Can Cats Sprain Their Ankles?

by Nicholas DeMarino, Demand Media
    Just because I can bend my leg like this doesn't mean I'm indestructible.

    Just because I can bend my leg like this doesn't mean I'm indestructible.

    Despite their agile acrobatics, cats occasionally hurt themselves. Watch your feline friend carefully. He may be walking funny -- stiffly or with a limp, for instance. You might not be able to parse whether your cat has strained, sprained or broken a leg, but it’ll be obvious if he’s hurt.

    The Cat Walk

    There are only a couple of reasons to suspect your cat has a sprained or otherwise injured ankle: He's walking funny or he's in pain. The former is obvious. Your cat will stumble, stiffen, wobble, shake, drag or avoid walking on the offending ankle. The latter can be subtler. Your cat may stop grooming himself, become weak, obsessively lick himself, hold odd postures or, at the extreme end of the spectrum, yowl, cry or hiss when you touch his ankle. If you think your cat is hurt or hurting, he probably is -- or so says the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research. Contact your vet as soon as possible.

    Injury

    Although this type of injury is more common in dogs and horses, cats can, indeed, sprain their ankles. Sprains are joint injuries caused by sudden ligament overstretching or tearing. They can cause pain over the joint, tissue swelling and temporary lameness, according to WebMD. Anything from a nasty fall to a cat fight can cause a sprain. Regardless, a sudden, acute incident is likely to blame.
    There are three degrees of sprains. The first involves minimal ligament or fiber tearing, the second involves partial ligament tearing and the third involves complete ligament tearing. These kinds of injuries can appear to heal but reoccur or lead to secondary osteoarthritis, according to "Textbook of Small Animal Orthropaedics."

    Diagnosis

    If you think your cat has a sprained ankle, consult a vet. Without professional consultation and x-rays, it's hard to rule out bone fractures or dislocations. Funny walking and pain can also be symptoms of other issues besides sprains. Arthritis, diabetes or neurological issues could all be to blame. It may take multiple tests and exams to pinpoint a diagnosis. Depending on the situation, your cat may need feline painkillers, anti-inflammatory medications or even surgery. With proper treatment or management, your cat may be able to regain his natural gait. The earlier you get your cat to the vet, the quicker you can get a diagnosis and know his prognosis.

    Foot Notes

    If you're instructed to ice your cat's ankle, cover the ice bag or cooling pack with a towel and apply no more than 15 minutes every hour. If you leave it on longer than that, you can cause tissue damage.
    Your cat's ankles may not be exactly where you think they are. Cats walk around on their metatarsus, which is like walking around on tiptoe. In their front legs, the ankle is the second bend from their paws. The same is true of their back legs, although that point is further back from cats' paws because of their long hind-leg foot bones.

    About the Author

    Nicholas DeMarino is a journalist and former newspaper associate editor and reporter. His work has appeared in "The Arizona Republic," "The Billings Gazette," "San Antonio Current" and in other publications. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon.

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