What are Sprains?
A vet explains a sprain in a cat as a “soft tissue trauma” that happens in the ligaments of one of the cat’s limbs. The affected limb may be swollen and hot to the touch.
A sprain is usually a minor injury to the ligaments in the limbs of a cat. Sprains are also the most common cause for a cat to begin limping after receiving an injury. When cat owners see their pets refusing to put weight on the injured limb, crying out, or favoring that limb, they should make an appointment with the vet. After doing some diagnostic work, the vet may find that the injury is truly a sprain, or they could find another, more serious cause for the cat’s symptoms.
Symptoms of Sprains in Cats
The cat who has injured one of its limbs will let its owner know that it’s in pain, especially if the pain is significant:
- Meowing or crying after getting hurt
- Lack of appetite
- Favoring the injured limb
- Inability to use the injured limb
- Swelling of the injured limb
- Personality changes (a normally calm cat may hiss or growl when touched, for instance)
Veterinarians grade sprain injuries according to how much joint and ligament damage is present:
- Grade 1: Parts of the ligament are torn. The cat experiences some swelling and pain.
- Grade 2: Ligament is partially torn or greatly stretched. The cat experiences swelling and inability to comfortably use the limb.
- Grade 3: Ligament is completely torn. The affected bones are no longer joined by the ligament. Surgery is required.
Causes of Sprains in Cats
Cats can suffer sprains for several reasons:
- Overweight cats are at higher risk of spraining a limb
- Rambunctious animals can be injured after hard play or even mild activity
- Sprain may develop after a traumatic accident
Diagnosis of Sprains in Cats
A vet may suspect a sprain if they see the cat limping or avoiding use of the limb. To confirm or rule out their tentative diagnosis, the vet will give the cat a full physical exam, focusing the most on the injured limb. If they feel extra warmth around the limb, along with excessive swelling, they will have the cat X-rayed to confirm their diagnosis. The last diagnostic procedure is a joint tap, where joint fluid is aspirated from the joint for evaluation by a pathologist. The joint tap may be completed on the cat so the vet can rule out other suspected causes of its lameness and pain.
Treatment of Sprains in Cats
Once the vet has diagnosed a sprain in the cat, they will prescribe rest as the first course of treatment. If the limb continues to be used, the sprain, swelling and pain will not resolve. As long as the cat is restricted to a cage, where it can rest, its injured limb will begin to heal. Recovery can take a minimum of two weeks as long as the rest regimen is strictly enforced at home. Outdoor cats should not be allowed to go outside and roam, because the injury could be worsened, especially if the cat gets into a fight or has to run across the street to avoid a vehicle.
The vet may also prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. These medications help to reduce the inflammation in the cat’s injured limb, which helps to speed healing and recovery. These medications also help to reduce the pain the cat experiences.
Depending on the grade of the sprain, additional treatments may be prescribed, such as splinting the injured limb to protect the joint for a grade one sprain. After several weeks, the cat’s limb regains normal function.
A grade two sprain requires the anti-inflammatory medications, splinting and possibly surgery to help stabilize the joint. The cat may regain most of its normal function after surgery.
In a grade three sprain, surgery will be required. The cat’s recovery will take several months. Function in the limb may be limited.
After seeing the vet for treatment, the cat owner should restrict the cat’s movement. A splint, if used, should be kept dry and clean and the owner should make sure the edges of the splint don’t rub the cat’s sensitive skin. Prescribed medications should be given as ordered.
Additional treatments such as natural remedies may be given. These may strengthen joints and muscles in the cat’s body. While the cat is on restricted movement, the vet may recommend supplements, remedies, or medications to promote rest help the cat to stay comfortable and calm during physical therapy.
Recovery of Sprains in Cats
Cats who suffer sprained limbs will recover well from their injuries as long as they were diagnosed correctly and given prompt treatment. The limp will resolve within a few weeks and it usually isn’t necessary for the cat to be seen for a follow-up appointment, except in surgical cases.
Once the cat has fully recovered, the owner should try to keep the cat indoors if it has been allowed to roam before being injured.
Sprains Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My cat has been limping over the last couple of days it has got slightly lightly better. He has been lifting his leg up when stationary.he can put weight on it and still wants to play he is eating fine and using the litter box ,what do you think is the matter with him
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My cat is 1yr 5m. Recently he's been letting out a horrible cry like he's in pain whenever he stands up. We've identified which back leg it is that is causing him pain. He will plop himself down to lay down rather than use his back legs. And he won't jump on anything anymore. We are assuming it is a sprain in his back leg. I'm just wondering if there are any home remedies we can try first.. I've tried heating pack and an ice pack and have placed it on the hurt leg and our cat instantly purrs and won't move for awhile when we do that. So I know he must feel some sort of relief when we do that. Is there anything else we can do?
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