What is Muscle Tear?
If your cat is limping, moving slowly, having difficulty getting up and down, or calling out in pain, your cat may have injured its soft muscular tissue. You should make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible. In severe cases, visit an emergency veterinary hospital, as your cat may be in a significant amount of pain and your vet will attempt to rule out more serious injuries such as broken bones or wounds that might become infected.
A muscle tear, often called a strained muscle, can occur in a cat when the cat moves too quickly, in an awkward way, or attempts to make a movement that is too strenuous for the strength of that particular animal. When this happens, the muscle may sustain a small tear or multiple small tears in the muscle fibers. This injury can range from slightly uncomfortable for your cat to extremely painful and debilitating depending upon the severity of the injury and the length of time between the injury and when you seek treatment for your cat at a veterinary office or hospital.
Symptoms of Muscle Tear in Cats
The symptoms of a muscle tear in cats are similar to the symptoms in any other animal with a muscle injury, including humans. Since your cat cannot communicate its pain to you in the same way you could communicate it to your doctor, you will need to be intentional about noticing and acting on any changes in your cat’s behavior that serve as signs that your cat has hurt itself. The following symptoms often accompany a muscle tear:
- Restlessness and trouble getting comfortable
- Abnormal withdrawal and hiding
- Unwillingness to be petted or picked up
- Difficulty positioning for grooming, which may cause matting in fur
- Refusal to put any weight on one or more limbs
- Difficulty lying down or getting up
- Inability to run or jump
- Muscle spasms
- Painful vocalization at the time of injury or when trying to move
Causes of Muscle Tear in Cats
Cats tend to be very athletic animals, which causes muscle injuries to be very common in cats. There are a number of ways these injuries occur in cats just as there are in other animals and humans. In addition, the muscles may weaken as your cat ages, making your cat more susceptible to soft tissue injuries. The following actions, when they go even slightly wrong, can cause a muscle tear.
- Energetic or rough play
- Jumping and landing, especially from significant heights
- Fighting with other cats or animals
- Fleeing from another animal or loud noise
- Blunt injury such as being hit, kicked, pushed, or bumped
Diagnosis of Muscle Tear in Cats
As is typical during any visit to your veterinarian, the vet will likely begin the visit by asking you to describe the symptoms you have observed and by doing a thorough physical examination of your cat. In order to make a diagnosis, the vet may also:
- Observe the cat’s movements
- Search for a wound on the cat’s paw or legs
- Use his or her hands to put light pressure on muscles to locate where the cat is hurt
- Feel for arthritic swelling at the joints
- Prescribe seven days of rest to see if the injury resolves itself; if not, this helps the vet diagnose the injury as, perhaps, something more serious
- Order X-rays to rule out broken bones, torn ligaments, muscle tumors, joint dislocation, and arthritis
- Order an extensive orthopedic exam to be conducted while your cat is under anesthesia
Treatment of Muscle Tear in Cats
Muscle tears are very common injuries in cats. Treatment for muscle tears are usually quite simple and mirror treatments for humans with the same injury, although with medications designed specifically for cats. These treatments are:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications by pill or injection
- Pain medication
Recovery of Muscle Tear in Cats
If there is not a recurrence of the injury, most muscle tears will heal in one to two weeks, especially with anti-inflammatories, pain management, and rest. During recovery your cat may need to be kept inside and away from other pets and small children, sometimes even in a crate. An overweight cat will be more susceptible to injury than a cat at a healthy weight, so weight management is important to help in the prevention of future injuries. If there is a certain activity that your cat often engages in that is causing repeated injury, the vet will likely encourage you to find a way to help your cat to avoid this activity. After a particular muscle has been injured once, it is not uncommon for a cat to re-injure the same tissue in the future. Your vet will likely schedule a follow-up appointment to check your cat’s progress toward normal painless movement. The majority of cats make a full recovery from even a severe muscle tear.