Aside from when cats are busy sleeping, self-grooming, or eating, our fun-loving felines are agile and graceful. They love pouncing on prey, climbing up to the tallest surfaces they can find, or running around after their favorite toys. As such, motility problems in cats are obvious and can send owners into a frenzy!
There are several types of different mobility issues. In particular, older cats often get stiff hind legs that make them walk weirdly. However, stiffness isn’t the only issue that could arise – you may also notice your cat’s hind legs turn weak and wobbly, making it difficult for them to run, jump, and climb.
When your cat starts walking weirdly with its back legs it can be a cause for concern. And don’t assume this drunk-like wobbly and unsteady walk is the result of too much catnip! In most cases, it is a sign that they have sustained an injury or are suffering from a medical condition such as diabetes. Some of the conditions can be life-threatening and are classified as a medical emergency.
Knowing that your little furball could be suffering isn’t a nice pill for any owner to swallow. But that’s why I have written this guide – to explain the reasons for lameness or limping in cats and help you pinpoint what is wrong with your feline. This way, you can get your cat the help it needs to ensure it’s back to its happy and playful self in no time.
Why Is My Cat Walking Weird On Its Back Legs?
If you’ve noticed your cat is walking weird on its back legs, it is important to understand why. This behavior is not normal and usually indicates that something is wrong. Cats are masters at hiding that they are in pain, so noticing changes in their mobility can be one of the first and only indications that they are suffering.
In general, hind leg mobility issues can be split into three different movement issues: stiffness, weakness, and wobbliness. Although not an exhaustive list, here’s a look at some of the most common medical conditions that could explain these three changes in mobility.
Arthritis is a common disease that causes joint inflammation. This inflammation makes joint movement, thus movement in general, extremely painful and much more difficult. It is common for arthritis to occur in the hip bones or joints in the hind legs, causing stiffness and limping when walking.
If you have a senior cat, arthritis is a common reason why your cat is walking weird on its back legs. It is a progressive disease that gradually gets worse as your cat’s joints and bones are put under pressure throughout life.
With that being said, younger cats can also suffer from arthritis. This is especially true if you have an overweight or obese cat, as the additional weight they are carrying can put excess strain on their joints. Genetics or any leg trauma can also increase the risk of a cat developing arthritis throughout its life.
Alongside walking weird in the back legs, other signs of feline arthritis you can look out for include:
- Reluctance to move
- Moving much more slowly
- Refusing to use the litter box due to pain
- Reduction in self-grooming behavior
- Signs of pain and/or aggression when being handled
- Sleeping more than usual
2. Hip Dysplasia
Hip dysplasia is another joint condition, this time affecting solely the hips. In a correctly functioning hip joint, there is a ball and socket which allows great freedom of movement. However, the ball and socket are misaligned in cats with hip dysplasia, making movement more difficult.
This disease is hereditary, meaning it can only be passed on from the mother or father to the kittens. As such, it is more common in purebred cats, specifically breeds including Maine Coons, Persian, and Himalayans. On the other hand, mixed breeds are less likely to suffer from this condition.
Despite being present since birth, most cats with hip dysplasia won’t be diagnosed until later on in life with little or no symptoms present at birth. However, as the cat gets older, the misaligned joint will pull on the surrounding tendons and wear down the bone, causing the hip to become loose. This loose hip joint results in several symptoms, including:
- Weakness in the hind legs
- Stiff and awkward walking and/or limping
- Signs of pain when the hip joints are touched
- Refusal to walk, move, and play
- Excessive licking and biting of the hindquarters
3. Muscle Wasting
Muscle wasting, scientifically known as muscle atrophy, is common. This is particularly true in older cats, with 40% of our older feline friends suffering from age-related muscle loss, known as sarcopenia. This explains why seeing an older cat losing weight in hindquarters is common – they naturally have a lower muscle mass than younger felines.
However, muscle wasting can be a side effect of another long-term illness. In these cases, the type of muscle loss is known as cachexia. Younger cats can also experience muscle atrophy if they aren’t receiving all the correct nutrients from their diets. Trauma and injury could further cause the breakdown and loss of muscle in their hindquarters.
Regardless of the cause, muscle wasting can cause a cat’s rear legs to become weak and wobbly. If your cat is unsteady on its back legs alongside looking rather thin at the rear, this is a likely explanation. Often, improving diet and exercise levels can help to build the lost muscle back up.
Diabetes often affects cats, especially overweight felines. In this disease, the body either doesn’t produce insulin or cannot accurately recognize and respond to the insulin that is produced. Insulin is an important hormone that helps to control blood glucose levels. Without insulin, blood glucose levels get extremely high.
High blood sugar levels cause all kinds of complications, one of which is hind leg neuropathy. Neuropathy is the result of the high levels of glucose affecting the nerves in your cat’s legs and paws. As a result, cats will walk weird with their back legs which will be weak, unsteady, and wobbly.
In addition to walking unsteadily, diabetic neuropathy left untreated could lead to complete loss of movement. The cat will also suffer from muscle atrophy as they are no longer using their hind legs. In worst-case scenarios, the tissue in the leg could die due to loss of blood flow, known as gangrene.
5. Neurological Problems
The specific part of a cat’s brain involved with voluntary and controlled movement is known as the motor cortex. This part of the brain sends signals to different areas of the body, telling the body part to move. In response, the body part will execute the movement and feedback to the brain.
Any damage to the neural pathway between the motor cortex and a cat’s hips or hind legs can make a cat unsteady on its back legs. They won’t be able to accurately control where they are placing their paws, making their walk very wobbly. They may also stumble over obstacles much more easily and drag their back paws along the floor.
All neurological issues are caused by damage to the brain. For example, an accident that causes brain trauma will see notable changes in brain function. However, several brain conditions can also develop slowly over time, making the changes less notable. For example:
- Brain cancers or benign tumors
- Motor neuron disease
- İnfection of the brain
6. Injury or Trauma
Aside from long-term and progressive medical conditions, short-term issues can also explain why your cat is walking weird with its back legs. Physical trauma is a common explanation – perhaps your cat has pulled a muscle in their legs or hips, broken or fractured a bone, or dislocated a joint.
Injuries like this are common in cats. They are curious creatures and can get up to all kinds of mischief! They may have accidentally been hit by a vehicle, especially if out exploring at night. They could have gotten into a fight with another cat or animal, or perhaps a heavy-handed child squeezed your cat a little too tight.
Minor injuries can too be responsible for a cat wobbly walking on its back legs. They could have an ingrown claw, burned their back paw pads, or have an open wound from stepping on something sharp. Taking your cat to the vet can help heal the injury and your cat will be prancing around again before you know it.
7. Bacterial or Viral Infection
Infections can also cause weakness and unsteady walking. Usually, this is the result of the infection affecting the brain or spinal cord, which in turn limits the ability of the hind legs to work as normal.
Several pathogens cause infection, including viruses and bacteria. Bacterial infections are commonly picked up by eating contaminated food or water, through open wounds, or a flea or tick bite. On the other hand, viral infections are usually passed on by direct contact with another infected cat.
There is a huge range of different infections cats can contract, but some of the most common that can cause back leg wobbly walking and weakness include:
- Feline Lukemia Virus (FeLV)
- Feline Coronavirus (FcoV)
- Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
8. Heart Disease
You may be surprised to see heart disease on this list. After all, heart disease affects the heart and the cardiovascular system, not your cat’s legs! However, cats with heart disease find it difficult to circulate blood around their bodies, meaning some parts don’t receive enough oxygen.
Your cat’s hind legs are one of their extremities and are often left without an adequate blood supply in cats with heart disease. This can make their walking weird and wobbly. You’ll likely know if your cat is suffering from heart disease as it is accompanied by a range of other symptoms, including the following:
- Reluctance to move or exercise
- Difficulty breathing and/or shortness of breath
- Rapid resting heart rate
In addition, cats with heart disease are more likely to develop blood clots. Where the blood clot forms in the pelvic end of the aorta this is called a saddle thrombus. This artery supplies the blood to the lower half of the body, and so a clot here means the hind legs may become paralyzed as they are completely cut off from their blood supply.
Blood clots can also form in the brain tissue, preventing certain parts of the brain from receiving blood. This is known as a stroke and can cause a lack of balance, weakness, weird walking with their back legs, and muscle spasms. Strokes and other blood clots can be fatal and so prompt treatment from a vet is required.
How Can I Help My Cat Walk Normally?
If your cat is walking weird with its back legs, it is never a good sign! It is always an indication that something is wrong, and the underlying condition is usually pretty serious. As such, the best thing you can do for your cat is to take them to a vet as soon as you notice changes in their movement.
Your vet will conduct a physical examination to determine the underlying medical condition that is causing wobbly legs and unsteady walking. This could include a blood test, x-rays, scans, and other tests. Depending on their diagnosis, your vet will be able to offer treatment to improve the symptoms and/or cure the condition.
You can also help your cat by making your home as comfortable for them as possible. Doing things like switching to a litter tray with low sides, providing a soft and comfortable bed for them to rest, and discouraging vigorous activity can go a long way.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
As a cat owner, I understand that a cat walking weirdly with its back legs can be scary as it is usually a sign that something is wrong. But if your cat is wobbly walking on its back legs or very unsteady, try not to panic! All you can do is take a trip to your vet as quickly as so the condition can be diagnosed.
Once diagnosed, effective treatment should have your cat walking normally again soon. Be sure to make changes in your home as well so that your cat feels as comfortable as possible. With diseases that cannot be cured, a loving owner and lots of care can mean your furry friend can still live a happy and fulfilling life.