Breaks and Sprains

There are many different types of injuries that can occur to the muscular skeletal structure of the cat. The most common injuries affect, the limbs, back and tail. It is important to recognize what type of injury has occurred and where the injury is to properly stabilize the injury while you seek veterinarian care.

Determining the Injury

First determine which leg is affected. The cat may limp noticeably, drag or not bear weight at all on the limb, or it may take shorter more hesitant steps, the head may “bob” as the weight comes down on the injured limb. Carefully feel along the leg from the toes up and try to locate an area of tenderness or pain by gentile pressure. If there is a fracture it is presented by severe pain, generally the inability to bear weight on that limb and deformity. IF you suspect a fracture DO NOT proceed with the following rather seek Veterinarian Care. Next flex and extend all the joints and watch for tensing up, resistance or response to pain (crying out, growling, or attempting to flee). Spinal Cord injuries cause weakness or paralysis in one or more limbs, but causes no pain in the affected limbs. Pelvic fractures may be confused visually with spinal cord injuries, however there is pain involved in the pelvic or hip region.


A sprain is an injury to the joint that is caused by sudden stretching or tearing of the ligaments. This can occur in any of the joints along hind and fore limbs.

Symptoms: Pain in the injured joint, swelling and limping. The cat may refuse to bear weight on the injured limb.

Treatment: Ice packing the area of injury will help reduce the swelling and pain. Apply the ice packs for approx. 30 minutes every hour for the next 3-5 hours. It is best to use crushed ice in a ziplock baggie as it molds to the injured site with the least amount of contact pain or use a first aide type ice pack. Confine or restrict mobility of the cat so that it can rest the injured limb. If the cat will not bear weight on the injured limb, see a veterinarian to rule out fracture, dislocation or ruptured tendons. IF the injury does not improve within 3 days seek veterinarian attention.

Muscle Strains/Contusions

These are injuries to the muscles by blunt force (bruising), overexertion, sudden stretching and prolonged use (tearing).

Symptoms: Lameness, bruising, tenderness in injured area, knotted or tight muscles.

Treatment: Ice Packs and rest as in sprains.

Pulled and Torn Tendons

Tendons can become over stretched, ripped or entirely severed (ruptured). Most often this occurs in the front and hind paws. These injuries occur when there is a sudden wrenching or twisting motion to the paws. Irritated or inflamed tendons are called tendonitis.

Symptoms: In tendonitis, there is temporary lameness, pain on bending or straightening the joint, tenderness and swelling over the tendon area. In ruptured tendons usually the hind legs or Achilles tendon, the cat will walk on the heel rather than the paw. The cat may not be able to bear weight at all on a forelimb or drag it.

Treatment: In the case of stretched tendons or tendonitis, treat as in sprains. If the tendon is ruptured, veterinarian assistance is required.


There are basically four kinds of fractures, Greenstick (usually in young animals and presents as a crack on x-ray), Oblique or Closed fracture (the bone is in at least two pieces on x-ray), Open or Compound Fracture (the bone has penetrated the skin and is visible) and Joint fracture (pieces of the joint or bone end breaks off in the joint area on x-ray). Bones or joints may also be crushed or shattered into many pieces (usually in the area that have many small bones such as the paws).

First treat for shock if the signs are present. (see previous article Treating Skin Wounds—Shock) In the case of compound fractures, blood loss, infection and shock are high. Once shock and bleeding are controlled the break should be splinted or immobilized prior to travel to the vets, to prevent further injury.

The most effective splints are ones that will cross the joint above and below the injury.

Magazines, cardboard, flat pieces of wood, can be used for splints however the first two are preferable and least painful to the cat. If using flat wood wrap or pad the area of the break first with cotton or several gauze pads.

When fractures are below the knee or elbow, fold a magazine in half (or roll tube of newspaper) and then wrap this around the limb securing with tape, cloth or string. You can also cut a piece of thick cardboard and fold it around the limb and secure in the same manner. To prevent slippage you can apply tape to the splint and then to the cats fur above the splint. Vet wrap works well to keep the splint secure and in place.

When the fracture is above the knee or elbow you can immobilize by binding the leg to the body. Vet wrap, cloth or roll gauze works well for this.

Do not attempt to set the displaced bones yourself, you may cause further damage and the pain is more than any animal can bear without anesthesia.

Remember when treating your cat these breaks are quiet painful, no matter how docile your cat might be under normal circumstances, there is a high risk of being bitten or scratched. (See previous article on restraining techniques)


The most common joints dislocated in the cat are the hip and kneecap.

Symptoms: Pain with movement, the inability to bear weight on the limb, observable “shortening” when compared to unaffected side.

Treatment: A veterinarian exam will be required, to ensure there are no fractures or ruptured tendons and to reset the joint back into its socket. Do not attempt to reduce the dislocation yourself, the muscle spasms and tension associated with dislocation require sedation in order to reduce or correct the dislocation.

Cat Owners Home Veterinary Handbook
Delbert G. Carlson, DVM and James M. Giffin, MD

The Doctors Book of Home Remedies for Dogs and Cats
Rodale Pet Care

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