Broken Leg In Cats – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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About   Broken leg signs   Immediate first aid   Treatment   Home care

broken leg in cats
Cat with a broken leg wearing an Elizabethan collar

About

Also known as fractures, most broken bones in cats are due to trauma, such as being hit by a car or a fall from a height. Other causes of broken bones in the leg include bone infection, cancer and hormonal imbalances which weaken the bone.

The most common bone breakages seen in cats is a broken pelvis, broken legs, and broken tail. This article refers to broken legs, for more information on broken pelvis in cats, read here.

How can I tell if my cat has a broken leg?

Broken leg in cat
Xray of a cat with a broken leg.

Fractures fall into two categories. Closed and open.

  • Closed (simple) fracture –  The bone remains inside the tissue.
  • Open (or compound) fracture – The bone sticks through the skin, this type of fracture poses a significant risk of infection.

Symptoms of a broken leg include the following:

  • Reluctance to bear weight on the affected leg
  • Limping
  • Pain and tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Protrusion of the bone through the skin (open fracture)
  • Deformity or unusual bend in the limb
  • Rapid breathing if the injury has just occurred
  • Shock

Immediate first aid

Seek immediate veterinary attention if you suspect your cat has a broken leg. If the veterinarian is some distance away, you will need to immobilise the limb to prevent further injury occurring.

How to splint a broken leg on a cat:

Closed fracture of the lower limb

  • Wrap a piece of cardboard, rolled up newspaper or the centre of a paper towel roll around the limb to make a makeshift splint. Wrap the splint in clean gauze or tape to secure. Make sure the tape/gauze isn’t too tight that it cuts off the circulation. The splint should be long enough to reach the joints above and below the break. When splinting, do not attempt to straighten the leg yourself.
  • If a compound fracture has occurred, place a piece of sterile gauze or a sanitary towel immediately over the wound and then splint. Do not try to push the bone back under the skin.
  • Wrap the cat in a towel and place him on a rigid surface to transport to the veterinarian.

Open fracture

Do not attempt to splint a leg with an open fracture

  • Rinse the area with clean water
  • Cover the area with sterile gauze or a clean cloth
  • Wrap the cat in a towel and place him on a rigid surface to transport to the veterinarian.

Be aware that a cat in pain may lash out. If you cannot safely splint the leg, transport the cat to the veterinarian. Do not attempt to treat a cat who is resisting as it can cause more harm than good.

Treatment

Cats with fractures will need to be carefully examined by your veterinarian as they may have other injuries such as a broken pelvis, organs, and soft tissue damage (to name a few).

The veterinarian will perform an x-ray to check for breakage and assess the extent of the damage.

Treatment will depend on the nature of the fracture and will require internal or external fixation to stabilise the bone.

External fixation:

External fixation of a cat's broken leg
External fixation of a cat’s broken leg

This method can treat minor breaks.

  • A splint, cast or padded bandage is placed around the leg to immobilise it while it heals.
  • External pins and wires are inserted into the bone vertically to support the bone.

Internal fixation:

Xray of a repaired broken leg on a cat

  • Surgery to realign the bones and place screws, pins and, rods into the bone to hold the pieces together while it heals.

In some cases, it may be necessary to amputate the leg.

Home care

It will be necessary to confine the cat to a small area for 4-6 weeks during recovery to allow the bone to heal. A quiet room or if necessary, a crate with a bed, litter tray, and food/water bowls.

If your cat has a bandage on the leg, keep it as clean and dry as possible.

Watch for signs of infection such as pain, swelling and an unpleasant odour.

Follow up x-rays will be necessary to ensure the bone is healing.

Frequently asked questions

Will a cat’s broken leg heal on its own?

This depends on the kind of break, but in general, treatment is necessary to move the broken pieces of bone together and stabilise them to prevent them from moving out of place. Infection is also a risk for fractures which are left untreated. Broken bones are incredibly painful and require analgesics to relieve suffering.

How long does it take for a broken leg to heal?

Greenstick depends on the severity of the break and the age of the cat. Kittens and young cats heal faster than adults. In general, a soft callus should form within the first 1-2 weeks which will be replaced with a hard callus over the following weeks. The entire process takes between 6-8 weeks.

Can a cat still walk on a broken leg?

This is possible if the fracture is minor (such as a green stick fracture), however, a cat cannot walk on a bone which has snapped.

What can you give the cat for pain relief?

Cats metabolise drugs differently to people. The only painkillers cats can take are veterinary prescribed. Do not attempt to medicate a cat with over the counter or prescription painkillers for humans.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Hi my name is Sidney I accidentally crushed my kitten foot on chair and it was limping but now looks fine to walk and he was running around playing could he have a broken leg.

    • Hi Sidney, impossible to say without a veterinary check up and xrays. The fact the kitten is now walking fine and playing is positive. Personally, if it was me, and the cat was no longer limping and there were no other symptoms (swelling, pain etc), I’d just wait and see. Good luck.

  2. Hi, my cat fractured his fibula at the end of November. Since it was non-surgical, treatment was just to restrict his movement for 6 weeks. I’ve kept him confined to a dog crate and/or small room but he’s still limping after 7 weeks. Is it normal for there to still be a limp? How long is the healing time? He’s a very active little guy and is not happy about the confinement.

  3. There is a feral cat I feed. I noticed her limping and upon seeing her close up after a couple of days of limping, it looks like the leg is just hanging. She will not allow me to come close to her so I can’t get her to the vet. My question is, will something like that heal on its own? She’s probably 1 or 2 years old and is healthy from me feeding her twice a day most days but she will run if I come close to her. I’m kind of helpless on what to do.

  4. Hello…looking for some advice! Our cat badly broke (open) 2 bones in her leg. Surgery has been recommended to pin bones together…this will likely cost thousands..
    Others say amputation may be the way to go, less expensive.
    Which is less painful to heal from? Which is fastest to heal from? Can there be complications down the road with surgery, like arthritis, necessitating amputation after all?
    Any thoughts appreciated!!! Each vet has a different opinion!
    Lisa

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