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Cat walking on grass

The essentials

  • Pay attention — Cats are great at hiding their pain. Pay close attention to any behavioral or physical changes.
  • See a vet immediately — While your cat’s limp may be due to something innocent, you’ll want to get checked to ensure it isn’t a sign of something more serious.
  • Don’t fret — It can be easy to think of the worst-case scenario when we notice our pet in pain but leave diagnoses to the professionals.

Cats are known to be curious and highly active, which is why a sudden limp can be concerning for all cat owners. Whether you have an indoor or outdoor cat, there are several reasons why your cat could be limping (also known as lameness).

Let’s dive into these common causes and how to help your feline friend.

Why is my cat limping?

We love that cats are adventurous, but that can also be scary when they start presenting with a limp. While you may never know exactly what is causing it, here are some of the most common causes.


Arthritis in cats is fairly common, especially due to the highly active nature of many cats. This condition occurs when the joint fluid and cartilage between your cat’s bones wear away, causing the bones to grind against one another. This can cause your cat to limp, favor a certain side when walking, or be reluctant to jump.

Hip dysplasia or loose hips

This condition is rare but more likely in heavy-boned cats like Maine coons. It happens when the ball and socket of the hip joint are misaligned . Options for treatment are limited when it comes to the treatment or prevention of hip dysplasia, but early diagnosis can help slow its progression.

Neurological diseases

If your cat is limping but doesn’t have any clear injury indications, it could be a sign that the limping is due in part to a neurological disease or condition. Things like Lumbosacral disease or degeneration, as well as strokes and other spinal cord injuries, can affect a cat’s ability to walk.

Ingrown toenails

Ingrown toenails are incredibly uncomfortable for cats, and as such, they may favor one side or leg when walking to avoid putting pressure on the hurt paw. Some signs that your cat is dealing with an ingrown toenail are bleeding from the nail, nail discoloration, or swelling and inflammation around the nails. Getting close to your cat’s paw to examine can be difficult, so if you suspect they may have an ingrown nail, take them to the vet.


Bone tumors, injection site sarcomas, and lymphoma are among the cancers that can cause cats to limp (especially in older cats). Cats also present with lameness of a limb when they have osteosarcoma due to the swelling it produces when the tumor grows. Other symptoms to note are loss of appetite, lethargy, and apprehension to walk or play due to the pain.


Broken or fractured bones, foreign bodies, scratches, or bites can all cause cats to limp. If you’re worried your cat may be injured, always consult with your vet.


If your cat is injured and the injury gets infected, that inflammation can radiate pain causing a limp. Bug bites can also easily become infected or even turn into abscesses.

Other illnesses

Diabetes, nerve damage, and progressive polyarthritis (immune system disorder) can all lead to limping if left untreated. Diabetes in cats can present as frequent urination, weight loss despite good nutrition, and frequent UTIs.

Poor nutrition

Nutrient deficiencies can present in multiple ways, including through limping. If you’ve exhausted all other possibilities for why your cat is limping, it could be down to a need for additional nutrients. Consulting a veterinary nutritionist would be a great next step.

When should you go to the vet for cat limping?

If limping isn’t normal for your cat, it’s a good idea to take them to the vet to prevent any worsening of their symptoms. Several symptoms are especially concerning and should warrant an immediate trip to the vet, including the presence of an open wound, a broken limb, swelling, knowledge of a serious trauma (hit by a car, attacked by an animal), and a limp that has gone on for more than 24 hours.

Also, if you can’t visually identify the cause of a limp or if your cat is hiding from you or is in visible pain, seek care as soon as possible. On the other hand, if your cat has a slight limp that looks to be okay in all other regards, you can likely wait a few days to see if the limp will resolve on its own.

How vets diagnose and treat limping in cats

Veterinarians ask a lot of questions to diagnose the cause of a limp. This will help them understand your cat’s lifestyle, behavior, and overall health. From there, they will perform a physical exam and observe your cat’s movements. If necessary, your vet will order diagnostic testing. X-rays and routine lab work are more common, but vets may order advanced diagnostics like CT scans, MRIs, etc.

As with any injury or illness, treatment is based on the diagnosis. Here we break some possible treatments:

  • Medication. This can include antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, etc.
  • Surgery. For wounds or to stabilize broken bones and joints, surgery may be necessary.
  • Cast- for a broken bone. This is rare and typically avoided at all costs but it is possible. Most vets prefer splints, pins, or plates.
  • Physical therapy. For rehabilitation purposes, your cat may be prescribed physical therapy to help strengthen their affected leg(s).
  • Supplements. Some nutritional supplements can help support your cat’s joints, like omega-3s and glucosamine.
  • Chemotherapy. If your cat has cancer, chemotherapy, radiation, or immunotherapy can help.
  • Weight loss. Some cats may need to lose weight to help lessen the pressure on their joints.

While an unplanned visit to the vet can be scary, it shouldn’t be done without support. That’s why pet insurance, like Lemonade, can be a great option to give you peace of mind.

How to help your cat recover from a limp

While it’s important to follow your vet’s instructions to help your cat recover from their limp, you may also be curious as to other ways you can support them during healing.

If your vet has asked that their movements be limited, you can create a safe, welcoming space for them, like a large dog crate with everything they need inside. You may also want to keep other pets and kids away from them so they can easily sleep.

Another important key to your cat’s healing is being with you. While your cat will be less active on the vet’s orders, you should still feel welcome to support them with quality time, gentle touches, and infrequent treats.

Frequently asked questions

Why is my cat limping but still jumping and running?

Many animals don’t show their pain and often continue many of their typical behaviors. This doesn’t mean that they are healthy, and you should still seek veterinarian care as a limp suggests that they’re in pain or discomfort.

What should I do if my cat is limping?

Don’t fret, but try to determine what is causing their limp. If you can’t, that’s okay, as many causes are invisible to the untrained eye. Take your cat to the vet ASAP, but seek care immediately if you notice an open wound, bleeding, pus, or if your cat is visibly distressed.

Will a cat’s limp heal on its own?

In some cases, yes. If your cat isn’t showing any other signs, it should be fine to give them a few days to see if the issue resolves on its own. But if you’re worried, we always recommend being safe rather than sorry and taking your cat to the vet.

Do I need to take my cat to the vet if he’s limping?

It’s always a good idea to take your cat to the vet if they’re limping, especially as some more serious causes aren’t always obvious.

Why is my cat limping but acting fine?

It’s a cat’s instinct to hide signs of pain. Evolution is a powerful thing, and it’s likely a reflex to protect them from nearby predators who may see weakness as an opportunity to attack. While your cat may seem fine, seek care just in case.