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Limping and stiffness in cats

Photo of black cat on white background


  • Does your cat have a limp? Do they seem stiff or painful? Have they started hesitating before jumping-up or stopped jumping altogether?
  • A limp is obvious, but stiffness is harder to spot because the signs can be subtle.
  • Book an appointment with your vet if you notice your cat limping, becoming stiff or 'slowing-down' with old age.

Causes of limping and stiffness

A limp, stiffness or generally 'slowing-down' indicates your cat is in pain/discomfort. Limping is often very easy to spot but stiffness and slowing down can be a bit more challenging. Limping and stiffness in cats can be caused by:

  • Arthritis (more common in older cats, a very manageable condition that shouldn't be ignored)
  • Cat bite abscess
  • Sprains, minor injuries and Wounds
  • Claw injury
  • Broken bones
  • Road traffic accident/falls
  • Insect stings
  • A cruciate ligament injury in the knee
  • Something stuck in the foot or leg e.g. a piece of glass or a grass seed
  • Patella luxation (knee cap luxation)
  • A spinal problem e.g. slipped disc
  • Cat flu (can cause lameness in kittens)
  • A dislocation (hip, shoulder, ankle or toe)
  • Osteochondrosis (cartilage problems)
  • 'Aortic Thromboembolism': a blood clot affecting one or both back legs.

Signs of limping and stiffness in cats

As well as the obvious limp, keep an eye out for less obvious signs such as:

  • Stiffness moving around/difficulty getting up and down
  • Reluctance to jump
  • Difficulty climbing stairs
  • Overgrooming an area on their body (often indicates pain)
  • Swollen legs/joints
  • Walking slowly
  • Lethargy (low energy)

When to contact your vet

Contact your vet for a non-urgent appointment if your cat has a mild limp (that doesn’t improve within 24 hours), is slowing down with old age or seems a bit stuff when they move around.

Contact your vet immediately for an emergency appointment if your cat develops a sudden limp, can’t put weight on a leg or is in severe pain. You know your cat best, contact your vet if you are concerned.

Find out whether you are eligible for free or low cost PDSA veterinary treatment using our eligibility checker.

Published: February 2020

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Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only.

Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst