Jumping and climbing are instinctive behaviors in cats. Some breeds are more comfortable with heights than others, but perching above ground level enables a cat to safely survey its territory. Suddenly, your cat seems to be reluctant to leap to higher elevations than was once the case.
Jumping requires strength in a cat’s hind legs. There are numerous causes of feline lameness that are not always obvious. Your cat could be arthritic, or perhaps it has a leg or spinal injury. It could be struggling with balance, or to generate enough power to leap. Alternatively, your cat may instinctively attempt to jump and then change its mind. This will often be linked to psychological factors.
Some cats cat jump up to 6 feet high when they’re young and healthy. While all senior cats move less, a sudden change in demeanor is more concerning. Look for other variances in feline behavior, as this will help assess if your cat is winding down due to age or has another health concern.
Why Can’t My Cat Jump Anymore?
Any significant change in feline behavior should be investigated, and this includes no longer jumping. Most cats love to leap to and from heights. If your cat is suddenly unable to do so, there will be a reason for this change.
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 health 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, but most cats that are 10+ have osteoarthritis to some extent.
An arthritic cat will struggle with most physical activities. Even walking can result in limping. Do not wait for your cat to tell you that it is in pain, as this may never happen. Cats prefer not to reveal their weakness.
If your cat is not jumping and seems largely reluctant to move, you need to manage its arthritis pain. This can be achieved through supplements and massage. A warm, comfortable bed will also work wonders.
You could ask a vet for painkilling, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). No NSAID is approved for long-term use.
Sometimes, a cat’s inability to jump is a 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 its 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, although some cats have a hanging belly.
Keeping a cat slim is essential to feline health. The more weight a cat has to carry, the harder it will find movement. Equally importantly, obesity also increases the risk of other health concerns, such as heart disease.
Diabetes is a common side-effect of a cat becoming overweight. Feline diabetes 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 where your cat becomes increasingly unsteady on its feet. Eventually, the hind legs can become completely numb.
As you can imagine, this makes jumping impossible for cats. Your cat will lack the strength in its hind legs to take off for a jump. Diabetic neuropathy must be treated with meds, and lifestyle changes will be needed.
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 damaged bone is not physically protruding, it can be difficult to assess a break or fracture. This means that x-rays may be required.
If you suspect that your cat has been involved in an accident, have it checked over by a vet. However, cats can self-heal minor fractures through purring. The vibrations created by this activity promote healing. It should be noted that the bone can regrow misshapen.
According to Veterinary Surgery, interlocking nails and wires are recommended if a cat is to make a complete recovery and jump again. These will hold the bone in place while it repairs.
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, thus increasing the risk of muscular injury.
Little can be done about a feline muscular strain. Your cat will need to rest, but painkillers may be necessary. Most strains will heal themselves in around 3 days. Your cat will be free to jump again once it has healed.
As per Veterinary Radiology and Ultrasound, certain breeds of cats are likelier to experience hip dysplasia. Maine Coons, Himalayans, and Persians are believed to be at the highest risk of this condition.
Hip dysplasia could be a genetic defect or 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 managed with lifestyle changes and pain reduction. Your cat will need to live sedately, which means that jumping will be out of the question.
If your cat cannot jump, it could be due to a visual problem. Many older cats have deteriorating 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 their 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 may be losing its sight.
Cats rely upon their innate sense of balance when jumping. This is how they make seemingly death-defying leaps without hesitation. The Veterinary Journal explains that 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 almost certainly suffer. This will make jumping difficult or even 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 that there may be an infection.
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 to file them down. If a cat does not scratch, its claws grow too long. Eventually, they fold over and puncture the paw pads. Get a scratching post to prevent this from happening.
Check that your cat’s paw pads are not dry or cracked. This is common in hot weather. If you notice dry or cracked paws, rub shea butter on the pads for some 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.
Fungal or Bacterial Infection
If your cat wanders outside, it will be at risk of fungal or bacterial infections. Other animals, as well as wild soil or water, carry bacteria or fungal spores. Indoor cats can still live in unsanitary conditions.
Some fungal or bacterial infections cause limb weakness and lameness as symptoms. Examples include:
- Coccidioidomycosis (valley fever)
- Bartonella Henselae (cat scratch disease)
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 it’s fully recovered.
Respiratory Infection (Feline Calicivirus)
Lameness and sudden-onset arthritis are symptoms of feline calicivirus (FCV), according to Research in Veterinary Science. This could also explain why your cat cannot jump. It simply lacks the energy required.
A respiratory infection is rarely a cause for overt alarm. Most cats recover from these infections by themselves with plenty of rest. Senior cats are more at risk from the virus due to their limited immunity.
It would help if you vaccinated your cat against FCV, but no vaccine is 100% effective. Such measures can minimize the impact of this condition on your cat, though. The symptoms of FCV, including lameness, will be less pronounced.
Senior cats are at greater risk of heart disease (cardiomyopathy). Your cat may have been hiding the signs for some time. One of the more noticeable symptoms is lameness in the hind legs.
A cat with cardiomyopathy is 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 its legs. However, cats will continue to be very cautious about jumping. A cat with cardiomyopathy will always be at risk of developing a new blood clot. This means that 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 not be possible. 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 to keep them secured in place.
If it was uncertain on its feet and fell when attempting a jump, the cat will remember this bad experience. As a direct result, the cat may avoid jumping in this spot again.
Objects Have Moved
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 toys. Doing so could cause a cat to lose confidence in its ability to jump. Don’t leave a cat tree out of sight. According to Animal Cognition, cats struggle to remember the location of hidden objects.
Lack of Need
Your cat may not need to jump anymore. It just realized this after starting the process and stopped immediately. 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 onto the kitchen counter to drink from the tap, so you got it a water fountain. The cat will remember this and abandon its jump.
Some cats will not jump for the same reason that they will not use the cat flap. In short, 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.
Does it attempt to jump when you are in the room, then stop? If the cat then stares at you and verbalizes, then feline dominance is a possible explanation. The cat is expressing that it wants to reach an elevated height, but it is now your responsibility to pick up the cat and put it there.
These are the most common explanations for a cat no longer jumping. The sudden behavior change always merits investigation and should never be ignored in case your cat needs medical assistance.