Jumping and climbing are instinctive behaviors for cats. Some breeds are more comfortable with heights than others, but perching above ground level enables a cat to safely survey its territory.
Jumping requires strength in a cat’s hind legs. There are numerous causes for feline lameness, and they are not always obvious. Your cat could be arthritic. It may have a leg or spinal injury. It could be struggling with balance, or to generate enough power to leap. Alternatively, the cat may instinctively go to jump then change its mind. This will often be linked to psychological factors.
All senior cats move less, but a sudden change in demeanor is serious. Look for other variances in behavior. This will help you assess if your cat is winding down or has a medical concern that requires treatment.
Table of Contents:
- 1 Why
Can’t My Cat Jump Anymore?
- 1.1 Arthritis
- 1.2 Excessive Weight
- 1.3 Diabetes
- 1.4 Broken Bones
- 1.5 Sprains and Ligament Tears
- 1.6 Hip Dysplasia
- 1.7 Eyesight Problems
- 1.8 Ear Infections
- 1.9 Paw Health Issues
- 1.10 Cognitive Decline
- 1.11 Fungal or Bacterial Infection
- 1.12 Respiratory Infection (Feline Calicivirus)
- 1.13 Heart Disease
- 1.14 Slippery Surfaces
- 1.15 Objects Have Moved
- 1.16 Lack of Need
- 1.17 Dominant Behavior
Why Can’t My Cat Jump Anymore?
Any significant change in feline behavior should be investigated. This includes no longer jumping. Most cats love to leap to and from heights. If your cat is unable to do so, there will be a reason why.
Senior cats are less active, and take fewer risks. They are less inclined to make leaps because they don’t want to have a bad fall. A cat that tries to jump, but finds itself unable to do so, may have a problem.
Arthritis is the bane of a senior cat’s life. Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice explains that almost all geriatric cats have arthritis. It can strike at any age, though. Most cats older than 10 have some degree of osteoarthritis.
An arthritic cat will struggle with most physical activities. Even walking can result in limping. Do not wait for your cat tell you that it is in pain. This may never happen. Cats prefer not to reveal perceived weakness.
If your cat is not jumping and seems largely reluctant to move, you need to manage its arthritis pain. This is typically achieved through supplements and massage. A warm, comfortable bed will also work wonders.
You could also ask a vet for painkilling, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). No NSAID is approved for long-term use with cats.
Sometimes, a cat’s inability to jump is a simple matter of logistics. If your cat is carrying excess weight, it will not be aerodynamic enough to jump.
The ideal weight for a cat depends on the breed. As a rule, you should be able to feel your cat’s ribs with only a minimum of fat. You should not see any rolls in the stomach.
Keeping a cat trim is essential to feline health. The more weight a cat carries, the harder it will find any form of movement. Obesity also increases the risk of related health concerns.
Diabetes is a common side-effect of a cat growing overweight. As with humans, feline diabetes is a serious issue. It will require significant lifestyle changes and lifelong medication.
Diabetes will also restrict a cat’s ability to jump. According to Acta Neuropathologica, your cat may eventually develop diabetic neuropathy. This is a condition in which your cat becomes increasingly unsteady on its feet. Eventually, the hind legs can grow completely numb.
As you can imagine, this makes jumping impossible. The cat lacks the power to take off for a jump. Diabetic neuropathy must be aggressively treated using drugs and lifestyle changes.
Broken or fractured bones are a common explanation for cats failing to jump. If your cat is particularly stoic, it may not let on that it was injured. If the bone is not physically protruding, it can be difficult to assess a break or fracture. X-rays may be required.
If you suspect that your cat has been involved in an accident, have it checked out. It’s true that cats can self-heal fractures through purring. The vibrations created by this activity promote healing. The bone can regrow misshapen, though.
According to Veterinary Surgery, interlocking nails and wires are advisable. These will hold the bone in place while it repairs. This makes a full recovery, and the future ability to jump, likelier.
Sprains and Ligament Tears
Less serious than broken bones, but just as debilitating when it comes to jumping, are sprains. These are muscular injuries that cause weakness in a cat’s legs.
Sprains and tears are usually caused by a cat lunging or jumping too quickly from a standing position. Cats rarely stretch and limber up before exercise. This enhances the risk of muscular injury.
Little can be done about a feline muscular strain. Your cat will just need to rest. Investigate the use of painkillers if necessary. Most strains will heal themselves in around three days. Your cat will then be free to jump again.
Hip dysplasia can impact cats. As per Veterinary Radiology and Ultrasound, particular breeds are likelier to experience the issue. Maine Coons, Himalayans, and Persians are believed to be at the highest risk.
Hip dysplasia could be a genetic defect, or it could be caused by wear and tear over time. It results in the ball and socket of the hip becoming misaligned. This will cause lameness in the hind legs, making jumping impossible.
Hip dysplasia is typically treated with lifestyle changes and pain management. Your cat will need to live sedately – jumping will sadly be out of the question. In extreme cases, a vet may consider a hip replacement.
If your cat cannot jump, it could be because it cannot see. Many older cats experience deterioration in their eyesight. Alternatively, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association links sudden-onset blindness with tumors.
Cats rely more on their hearing and sense of smell than vision. This means that eye issues are not always immediately obvious. If a senior cat loses its eyesight gradually, it will find ways to overcome this restriction.
Refusal to jump, and difficulty negotiating stairs, are early warning signs that a cat is losing sight. Be mindful of this. Get your cat for an eye test if you spot these behaviors.
Cats rely upon their innate sense of balance when making jumps. This is how they make seemingly death-defying leaps without hesitation. As explained by The Veterinary Journal, a cat’s sense of balance is linked directly to its vestibular system.
If your cat has an ear infection, usually caused by mites, its balance will suffer. This will make jumping difficult to impossible. Your cat will struggle with landings, and lose all confidence in jumping.
Check your cat’s ears if it will not jump. Discoloration in the ear, along with constant scratching, suggests an infection. This will be uncomfortable for your cat. Thankfully, it is easily treated with over-the-counter remedies.
Paw Health Issues
Before a cat launches itself to jump, it needs to place its paws on the ground. If your cat has issues with its paws, this will be uncomfortable.
A common paw complaint is overgrown claws. Cats need to scratch their claws regularly. This files them down. If a cat does not scratch, its claws grow too long. Eventually, they fold over and puncture the paw pads. Invest in a high-quality scratching post to prevent this.
Check that your cat’s paw pads are not dry or cracked either. This is common in hot weather. If you notice dry or cracked paws, rub a little shea butter on the pads. This product is cat-safe and will provide much-needed moisture.
As cats age, their brains age with them. Once a cat is geriatric, the risk of feline cognitive dysfunction becomes increasingly pronounced.
According to the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, cognitive decline is separate from simple old age. A cat living with this condition is comparable to a human with Alzheimer’s disease.
One of the key symptoms is disorientation. Your cat will wander around, forgetting what it intended to do. This can extend to jumping. The cat will suddenly forget how to leap to a greater height.
Watch your senior cat carefully for signs of feline cognitive dysfunction. Once it takes hold, the condition is impossible to cure. The process can be slowed down, especially if you capture it early.
Fungal or Bacterial Infection
If your cat wanders outside, it will be at regular risk of fungal or bacterial infections. Other animals, and wild soil or water, carry bacteria or fungal spores. Indoor cats can still be at risk if living in unsanitary conditions.
Some fungal or bacterial infections cause limb weakness and lameness as symptoms. Examples include:
- Coccidioidomycosis (aka Valley Fever)
- Bartonella Henselae (aka Cat Scratch Disease)
Seek medical help for any cat exposed to these health concerns. Treatment is essential, especially in older cats, to prevent spread. Further complications can arise if these infections go untreated. Your cat should also be quarantined until fully recovered.
Respiratory Infection (Feline Calicivirus)
Has your cat been showing signs of an upper respiratory infection? Sneezing, streaming eyes and lethargy are common examples. This could be linked to your cat’s inability to jump. Lameness and sudden-onset arthritis are symptoms of feline calicivirus (FCV), according to Research in Veterinary Science.
A respiratory infection is rarely a cause for overt alarm. Most cats beat these infections by themselves with plenty of rest. This could also explain why your cat cannot jump. It simply lacks the energy required.
Senior cats are more at risk from the virus due to limited immunity, though. Seek antibiotics to be on the safe side.
You should also vaccinate your cat against FCV. No vaccine is 100% effective. Such measures can minimize the impact on your cat, though. The symptoms of FCV, including lameness, will be less pronounced.
Senior cats are at greater risk of heart disease (cardiomyopathy). It’s possible that your cat has been hiding the signs for some time. Not all warnings are obvious. One of the more noticeable symptoms of feline heart disease is lameness in the hind legs.
A cat with cardiomyopathy lives at risk of an aortic embolism. As the Journal of Small Animal Practice explains, an aortic embolism can leave a cat’s hind legs paralyzed. This is because a blood clot will have formed, restricting blood flow to the legs.
Anti-thrombotic drugs can provide a cat with temporary relief, restoring the use of the legs. Jumping will remain cautious at best, though. A cat with cardiomyopathy will always be at risk of developing a new blood clot. Regular monitoring will be required.
If a cat is to jump, it first needs a firm footing on the ground. If the ground below a cat’s feet is slippery, jumping may be impossible. The cat will not generate enough force to launch.
Cats cannot read, “Caution – Wet Floor” signs, so try to avoid mopping while your cat is active. If you have rugs and mats on the floor, use grips. These will keep the rugs static, and prevent your cat from slipping.
One bad experience can haunt a cat. If it was uncertain on its feet and fell when attempting a jump, the cat will remember this. As a result, the cat may avoid jumping in this spot again.
Objects Have Moved
Cats love routine. This means that cats like things to remain in the same place. Your cat will have memorized the layout of your home. It will have worked out all safe jumping points. If you rearrange the furniture in your home, it will likely distress a cat.
Try to avoid relocating a cat tree, or similar climbing and jumping toy. Doing so could cause a cat to lose confidence in jumping. You certainly should not leave the tree of sight. According to Animal Cognition, cats struggle to remember the location of hidden objects.
Lack of Need
Your cat may simply not need to jump anymore. It just realized this after starting the process. This is the equivalent of you entering a room then remembering what you need is elsewhere.
Take drinking water as an example. Your cat may be used to leaping into the kitchen counter to drink from the tap. If you observed this behavior previously, you may have invested in a water fountain. The cat will remember this and abandon its jump. It remembered that it need not undergo such an energetic activity.
You’ll know if this circumstance applies by your cat’s next steps. If it immediately moves onto another activity, the cat is content. If it wanders aimlessly or appears distressed, the need remains. The cat was just unable to meet it through jumping.
Some cats will not jump for the same reason they will not use the cat flap. A human will do it for them. This is the belief system of a dominant cat. It wants to let you know who is in charge at every available opportunity.
Does it go to jump when you are in the room, then stop? If the cat then stares at you and verbalizes, dominance is a possible explanation. The cat is expressing that it wants to reach an elevated height. It is now your responsibility to pick them up and put them there.
This is arguably the least likely explanation for a cat not jumping. If your cat dislikes being handled, it is almost certainly not the case. Dominance is always a trait to watch out for, though.
These are the most common explanations for a cat failing to make seemingly-simple jumps. The behavior always merits investigation. There may be a perfectly rational explanation, with no need for veterinary intervention. Do not ignore this unusual conduct.