sprain, your vet may recommend a splint to help the bone heal in the correct alignment.
Ensure your cat has plenty of rest and they should make a speedy recovery. If you have an outdoor cat, you’ll want to keep them indoors until their leg has fully healed. Otherwise, they could worsen the injury and cause themselves more pain.
What Should I Do if My Cat is Limping Suddenly?
If your cat is limping suddenly, you need to examine your cat to figure out why. If the accident or injury has only just happened, your cat might be stressed and on high alert. Wait until they have calmed down before attempting to investigate. Trying to access their leg while they are still agitated can worsen the injury. There is also a chance your cat might lash out at you.
Once your cat is calm, gently take the paw of their back leg and look for signs of injury. You need to look for ingrown nails, punctured skin, bruising, swelling, and any sign of inflammation. Gradually work your way up the leg until you have looked at their entire limp thoroughly.
If you spot any open wounds, you should look after them using basic first aid as follows:
- Start by cleaning the wound using a mild anti-bacterial soap. If there is a foreign object suck, you also need to remove this with tweezers. Objects that are too small to grab can be removed by washing gently with cool water. If the foreign object won’t budge, leave it alone and speak to your vet.
- You then need to control the bleeding by applying pressure to the wound. You can wrap your hand in a clean towel and press down to achieve this. Smaller wounds will stop bleeding in a few minutes, whereas deeper and more serious wounds can take longer. If the wound won’t stop bleeding within 15 minutes, call your vet.
- Next, you need to apply a bandage. Start with gauze pads which will hope to soak up anything that seeps from the wound. İt will also provide cushioning for comfort. Then, wrap the entire gauze pad and the whole leg with a bandage. Make sure it isn’t too tight – you should be able to slip a couple of fingers beneath the bandage comfortably.
- While the wound is healing, the bandage needs to be changed daily. If you notice nasty smells or oozing pus when you change it, call your vet. You also need to try and prevent your cat from playing with the bandage. Anti-lick sprays work well, or a cat cone if your cat is persistent.
Should I Take My Cat to the Vet?
While small injuries can be treated at home, there are a few scenarios when you need to visit your veterinarian. Below are just some examples. If any of the following apply, don’t hesitate to contact your vet. Failure to do some promptly can worsen the situation and cause long-term damage.
You should always call your veterinarian if:
- There is a foreign object embedded deeply into your cat’s paw. Yanking this out can cause additional damage and needs to be done by a vet. When the object is very deeply embedded, your cat will need to be sedated for its removal.
- There is a deep open wound that won’t stop bleeding when you clean it. You don’t want your cat to lose too much blood. It is possible they need the wound stitching back up.
- You think they have a broken or sprained leg. These cannot be treated effectively with first aid. Your cat will probably need pain relief and/or a splint or cast to help the bones and ligaments heal correctly.
- You cannot find a reason why your cat is suddenly limping on its back leg. Your vet will be able to conduct a physical examination to figure out what is wrong. They’ll then treat whatever cause they find.
- You notice any moist discharge or a foul smell coming from a wound you have cleaned. This is a sign of infection. Your vet will need to prescribe antibiotics or antifungal medication to help fight off the infection. Leaving the infection to worsen can cause permanent damage.
- Your cat’s toes become swollen or dusky in color. This can indicate your cat is experiencing problems with circulation. This can again cause permanent damage if not corrected promptly.
- The wound still gapes open three or more days after injury. This is long enough for the skin to have started to reheal. If it is still hanging open, your cat might need stitches from your vet to help the skin reform and prevent infection.
- You don’t feel comfortable treating your cat at home or you want reassurance from your vet. No matter how small the injury, they will be more than happy to help. Don’t give yourself unnecessary worry when you don’t need to!
Remember, a vet trip might be required even if your cat is limping but not crying. A lack of vocalization doesn’t mean your cat isn’t suffering. Some cats make weird noises when sick or injured, whereas others will try to hide it. To make things more confusing cats do purr when they are in pain as well! Any form of limping needs to be looked at by a professional if you can’t figure out the issue.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
A cat suddenly limping on its back legs has probably sustained an injury. Check their limbs for any signs of the conditions mentioned above, and follow the first aid advice given. Remember, if in any doubt, go to the vet! No problem is too small, and leaving open wounds untreated can cause infection and permanent damage. It’s better to be safe than sorry!