Common Cat Walking Problems

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Your cat climbs high onto perches and jumps on counters, tables and shelves, rarely losing her balance. It's troubling when she's not light on her feet, even having trouble with the most mundane movement of all: walking. Walking problems in cats can be traced to a variety of potential causes, including vestibular disease, bone or tissue injury, arthritis or diabetes.

Vestibular Disease

If your cat's wobbly, walking as though she's drunk, she may be suffering from vestibular disease, resulting in changes in, or loss of, limb coordination. Also known as ataxia, vestibular disease has a variety of potential causes, including:

  • Infections, such as ear infections
  • Disease, such as cancer
  • Trauma
  • Ingestion of toxins.

Symptoms of vestibular disease include:

  • Loss of coordination of limbs, trunk and head
  • Falling, leaning or tipping
  • Leg weakness
  • Eye movements
  • Head tilting
  • Drowsiness
  • Loss of appetite.

Tissue Injuries

Your cat moves in a whole range of motions throughout her day as she walks, runs, leaps and climbs. Occasionally, she may make a misstep or miss a landing, which can cause a variety of injuries.

  • A sprain is joint injury caused by a sudden tear or stretch of the ligaments. Symptoms include pain over the joint, temporary lameness and tissue swelling.
  • A tendon can stretch, tear or separate, also known as a rupture, or be strained. Symptoms of tendonitis -- an inflamed or irritated tendon -- include temporary lameness, pain when straightening or bending the joint and swelling and tenderness over the tendon.
  • A muscle can tear or bruise when its fibers are suddenly stretched, overused or experience trauma. Signs of muscle strain or contusion include lameness, tenderness, discoloration and knotting of the muscle.
  • A cat can experience a torn cruciate ligament, located in the middle of
    the knee joint. A fall or traumatic injury such as getting hit by a carcan cause a torn cruciate ligament. Signs to look for include pain whenmoving the knee and joint looseness and swelling. 

Arthritis

Cats can develop arthritis from disease, such as autoimmune disorders, or infections, injuries or degenerative joint conditions. Symptoms include:

  • Stiffness
  • Swollen joints
  • Muscle wasting
  • Trouble
    moving
  • Difficulty getting up and down.

Peripheral Neuropathy

Your cat has peripheral nerves spread throughout her body, responsible for conscious movement, her digestive system's movement and automatic physical response. A host of conditions can impact her peripheral nerves, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Metabolic conditions
  • Toxins
  • Feline leukemia virus
  • Abnormal functioning of the autonomic nervous system
  • Inherited conditions.

Symptoms of polyneuropathy include:

  • Weakness or paralysis of all legs
  • Walking on the hocks
  • Little to no muscle tone
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Muscle tremors
  • Spatial disorientation
  • Facial paralysis
  • Dry nose, mouth and eyes
  • Dizziness
  • Paralysis of the throat and/or voice box.

Treating Walking Problems

You should contact your vet if your cat is experiencing difficulty walking. Simple limping or lameness will often resolve on its own. If she is experiencing pain, the vet can recommend simple home treatment to ease her discomfort. Rest, ice packs, splints and anti-inflammatories are helpful for minor injuries. More significant injuries, such as a torn cruciate ligament, require surgery.

Warning

  • Consult a veterinarian to treat a tissue or joint injury. Untreated injuries can degenerate to more serious conditions, and using routine human medications, such as ibuprofen, can be toxic to cats. Icing an injury too long can cause tissue damage. Veterinary guidance ensures your cat will recover in a safe manner.

Treating arthritis includes:

  • Keeping a cat at a healthy weight
  • Warm compresses
  • Pain medication
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Massage
  • Supplements such as chondroitin and glucosamine.

A cat who is experiencing problems due to vestibular disease or peripheral neuropathy requires diagnostic testing to understand what's causing her symptoms. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause.

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