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Dr Scott Nimmo
Dr Scott Nimmo, Small Animal Veterinarian.
Category: Cat
Satisfied Customers: 18925
Experience:  BVMS, MRCVS. { Glasgow UK }
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My cats foot is very swollen and he is now limping

Customer Question

My cats foot is very swollen and he is now limping
Submitted: 8 years ago.
Category: Cat
Expert:  Dr Scott Nimmo replied 8 years ago.
Thanks for the quest Mairi.

I cannot diagnose this over the internet for you but I can tell you what would be going through my mind if I was presented with such a case.

One of the commonest things that a small animal veterinary surgeons sees in his consulting room is lame cats. Luckily most of these lamenesses are trivial and are easily put right. There are two main causes you would initially consider, infections and trauma.

1. Lameness due to infection: Cat bite abscesses are the main culprit, some lesions are obvious with puncture marks, redness and swelling of the foot or leg with perhaps pus discharging. Other abscesses are more difficult to spot as they are deep in the tissues. Cats or not the most sociable of creatures and they are prone to fighting, their canine teeth are long and sharp and covered with pyogenic [pus forming] bacteria. In fact when one cat bites another cat and really sinks its teeth in you can expect an abscess to form as a matter of course. Lameness can be caused by other infections such as penetrating wounds on the pads of the feet but these are more rare.

2. Lameness due to trauma: Cats are agile creatures and you can picture them at night running along garage roofs and leaping on to fences, usually they are sure footed but now an again they must miss their mark and fall. This of course would lead to a soft tissue injury such as a strain or sprain or a pulled muscle in the leg. The most serious trauma incidents of course are as the result of a bump from a car, this can result in broken bones and dislocations and serious tendon injuries as well as more minor strains and sprains.

Diagnosis: The first thing I do is put the cat on the consulting room floor and take a good look at how it walks, if the leg is hanging without weight bearing at all then I would suspect more serious traumatic injury. While it is only a small point to consider it is worth looking at the cat’s nails as they can be worn down and frayed if the cat has been hit by a car and has been thrown along the road. If you then carefully extend and flex the affected leg you will perhaps pick up the grating ends of broken bones or dislocations. The next thing to do is to take the cat’s temperature, most infections will result in a high temperature, sometimes very high. A careful examination of the leg may then reveal evidence of an abscess or wound.

Treatment: If you suspect a fracture or dislocation then of course an x-ray is called for if the cat is not shocked and is in a stable condition. If there is infection present then at least a five day course of a suitable broad acting antibiotic should be administered. I personally favour augmentin [Synulox] but the choice of antibiotic is down to personal preference. Sometimes a vet will be presented with a cat which is slightly or moderately lame and there is no obvious cause, what do you do then? Well I always put them on a course of antibiotics and advise the owner to rest the cat for five days at the same time, that way you get it both ways! If it was an infection then you did the right thing and if it was a strain or sprain five days rest would normally take care of it as well, you will never know what the cause of the lameness was but the cat will be walking well.

If I have not covered your question fully enough or you would like to ask more I will be online for the next hour or so and I will be at your disposal

Scott Nimmo BVMS

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