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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Limping View In Cats

First Aid Condition

First aid health condition




Condition Overview

Limping can indicate a serious injury, such as a leg fracture or dislocation which occurs when a bone pops out of the joint.


The pet will usually hold up or take the weight off the affected leg when standing. When moving, he will take shorter steps on the sore leg. His head may bob or nod when he attempts to put weight on the sore leg.


Dogs and cats often limp after they sprain or strain their muscles when they try to over exercise, or after they bruise themselves by banging into something. An overweight dog can hurt himself and develop a limp just from walking up the stairs. Even a thorn, nail, splinter, or other object stuck in your pet's paw can cause him to limp.

Limping in cats is most often caused by abscesses from bite wounds, and large breed dogs can develop a limp from hip dysplasia, a condition where the hip joints are loosely fitted in the sockets. Older dogs and cats who develop arthritis and painful joints may also limp.


It can be hard to locate the painful area when a dog or cat limps. A detailed diagnosis can be made by veterinary examination.

Here are a few of the most common limps, and how to tell them apart by their symptoms:

  • Dislocations and fractures cause severe pain and your pet will refuse to put any weight on the affected leg. The flesh may be bruised and discolored, and the leg may look odd or deformed.
  • Spinal cord and nerve injuries occur gradually with degeneration or suddenly from trauma, but there is little to no pain.
  • Infected areas are very tender and red. They feel hot and often have breaks in the skin from teeth or claws. Your pet's limping grows worse over time, and he will often have a fever from the infection.
  • Sprains and strains cone on suddenly and often gradually improve even without treatment. Pain is mild, and your pet may still use the leg in a limited manner.
  • Rickettsial diseases can also cause limping. These conditions are transmitted by tick bites.
  • Lyme disease causes joints to swell, often in more than one leg, and the swelling occurs gradually. Lameness may come and go, but this disease is not cured without long-term anti-biotic treatment.
  • Arthritis and other degenerative joint problems develop very gradually, usually with only mild pain and stiffness. The limp may subside once your pet warms up to the joint through use.


Fractures, dislocations, and any limp that lasts longer than 24 hours need medical attention. First aid can relieve the pain of sprains and some joint problems.

  1. Hold him still - Before doing anything else, have a second person restrain your pet so that you aren't accidentally bitten while you try to treat the sore leg. If you don't have a helper, you can make a homemade muzzle for a long nosed dog from pantyhose or a necktie. Loop the fabric around the dog's nose and tie it on top. Then bring the ends down and tie them beneath the chin. Finally, bring the ends behind the dog's neck and tie them behind his ears. For a cat or flat-faced dog (such as a pug), try putting a pillowcase over his head to give him something else to engage his teeth. Don't muzzle you pet or use a pillowcase if he is having trouble breathing.
  2. Treat with a cold compress - If a soft-tissue injury like a sprain or strain happened within the past few hours, apply a cold compress to help reduce the swelling, soothe the pain, and prevent damage to the tissues. Rinse a clean washcloth in cold water, place it on the sore area, then place a plastic bag filled with ice on top. A bag of frozen peas or corn also works well, since it molds to the body. Apply compresses for 10 - 30 minutes several times a day for 3 days, after which your pet may benefit from hot packs.
  3. Ask the vet about aspirin - To reduce some of the inflammation, swelling, and pain, you can give a limping dog buffered aspirin such as Bufferin for 1 day. The usual dose is 10 - 25mg per 2.2 pounds of body weight 2 - 3 times a day. Do not give aspirin to cats.
  4. Use hot compresses for an abscess - If the limp is caused by an abscess, see your veterinarian. He will often recommend applying hot compresses. Heat helps increase the blood circulation to the sore area and can bring the infection to a head so that it will drain. Soak a washcloth with water as hot as you can stand, wring it out, and place it on the sore area 2 - 5 times a day, 5 minutes on 5 minutes off until the cloth cools. Do not put hot compresses in the armpits or groin area.


There is no prevention for this condition.


After you have applied cold packs to a fresh injury for 3 days, you can switch to hot packs or compresses to bring healing blood to the area. You can use a commercial hot pack or a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel and apply it 2 - 5 times a day, 5 minutes on, 5 minutes off until it cools. Do not put hot compresses in the armpits or groin area.

Dog and cats who limp from minor sprains or strains often heal with simple rest. Confine your pet and keep him from running, jumping, or climbing until the limp subsides. It is best to continue resting your pet's leg for at least 24 hours after the limp is gone.

Cats who have abscesses often need antibiotics, and dogs or cats who limp from arthritis may be given medication to help with the pain. There are various forms of pain medication for dogs and cats that are safe for long-term use. Your veterinarian will prescribe the one that is best for your pet. Dogs may be given an arthritis medicine like carprofen (Rimadyl) that doesn't have the side effects of long term aspirin use. If your pet seems to be having side effects from any drug, consult your veterinarian.

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

1 Comment For "Limping"



My dog Mia is limping but when we touch her legs she to sees where the ingury is we dont find it i dont know what it is

January 30, 2013 at 7:40PM  Sign In or Join to Comment