It can be extremely worrying to see your cat limping all of a sudden. We automatically think of severe injuries, broken bones, or other major issues that take time to heal. These are all painful conditions that we assume cats will make a fuss about.
However, my cat is limping but not crying. Is she in pain but not showing it? Or is something else wrong? Cats are indeed masters of pain, and your cat is likely masking its discomfort. Limping and lameness are never good signs and nearly always indicate something is wrong.
Common causes of limping include arthritis, infections, trauma, and even internal issues such as diabetes or parasitic infections. I run through all of these possibilities and more in this article. Plus, I share what you should do if your cat is limping to help ease their suffering.
Why is My Cat Limping But Not in Pain?
It can be extremely confusing to see your cat limping but not crying. Limping is nearly always caused by a painful medical condition or injury, so why isn’t she crying out in pain?
The chances are that your cat is in pain despite not crying. Cats are masters at hiding pain and will do everything they possibly can to not give away how they are feeling. This all links back to their survival in the wild – injured cats are vulnerable, and they are perceived as a target by predators. By hiding their feelings of pain, cats are less likely to become another animal’s lunch!
It isn’t just predators that cats hide discomfort from either; they also hide it from other felines. Cats are very territorial creatures, and if one is perceived weak then another might try to claim its territory. By masking their pain, other cats won’t know they’re in this vulnerable state and your cat can keep what is rightfully theirs.
Issues such as being eaten by predators or losing territory to rival cats are not issues in homes. However, these survival instincts have been embedded in our cats’ DNA. This means that even pet cats that have only ever lived a life of domestic luxury still automatically hide their feelings of pain from everyone.
Aside from crying, several other traumatized cat symptoms can indicate your cat is in pain you can look out for.
Some examples include:
- Hiding more than usual and being withdrawn
- Avoiding handling and other forms of physical contact
- A reluctance to move and show they are limping
- A reduction in appetite and disinterest in food
- Uncharacteristic and unprompted aggression
- A lack of grooming or overgrooming
Some signs of pain can be even more confusing! Cats purr when they are in pain, a sound commonly associated with happiness and contentment. You might also hear your cat make weird noises when sick or injured. They do anything they can to hide how they’re feeling from you and other animals.
The bottom line is this: If your cat is limping, they are almost definitely in pain. They’re just incredible at hiding it from you, so won’t ordinarily cry out or give any other clear indication that something is wrong. However, limping itself should be a big enough indication that you need to take your cat for a check-up.
7 Common Causes of Limping & Lameness in Cats
If you notice your cat is limping, you will likely need to take them to the vet. Here are the seven most common issues your vet is likely to discover. Read through and see if you can work out which might be the reason for your cat’s limping.
Arthritis is a joint condition whereby the cartilage between the joints wears away. This makes movement difficult and painful and is known to cause limping in cats. As the disease is progressive, the limping typically will also come on gradually.
The first signs of arthritis tend to be in the back legs. The joints here bear the most weight, besides being used for jumping, climbing, and acceleration when running. It also typically affects older cats or overweight cats but can affect cats of any size or any age.
If you’re wondering “Why does my cat meow when I pick her up?” and can’t see any sign of injury or broken bones, arthritis is a likely culprit. Other symptoms you can watch for are as follows:
- Cats overgrooming their painful joints
- Cats lay on their back to give their joints a break
- Cats spend more time sleeping and resting
- Cats being reluctant to jump or climb
Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis. However, your vet can help advise on environmental changes you can make so your cat’s life becomes easier. Plus, they can prescribe pain medication for severe and debilitating cases.
2. Broken Bones
Is your cat suddenly limping on its back leg? Cats’ back legs are a common site for broken bones and fractures. However, any sudden limping is usually linked with a sudden and recent trauma. Perhaps your cat was in a road traffic accident or fell from a height.
If your cat has a broken bone in its leg, it will have to limp to move around. You might also be able to see the bone protruding or feel the fracture in bad breaks. Yet minor fractures aren’t visible to the human eye and can still cause limping and major discomfort.
Other signs that your cat has broken a bone include:
- Swelling around the injured joint
- The leg hanging loosely from its socket
- Your cat displaying signs of shock
Your vet will be able to confirm whether or not your cat has broken a bone by taking an x-ray. Most uncomplicated breaks will heal themselves over time – your cat just needs a bandage and splint to ensure the bone fuses back together in the right spot. But complicated fractures might need surgery. Your vet can advise you once they’ve assessed the damage.
3. Soft Tissue Injury
Broken bones are just one of the injuries your cat can sustain. Soft tissue injuries are also possible. By this, I am referring to sprains and tears in your cat’s muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Where the leg muscles are damaged, it leads to pain and limping.
But remember, cats are great at hiding pain! If your cat is limping but acting normal, don’t rule injury out.
Aside from limping, you might notice these signs:
- Excessively grooming the injured muscle
- Breathing rapidly or other signs of shock/stress
- Tenderness when touched at the site of injury
- Reluctance to move or bear weight on the leg
- Bruising under the skin from burst capillaries
- Inflammation and swelling of the injured limb
As with broken bones, most soft tissue injuries will heal themselves with a little rest. Try and encourage your cat to rest during recovery. Don’t let them climb to high places or start a big play session. Their muscle needs time to fuse back together.
It is still worth taking your cat to the vet even if you only suspect a soft tissue injury. Your cat might need to wear a splint to help aid healing. In severe cases, physiotherapy may also be required to help normal muscle function return. Your vet can also prescribe painkillers to help ease the discomfort as your cat makes its way back to good health.
4. Paw Pad Injuries
Most of the time, we assume a limping cat has something wrong with its leg. However, smaller injuries to the paw pads can equally lead to lameness and reduced mobility.
Some common examples of paw pad injuries and issues are:
- Burns from stepping on a hot surface
- Cuts from treading on glass, thorns, or other sharp objects
- Stings and bites from bugs, plants, and insects
- Foreign objects stuck in the paw pad
- Overgrown claws that bend backward and pierce the skin
All of these make it uncomfortable for your cat to put any weight on their paw. Therefore, they will hobble around until the issue is resolved. Besides limping, pay particular attention to cat sleeping positions when sick. If they have a paw pad injury, the cat loaf position is pretty common. This is your cat’s way of tucking its injured paw from sight and protecting it from further pain.
How to treat paw pad injuries depends on the exact issue at hand. Cuts and minor burns will correct themselves within a few days. Likewise, bites and stings will elicit an intense immune response initially, but this will fade quickly and your cat’s walking should soon return to normal.
Comparatively, foreign objects that are stuck in your cat’s paw need to be removed. Failure to do so often leads to the object getting deeper and becoming embedded under the skin! Get a pair of tweezers and gently try to remove it. Overgrown claws also need attention. The nail will need cutting back, and any ingrown nails need to be removed by a professional.
You might be surprised to see diabetes as a reason why your cat is limping but not crying. This is a condition characterized by high blood sugar levels, and the imbalance typically leads to symptoms such as:
- Increased thirst
- Increased urination
- Increased appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
However, in rare cases, late-stage diabetes can cause limping. This happens when the disease starts to affect the central nervous system, something known as ‘diabetic neuropathy’. It affects a cat’s gait and causes them to become lame and start limping. If you see your cat limping but still jumping, diabetes could be the cause.
Sadly, diabetic neuropathy is an extremely dangerous issue and causes permanent nerve damage. If you have a diabetic cat, make sure you get any changes in your cat’s gait assessed by a vet as soon as possible.
Infections can also cause limping and lameness in cats. These infections can occur at the point of injury and make limping worse. They can also turn minor cuts that aren’t debilitating into extremely painful injuries that are swollen and difficult to walk on. Your cat will need treatment from a vet to help fight the infection before it leads to an abscess.
On the other hand, infections elsewhere in the body have limping as a symptom. The most well-known is Feline Calicivirus (FCV). This is an upper respiratory infection that leads to inflammation of the lungs and symptoms such as:
- Sneezing and breathing difficulties
- Ulceration of the tongue
- Ocular discharge or conjunctivitis
- Lethargy and weakness
However, it also causes inflammation of the joints in younger cats, known as ‘limping symdrome’. Thankfully, limping syndrome is only ever short-lived. Most kittens with FCV that suffer from this symptom only experience it for a few days. Nevertheless, during this period cats and kittens will be extremely uncomfortable.
There is no treatment to stop the virus, but cats should be able to fight the infection off on their own at home. However, secondary bacterial infections are a frequent complication that requires antibiotics to treat. There is a vaccine against FCV to prevent contraction of the infection in the first place, so make sure you’re up to date with your cat’s vaccinations to limit the risk.
Last but not least, parasitic infections could be the cause of your cat’s limping. External parasites such as fleas can cause swelling and inflammation, making it difficult for your cat to walk. Some cats are allergic to flea bites, which makes the reaction to these bites even more severe.
However, internal parasites are more likely to have limping as a symptom. In particular, heartworm is known to cause limping and lameness in cats. These are nasty parasites that live inside your cat’s heart and impact various areas of the body.
Other symptoms include:
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Rapid, labored breathing
- Coughing, retching, and gagging
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Lethargy and general weakness
Keep a close eye on your cat as symptoms of heartworm can be very mild. Unfortunately, if it turns out your cat does have heartworm, there is no effective treatment. Prevention is therefore vital, so ensure you apply preventative medication to keep this nasty parasite at bay.
What Should I Do When My Cat Starts Limping?
Whenever my cat is limping but not crying, I try not to panic. Although my kitty isn’t crying out in pain, there likely is something wrong – but panicking isn’t going to help at all! Instead, you’ll want to try and get to the bottom of the issue and figure out what is wrong.
If your cat seems scared or distressed, wait for them to calm down. Once they seem more content, you can carefully examine your cat to look for signs of injury. I recommend starting at the paw of the leg they’re limping on and working your way up.
Some of the things you should be looking for include:
- Signs of swelling or inflammation
- Any areas that are sensitive to touch
- Dangling limbs which indicates broken bones
- Any overgrown or ingrown claws
- Signs of bites and small cuts
- Open wounds or abscesses
- Any foreign objects stuck in the paw
If you notice something you can fix yourself, go ahead. For example, you can easily remove a thorn stuck in your cat’s paw by using a pair of tweezers. On the other hand, call your vet immediately if you spot something that clearly requires medical attention, such as dangling limbs. Cats with other signs of illness such as a cat not eating or drinking for 3 days should also see a vet ASAP.
But, what if you can’t work out what’s wrong? Well, I suggest letting your cat be for the next 24 hours and observing their behavior. Your cat might have just been walking strangely, or perhaps they bashed their leg hard which caused temporary pain and limping.
If your cat is still limping after 24 hours, call your vet and book them in for a check-up. They’ll be able to run tests and see what is causing this behavior. Remember, even cats that aren’t crying, don’t seem in pain, and are acting like normal are likely still struggling. Take their limp as a sign they require medical attention.
While you wait for the appointment, try and discourage too much movement from your cat. This can make the situation worse and cause them unnecessary pain and discomfort. Let your cat rest and follow any other advice given to you by your vet.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
If your cat is limping, it doesn’t matter whether or not they’re crying or showing other signs of pain. Cats don’t limp for the fun of it! Therefore, it is a sure sign that something is wrong, be that an injury, infection, arthritis, or more serious underlying medical condition such as diabetic neuropathy or heartworm.
Take a look at your cat’s leg for signs of injury and inflammation, and if in doubt call your vet. Cats are remarkably good at hiding pain from their owners. Your kitty might act like everything is okay, but you’ll want to get them checked out just to make sure. And don’t panic – most issues are easily fixed and your cat just needs a little time to recover.