HEALTH & CARE

How to Tell If a Cat Has a Broken Leg: Recognizing the Signs and How to Apply Emergency Treatment

cat with a broken leg
Jeremy Vaughn
Written by Jeremy Vaughn

Cats are notorious climbers and jumpers. A cat can jump over six times his length in one leap, or to put it in exact numbers, over six feet high! But even with such amazing abilities, cats are not immune to accidents. Broken limbs are not the most common of injuries in the feline world, but if left ignored or unnoticed, it could be lethal. This is why it is very important to learn how to tell if a cat has a broken leg.

Sometimes it is very hard to determine if your pet has a serious injury or just an acute pain. This is especially true for cats because of their intrinsically reticent nature. Also, having four rather than two limbs designed for walking means they can still run and jump even while favoring the injured paw, which makes it more difficult for humans to assess the severity of the injury.

cat jumping

Some cats are even too smart for their own good; they will deliberately hide the injury from the humans because they know it means going to the vet. This is why it is very important to learn how to look for the tell-tale signs. The quicker you react, the greater the probability for your cat to fully recover.

This article will cover all the possible symptoms of a broken leg. We will also discuss the differences between a sprained limb and a broken one because these two injuries can look very similar in the early stages. Lastly, we will tell you what immediate actions should be taken and what you can do to help your cat before visiting the vet.

Identifying the Signs of an Injury

Cats, just like people, react differently when dealing with pain. Some individuals are prone to hiding their distress and will try to act like everything is in perfect order, while others will search for help immediately. Most of them, however, is somewhere in the middle and the signs of an injury are easy to see.

It is much easier to notice the signs if you have a cat that lives indoors. If your beloved feline is an outdoors adventurer, the first sign that something might be wrong is the change in his or her routine.

This means spending more time in the house or the opposite: retreating to a remote, quiet place where they can tend to their injury in peace. If you notice this, keep an eye on their behavior for a couple of days.

The following can be signs of both sprained or a broken limb. If you notice any of these, it is essential to keep an eye on your cat and see how the situation progresses. If there is no improvement in two days time, you should visit the vet.

#1: Limping

cat limping

This is the most benign sign that something is wrong with your cat’s leg. Before you get seriously worried, examine the leg. It might be something quite harmless like a foreign body stuck between the toes.

If this is the case, remove it with tweezers as gently as you can. If the paw itself looks swollen, take a closer look at the claws because sometimes the root can get infected and your cat might need to take antibiotics.

#2: Refusing to Walk

cat refusing to walk

 

If the cat has an injured, dislocated, or broken limb, she will try to use it as little as possible to reduce the pain and help the injury heal faster. This is a very obvious sign of a serious injury.

A cat that refuses to walk might have a dislocated limb or a broken rib. This behavior can also be caused by more serious conditions such as a broken pelvis or a problem with the spine, so make sure to take your cat to the vet as soon as possible.

#3: Crying, Howling, Moaning, or Growling, Especially When Touched

Kitten meowing

The more expressive cats might come to you to ask for help. If your kitty is crying in pain, take the situation seriously and bring her to the vet immediately.

There may also be a negative reaction when the area is touched or moved. Some cats are very protective of the painful area and will not let you touch or even approach it.

If your cat starts hissing or growling at you when you try to examine the leg, she is definitely in pain. Try looking at the limb when the cat is resting without touching it, and see if there are any wounds, foreign bodies, or swelling.

#4: Hiding

cat hiding

If your cat is injured, she is in a lot of pain and afraid. Hiding is an instinct left from the time when cats used to live in the wilderness.

Do not try to drag your cat out of her hiding place forcefully because you might hurt her even more. Placing a board underneath her is the safest way to safely move her without causing more stress.

See Also: How to Get a Cat Out of Hiding

#5: Part of the Leg is Held at an Unusual Angle

This might be because your cat dislocated the limb, sprained it, or has another type of injury. A broken bone might not be visible if the fracture is closed, but there might be a lump or asymmetry in the limb. Again, try to examine the area if possible and find the cause.

In case the bone is visibly poking through or just under the skin, you’ll need to react quickly. An open fracture is an obvious sign of a broken leg. The only thing left for you to do is to take your cat to the veterinarian.

#6: Holding the Tail in an Unusual Manner

cat holding tail in an unusual manner

Cats use their tail to hold their balance. If a limb is injured they have to put their weight on the other three legs, which changes the center of balance, hence the unusual angle of the tail.

#7: Licking the Area

Animals often try to help themselves by licking the injury, but this behavior can sometimes bring more harm than good, especially if they have an open wound. Examine the leg and see what the licking is all about.

See Also: How to Make a Cone for a Cat

#8: Swelling

checking cat paw

Fractures are not always easy to spot, but they are almost always followed by a swelling of the area.

Keep in mind that the injury might not be in the same place as the swelling since the accumulated liquid can descend lower in the limb with time. If you notice this, you cat definitely needs professional help.

#9: Not Eating or Grooming

calico cat refusing to eat

After the initial adrenaline spike that happens after the injury (this helps the animal get “extra strength” to move away from the potential predators and find refuge), your cat might feel very stressed and refuse food. Also, lack of grooming is always a sign of distress in cats, so keep your eyes open.

First Aid for a Cat with a Broken Leg

first aid for a cat

If your cat has a broken leg, you should definitely take her to the vet as soon as possible. However, in the meantime, or in case a vet’s help is not readily available, there are some things you can do to help ease her pain and prevent infection. Make sure to approach your cat gently and use soothing words to help her feel more secure.

If your cat is nervous or aggressive, wrap her in a thick towel. This will help her calm down and protect your hands from being shredded to pieces. Inspect the injured area while talking to your cat in a gentle tone.

As a general rule, if your cat is in pain, you should not try to move the leg as this can worsen the situation. If you are unsure of the nature of the injury, take a closer look with a flashlight. This can give you a better idea of what is really going on. Any swelling, bruising, or unusual bumps are telltale signs of a fracture or dislocation.

#1: Handling a Closed Fracture

There is nothing much you can do except take your cat to the vet. We will tell you more about how to transport the injured cat in the next section.

#2: Handling an Open Fracture

You will need to treat the area by gently pouring some mild disinfectant on the wound and placing a sterile gauze on it. Be extremely gentle because, for one, it is horribly painful, and two, the shattered bones should not be moved.

#3: Handling a Cat that Went into Shock

Sometimes the cat can be in such severe pain that she falls into a state of shock. This means that the circulatory system starts shutting down.

If you notice that your cat is acting unaware of her surroundings, has pale gums, and pants, place some honey on her gums and wrap her in a blanket. Take her to the wet immediately because this condition can quickly become fatal.

Transporting the Injured Cat

cat wrapped in a sick towel

After you have done all possible immediate care, it is time to go to the vet. This part might be especially tricky because you have to handle an animal that is afraid and in pain.

Keep in mind that the injured area shouldn’t be disturbed and that you should do everything in your power to calm down your cat. Animals are emotional sponges, so try to keep your attitude as composed as possible and focus on soothing your cat.

Depending on the nature of the injury and your cat’s emotional state, there are a couple of ways to carry your cat to the vet. Proper body support and immobilization are the most important factor, so do not use backpacks or carrying bags without a firm bottom.

Here is what we recommend:

#1: Carrier Box

If your cat can be calmly placed into a transporter without disturbing the fracture, this is the best option. The firm surface will provide support and limited space for movement.

Make sure to place a blanket or a T-shirt that smells of you on the bottom, so your cat feels more secure.

See Also: How to Get a Cat into a Carrier

#2: Blanket or a Towel

If your cat doesn’t like being carried in the transporter, in this situation, it might do more harm than good. Your cat trying to wiggle out might make the injury worse, so it is better to take a blanket and gently wrap it around the cat.

Make sure to keep the injured leg in the most comfortable position, without bending it or squeezing it. This is not an easy maneuver, but your cat might feel more secure if she is close to you.

#3: A Flat Board

This is the best way to transport a cat that can’t move or is in a state of shock. Since you don’t know the severity of the injury, you should not risk moving her spine or pelvic bone too much.

Gently and slowly put the board underneath your cat and lift it. You can also wrap her in a blanket together with the board to stop her from jumping out or falling.

After the Vet

cat after the vet

So your cat has received the treatment, and the worst is over, right? Well, yes, but not quite.

The most important part of the recovery process is restricting your cat’s physical activity. This might actually be the hardest thing to do. The bone will heal in six to eight weeks, which means no running around, no energetic playing, and most definitely no jumping.

It is best to make an improvised rehabilitation space that contains everything your cat needs—food, water, a litter box, and a comfortable bed for plenty of resting that awaits her. It would also be wise not to let the cat roam outside during this period.

Make sure to follow your vet’s instructions and give your cat all the prescribed medication, if any. You should regularly check for swelling and signs of infection. If your cat has bandages, keep them clean and dry.

Also, do not forget to do another check-up after the recovery period to make sure everything is in place and healing properly.

Wrap Up

man holding a cat

We hope that this article has helped you deal with this unfortunate event. Watching your pet in distress is a horribly stressful situation, but it is essential to keep calm and think logically.

After all is done and taken care of, think back and analyze the situation. Is there anything that could be done to prevent this event from happening in the future? If so, make sure to take proper action and keep your kitty safe so you can enjoy your life together for many years to come.

How did it go for you? Do you have any other tips you can share? Let us know in the comments section below! Before you go, do check out our article on how to treat cat allergies.

About the author
Jeremy Vaughn
Jeremy Vaughn

Jeremy Vaughn is a member of Canadian Professional Pet Stylists, who lives in Winnipeg. Creating new looks for cats and other pets is his passion. Jeremy shares his house with the wife and wonderful Siamese cat.

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