Sure, cats have a reputation for always landing on their feet but they’re actually just as susceptible to breaking a bone as any other animal. Cats can fall and land at awkward angles, they can get into fights with other cats, and they can even be hit by cars.
Cats with broken legs might exhibit a number of signs, from limping to yowling to swelling. If you have reason to think your cat may have broken his leg, here’s what to do next.
0-15 Minutes In: Assessment
How you first proceed will greatly depend on how you think your cat was injured. If you know for sure your cat’s injury was caused from a steep fall or some kind of traumatic incident (like by being hit by a car), take your cat to an emergency veterinary clinic immediately. He may have suffered dangerous internal injuries and should be examined by a professional as quickly as possible.
If your cat hurt his leg in a more innocuous way like during an awkward landing or a rowdy string-chasing session, it’s fine to assess the injury yourself before calling the vet. Know that the symptoms of sprains and breaks are very similar:
- avoiding putting any weight on the leg
- vocalization (meowing, hissing, yowling)
- hiding or avoidance behavior
- aggression or biting when you try to examine the leg
- bruising, swelling, or a noticeable lump
Unless you’re a veterinarian, it can often be pretty difficult to tell whether or not an injury is a sprain or a break, and even then it sometimes takes x-rays. The good news is, immediate treatment is more or less the same.
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15-60 minutes in: Immobilization
If your cat’s leg is broken, you’ll definitely need treatment from a vet. Even if it’s only sprained, you’ll likely still need a vet’s help to confirm, so immobilization is your first order of business either way.
As gently as possible, get a hold of your cat and wrap him in a blanket or towel to keep him as still as possible. (It’s a good idea to wear protective sleeves and gloves while doing so, as a cat with a broken bone or even a bad sprain is likely to try to scratch and bite.) Does your cat seem to be in extreme pain? Don’t attempt to examine his leg as you may accidentally cause further damage. If you can see bone sticking out of your cat’s skin, very lightly wrap the limb with gauze to try and keep bacteria out for the moment.
Place your cat on a rigid surface like a baking sheet or a piece of cardboard to keep him as still as possible. Contact your veterinarian and let them know you need to be seen as soon as possible; if they’re not available, take your cat to an emergency veterinary clinic.
1-2 Hours In: Treatment
Your vet will determine how best to treat your cat’s injury. They may require x-rays to determine whether or not a break occurred or sedation to examine her fully. If it is a break, your cat may even require surgery. Screws and rods are sometimes placed inside a cat’s leg to help stabilize a broken bone.
If the break is relatively minor or if the injury is just a sprain, your vet might suggest a splint of some kind. She may even recommend pain medication to make your cat more comfortable, or antibiotics to stave off infection. Whatever the case, she’ll likely instruct you to keep your cat as inactive as possible for several days (sprain) up to several weeks (break) while she heals. This might mean segregating your cat in a single room where everything jump-able has been removed, or even keeping an outdoor cat inside.
The good news is, most breaks can heal fully with proper treatment and physical restriction.