Limping and Lameness in Cats

A sprain is a joint injury caused by a sudden stretching or tearing of the ligaments. The signs are pain over the joint, swelling of the tissues, and temporary lameness. If the cat refuses to put weight on a leg, have him examined by a veterinarian to rule out a fracture or dislocation. The same is true for any injury that fails to improve in four days. X-rays should be taken.

Treatment: The primary treatment is to rest the injured body part. Ice packs help to reduce pain and swelling. Add crushed ice to a plastic bag. Place the bag over the injured joint and hold in place with an elastic bandage or your hand. New commercial cool packs work well, as do bags of frozen vegetables. Apply the cold pack for 15 minutes every hour for the first three hours. If it is left too long, it may cause tissue damage.

Consult your veterinarian for safe pain and anti-inflammatory medications. Never give a cat acetaminophen (Tylenol) or any other over-the-counter pain medication.

Tendon Injuries

A tendon may be stretched, partly torn, or completely separated (ruptured). An irritated or inflamed tendon is tendonitis. Strained tendons follow sudden wrenching or twisting injuries. The tendons in the front and back paws are the ones most often strained. Signs of tendonitis include temporary lameness, pain on bending and straightening the joint, and tenderness and swelling over the length of the tendon.

Rupture of the Achilles tendon that attaches to the hock joint is caused by sudden and extreme flexion. This tendon is most often injured in auto accidents and cat fights.

Treatment: Stretched tendons are treated in the same way as sprains. A ruptured tendon is an emergency and requires immediate veterinary attention. Surgery will be performed and the cat may need a splint or cast, as well as pain medications and follow-up physical therapy.

A cat with a ruptured Achilles tendon walks on his heel instead of the toes.

Muscle Strains and Contusions

A bruised or torn muscle can be caused by sudden stretching of the muscle fibers, overexertion from prolonged use, or a blow to the muscle. Signs are lameness, knotting of the muscle, tenderness over the injured part, and discoloration caused by bleeding. Muscle atrophy, the gradual decline in muscle mass due to a lack of use, starts as soon as 24 to 48 hours after a muscle is injured and not used.

Treatment: Rest and cold packs are recommended. Massage may be helpful, and physical therapy exercises may speed healing. Check with your veterinarian.