MSD Manual

Please confirm that you are a health care professional

honeypot link
Pet Owner Version

Lameness in Cats


Joseph Harari

, MS, DVM, DACVS, Veterinary Surgical Specialists, Spokane, WA

Reviewed/Revised Aug 2018 | Modified Oct 2022

Lameness is not a disease, but it may indicate a disorder in the musculoskeletal system. Signs of musculoskeletal disorders include weakness, lameness, limb swelling, and joint dysfunction. Nerve reaction and muscle function may be impaired as a result of changes to neuromuscular tissues. Problems with the muscles and skeleton may also affect other organ systems, including the urinary, digestive, and circulatory systems.

To diagnose the problem, a veterinarian will need to hear a careful recounting of the cat's lameness, any previous injuries, and its overall health and history. The veterinarian will also perform a full examination that aims to identify the exact location of the lameness and any changes in the musculoskeletal tissues. This may include observing the cat while it rests, stands up, and walks. The veterinarian may also feel the cat's bones, joints, and soft tissue for abnormalities, such as swelling, pain, instability, a grating or crackling sound, reduced range of motion, and wasting away of muscle. More than one examination, sometimes with exercise in between, may be necessary.

A veterinarian may also use x-rays, ultrasonography, and other less common imaging techniques to visualize the cause of the lameness. Other techniques that might be used to aid in the diagnosis include withdrawal and examination of joint fluids, surgical inspection of the inside of a joint using an endoscope, electromyography, and tissue biopsy and examination.

Relieving pain is an important component of treatment for lame animals, and may allow faster recovery. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and a variety of other pain-relieving drugs are commonly used to control pain in lame animals. Other methods of pain relief, such as acupuncture, massage, and even changes to the diet may also be recommended. Stem cell therapy or supplements may also provide relief, but the scientific basis for their use is not yet established. Your veterinarian is best able to prescribe the appropriate treatment for your pet. It is very important that you follow all directions exactly as prescribed.

quiz link

Test your knowledge

Take a Quiz!