Limping in Cats and Dogs

Limping in Cats and Dogs

Common Causes

More common causes are listed first.  Less common causes are listed later.

  • Soft tissue trauma (a sprain, a strain, or a pulled muscle) is the most common cause of limping, especially in young animals. Limping caused by soft tissue trauma generally begins suddenly. Most animals with soft tissue trauma make complete recoveries within two weeks.
  • Arthritis is very common in older cats and dogs. It usually causes chronic stiffness in one or multiple limbs but symptoms may appear suddenly after an affected joint is stressed.
  • Skin problems on the foot may cause limping. These include infections, torn nails, cuts, abrasions of the foot pads, or embedded plant matter (including foxtails) or debris.
  • Back or neck pain can manifest as limping.
  • Severe trauma, such a broken bone, torn ligaments, or dislocated joint will cause profound limping and pain.
  • Neurological conditions may cause limping.
  • In cats, diabetes or infection with calicivirus may cause limping.
  • Bladder infections occasionally cause limping.
  • Rare conditions such as bone infections, cancer, hereditary problems, and panosteitis (growing pains) are infrequent causes of limping.

Recommended Course of Action

Any animal that is limping should rest and refrain from activity that may exacerbate the problem.

Gentle evaluation of the affected limb, starting at the foot and working towards the torso, may yield information regarding the cause of the limp.

Animals with mild limps and no signs of distress or pain may recover spontaneously if allowed to rest for several days.

Animals with severe limps that do not put any weight on the affected limb, or those with signs of distress or pain, should be assessed by a veterinarian immediately. As well, animals with mild limps that do not resolve rapidly with rest should receive veterinary care.

When in doubt, seeking the advice of a veterinarian is always the safest option.

Never use human painkillers or anti-inflammatory medications in pets without consulting a veterinarian.

Copyright © Eric Barchas, DVM All rights reserved.
The contents of this page are provided for general informational purposes only. Under no circumstances should this page be substituted for professional consultation with a veterinarian.