Cat Can’t Walk on Back Legs – Important Steps to Take Now

Cat struggling to walk on hind legs

We all love our cats, but unfortunately, their health doesn’t always go the way we’d like. Cats can get very ill from a variety of diseases and ailments.

Of course, you are the one to make sure abnormal symptoms such as your cat not walking on its back legs suddenly is addressed quickly and lovingly.

I know many alarmed cat owners face limping and what’s called ataxic gait of their cat once in a while. In fact, it can come across as funny depending on the cause.

If your cat cannot walk on any of it limbs though, especially the rear ones, this can be a serious problem.

And I want to make you aware of the more critical conditions that can be behind this.

Recovery from this condition depends on several factors such as the type of problem, problem severity, and possible treatment, etc. A vet can only treat your cat when the proper diagnosis of the underlying problem has been made.

Being a vet, I’m sharing this article to dive into the possible causes and concerns related to a cat’s limping so that you know what to do next.

A Cat’s Ability to Control Limb Movements?

Understanding the anatomy and physiology of the systems helps understand the medical pathologies with ease. A variety of nerves in your cat’s limbs send signals to the brain about the limbs’ location and movements.

This allows the brain to correct any unwanted movement of the limb in such a way that a perfect movement is performed. The main part of the brain that is involved in making the movements accurate is the cerebellum.

Thus, any pathology or effects related to this anatomical and/or physiological mechanism leads to cat not being able to use its back legs, also known as ataxia.

Cat Can’t Walk on Its Back Legs? Here Are the Possible Causes and Treatment(s)

outdoor-cat-not-walking-well

Knowing possible causes of your cat’s inability to walk can help you make the right and timely decisions for his prompt medical treatment. Here I described the most common etiologies:

Saddle Embolus (Feline Aortic Thromboembolism)

Formation of a saddle embolus in your cat can be extremely painful. A saddle embolus forms by a blood thrombus (clotted blood) that lodges into the area of the aorta where it bifurcates.

The arteries distal to the aortic bifurcation are unable to get enough oxygenated blood and thus, ischemia of the rear limbs occurs.

This compromised blood flow to the rear limbs can be extremely painful for the cat and potentially fatal. Thus, it is critical to see a vet as soon as possible.

What causes a saddle embolus?

Quite often, cats suffer from primary heart disease resulting in stagnation of blood within the chambers of the heart. This leads to blood clot formation. Dislodging of the blood clot (now called an embolus) carries it away from the heart2 to the aorta until it lodges in a bifurcation point (saddle embolus).

Most commonly, the embolus lodges at the aortic bifurcation, but other common sites include renal arteries, arteries to front limbs, arteries to the brain, etc.

Treatment of Saddle Embolus

Unfortunately, saddle embolus is a very fatal condition and most cats die because of this. Thus, the diagnosis of a forming saddle embolus must be made quickly and promptly in order to save your cat. Your cat’s vet can initiate the medical or surgical management as soon as he finds that there is some sort of a saddle embolus.

Diabetes

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If you wonder that diabetes is only related to humans, you’re absolutely wrong. Diabetes is a condition that occurs because of either low insulin levels or decreased insulin sensitivity. This insulin (a hormone) helps regulate the eaten food, especially the carbohydrates.

Most of the time, cats suffer from diabetes and develop a serious complication known as diabetic neuropathy.

Peripheral nerves, especially that of the hind limbs, damage because of diabetic neuropathy and is usually the first sign of feline diabetes mellitus.

How can your cat get diabetic?

The reason why felines get diabetic is because of the malfunctioned pancreas leading to very low or no insulin production. Too much sugar accumulates within the bloodstream which causes damage in several areas of the body.

I’ve seen many cats who subsist on high grain, dry cat feed most of their lives. Eventually, their body (built to be a carnivore) is unable to process the carbohydrates.

Many complications from this diet and diabetes arise. If it’s caught early enough you can change the diet and help your kitty.

What to look for if you’re concerned about feline diabetes?

The most common issue to look for is if your cat is overweight. You may know they’re fat and think you can’t do anything about it. But introduce a symptom like not being able to walk normally on their hind quarters, this problem could be a lot worse.

The general symptoms of diabetes are excessive drinking because of excessive thirst, increased urination, lethargy, and muscular weakness, etc.

Nerve damage occurs gradually as the disease progresses making your cat wobbly and unsteady in the hind-limb area.

Treatment of Diabetes

You really are fortunate to live in the era of modern medicine. Diabetes is easily managed by insulin therapy (injections of premade feline insulin). It is possible that your kitty might be receiving daily insulin injections.

Epilepsy

close-up-cat-back-legs-not-moving

Everyone is aware of epilepsy. It is a disorder of the brain characterized by several repeated seizures.

The seizures can occur in any part of the brain leading to alteration of behavior or movements. Those cats who suffer from epilepsy experience severe seizures causing the loss of control of their legs.

Why epilepsy occurs?

There can be several reasons for the development of epilepsy in your cat. The most common of these are:

  • Structural lesions within the brain- approximately 47 percent of the epileptic episodes in cats are caused due to brain tissue damage.
  • Metabolic disease(s)-31 percent of seizures occur in such cats who have a healthy functioning brain but suffer from another metabolic disease that affects the functionality of the brain.

What to do if your cat has epilepsy?

Consult your vet as soon as possible. Being a vet myself, I would say that your vet would possibly prescribe an antiepileptic medication, probably phenobarbital.

Phenobarbital helps prevent the development of seizures in the future.

Arthritis

cat-cant-go-down-stairs

Some felines, specifically those who are old, deal with a painful inflammatory condition of the joints known as arthritis.

Arthritis develops because of the cat’s immune system reacting to the tissues of the joints resulting in excessive inflammation.

Because of arthritis, cats are unable to walk properly as they experience excruciating pain in the joints, which limits their mobility.

You’ll notice them struggling up or down stairs, hopping to and from furniture and beds or that your cat likes to lay down while it eats (see Pets Roof for more on this behavior).

So what specifically would your cat do in an arthritic state?

Most of the time, your cat will lay often and avoid walking. He may limp, refuse to climb upstairs, or won’t jump as high as expected.

What the treatment(s) of arthritis in cat’s legs?

Arthritis is easily manageable with medications that decrease inflammation and reduce pain. Consult a vet to know the possible medications.

Final Advice to Keep in Mind

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Rear leg weakness can be caused by a variety of conditions such as diabetes, saddle embolus, paralysis, epilepsy, or arthritis, etc.

Having good knowledge of such conditions can help you see any problem in your cat. Moreover, this can also help in making a prompt appointment with the vet to ensure the commencement of treatment.

Never try to make assumptions by yourself and never ignore any change in the behavior or movements of your cat. You cat not able to walk on its back legs and rear limb weakness in general is not something you want to wait out for a long time. It can potentially be serious and sometimes fatal owing to the underlying cause.

As a vet I advise you to call your own vet and schedule an appointment if you see any problem in the walking or gait of your cat in its hind legs. Your fuzzy, whiskery friend will thank you later!

References

  1. Horn, K. M., Pong, M. & Gibson, A. R. Functional relations of cerebellar modules of the cat. J. Neurosci. 30, 9411–9423 (2010).
  2. Hogan, D. F. & Brainard, B. M. Cardiogenic embolism in the cat. Journal of Veterinary Cardiology vol. 17 S202–S214 (2015).
  3. Smith, S. A. & Tobias, A. H. Feline arterial thromboembolism: An update. Veterinary Clinics of North America – Small Animal Practice vol. 34 1245–1271 (2004).
  4. Verbrugghe, A. & Hesta, M. Cats and carbohydrates: The carnivore fantasy? Veterinary Sciences vol. 4 (2017).
  5. Neuropathy associated with diabetes mellitus in the cat – PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6698835/.
  6. Rand, J. S. Pathogenesis of Feline Diabetes. Veterinary Clinics of North America – Small Animal Practice vol. 43 221–231 (2013).
  7. Rand, J. S. & Marshall, R. D. Diabetes mellitus in cats. Veterinary Clinics of North America – Small Animal Practice vol. 35 211–224 (2005).
  8. Does my cat have epilepsy? – Goddard Veterinary Group. https://www.goddardvetgroup.co.uk/does-my-cat-have-epilepsy/.
  9. Cochrane, S. M., Black, W. D., Parent, J. M., Allen, D. G. & Lumsden, J. H. Pharmacokinetics of phenobarbital in the cat following intravenous and oral administration. Can. J. Vet. Res. 54, 132–138 (1990).
  10. Kerwin, S. C. Osteoarthritis in Cats. Topics in Companion Animal Medicine vol. 25 218–223 (2010).