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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Leg Swelling View In Cats

First Aid Condition

First aid health condition




Condition Overview

A cat often develops a swollen leg when he is bitten by another cat and the injury becomes infected. Athletic dogs who roam unattended outside, hunting dogs, and performance dogs may strain or sprain a muscle or tendon or even develop a hematoma when a leg is bruised.


The leg will be enlarged in size, identifiable upon physical examination.


Occasionally, a bee sting or snakebite will cause leg swelling. Fractured legs will also result in swelling. Leg swelling can be caused by many things, even metabolic problems like diabetes.

Giant-breed dogs such as Great Danes are prone to bone cancers on the legs that swell and are painful.

Pets who are dehydrated are often given fluid therapy beneath the skin of the shoulders. Within a short time, the liquid migrates downward and often looks like "water wings" - balloons of liquid on both sides of the body. Sometimes, however, it migrates even farther and can make the legs look swollen. The fluid will be absorbed over the period of an hour or so, and the swelling will go away on its own.


It is always a good idea to get medical assistance when trying to diagnose the cause of leg swelling if you have not witnessed the precipitating incident.


A sudden swelling of a leg from a bruise, sprain, or minor infection can usually be easily treated with first aid.

  1. Watch for serious symptoms - You should take your pet to the vet if he won't put any weight on the affected leg, if he is depressed or not acting normally, if he's not eating or drinking well, or if his limp on the swollen leg hasn't improved in 48 hours. A broken leg is possible. Veterinary attention is also necessary if he has a fever along with these symptoms and no decrease in swelling in 24 hours. The vet will probably prescribe antibiotics.
  2. Apply a cold compress - A swollen leg and no symptoms other than a slight lump may mean that he has sprained, strained, or bruised the leg, and applying a cold compress on the affected area may help. This will stop the body from releasing pain causing chemicals that prompt the swelling and inflammation. Rinse a clean washcloth in cold water and hold it against the injury, then place a cold pack or plastic bag filled with ice on top of the wet cloth. Do this for 10 - 30 minutes several times a day. A bag of frozen peas or corn works well as a cold pack to mold to the body contours. This will also help to numb the sore area.

If you dog has arthritis - After you have checked with your vet, you can give buffered aspirin like Bufferin to dogs on a temporary basis to help take the edge off a painful bruise or swollen, painful joints due to arthritis. It is best to give a buffered aspirin product since it is less harsh on the stomach, and be sure to give it with food. The usual dose is 10 - 25mg per 2.2 pounds of body weight 2 - 3 times a day. Aspirin is also an anti-inflammatory, so it can help bring down the swelling. DO NOT GIVE ASPIRIN TO CATS.

If swelling is from an abscess - Leg swellings from abscesses feel hot, and your pet may have a fever. Instead of a cold compress, apply a hot compress to pull blood circulation to the area and help speed healing by bringing the infection to a head. Soak a clean cloth with water as hot as you can stand it, and wring it out. Or use a pre-made hot pack or hot water bottle wrapped in a towel. Apply it to the swollen area 2 - 5 times a day, 5 minutes on, 5 minutes off until it cools. Do not put a hot pack in the armpits or groin area.

For infections or splinters - When the swelling is on the lower leg and you know it has been caused by an infection or a splinter and not trauma, you can fill a bucket with warm water, add Epsom salts, and soak the area. Dissolve 1 cup of the salts in 2 gallons of warm water and have your pet stand in the water for 10 minutes at a time. This helps draw out the infection and is especially helpful to prompt the body to expel splinters that may have caused the swelling.

For allergic reactions - Sometimes a leg will swell from an allergic response to an insect bite or sting, a contact allergy, or food sensitivity. You can give an antihistamine like Benadryl to help counter the inflammation and swelling. The liquid form of Benadryl usually comes in a dose of 12.5 mg per teaspoon - with pills usually 25mg each. Pets will need up to 1mg per pound of body weight every 6 - 8 hours. If you are unsure of what cause the swelling, a trip to the vet will help sort it out.


There is no prevention for this condition.


Leg swelling from any type of trauma will benefit from cold packs for 10 - 30 minutes several times a day for 2 - 3 days. After that period, when the swelling begins to go down, switch to warm compresses. You can use a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel and apply it for up to 20 minutes at a time 2 or 3 times a day. The warmth improves circulation, helps heal the damage, and also loosens up tight muscles.

Hot packs also work wonders for infections and abscesses. Moist heat is the best choice to help bring the sore to a head and keep the wound draining. You can wrap the swollen leg in a warm, damp towel 5 minutes on and 5 minutes off until it cools 2 - 5 times a day.

Show Sources & Contributors +


The First Aid Companion for Dogs And Cats

Publisher: Rodale Inc, 2001

Website: http://www.rodalebooks.com/

Authors: Amy D. Shojai, Shane Bateman DVM

3 Comments For "Leg Swelling"



my 4 week old puppy has a swollen elbow and shoulder. He sometimes shivers

September 12, 2012 at 12:08AM  Sign In or Join to Comment



my dogs back leg/hip is swollen she won't walk. and has done nothing but lay around. now it looks like her butt is getting swollen?

October 8, 2012 at 9:43PM  Sign In or Join to Comment



I found a cat and brought him in my home.. his leg was swollen and he wouldn't walk on it.. a few days later the swelling was gone and he had an opened wound.. then he was fine.. now its come back his leg is swollen a little lower this time and idk what it is he stopped walking on it again and I'm worried he's only been here for a couple weeks but Ilike him a lot.. any ideas on what it could be?

April 15, 2013 at 10:29PM  Sign In or Join to Comment