cat's back legs have become weak
Cat Health and Wellness

Why Are My Cat’s Back Legs Not Working (Weak, Wobbly, and Stiff)?

One of the most common physical ailments that can affect your senior cat is immobility. Often hallmarked by leg weakness, stiffness, and a noticeable inability to walk without a limp, the older feline can easily fall victim to joint and muscle deterioration.

Cats are good at masking pain, so it is common for older pets to hide their discomfort. If you notice that your cat is having trouble walking in a straight line, this is a red flag to any pet owner.

Why are my cat’s back legs stiff? Wobbly legs and weakness can be the byproduct of injury, infection, arthritis, organ failure, and more. A professional evaluation by a vet is required to determine the difference between a standard stiffness that arises from old age and a life-threatening medical issue.

In this guide, we will take you through the typical symptoms of leg weakness and the most frequent causes. We will also let you know how to prevent and treat those issues safely.

Senior Cats and Leg Troubles

While young cats and young people have little in common, old cats and old people often share many similarities.

Mobility, or lack thereof, is common. As your senior cat becomes quieter by nature and not as eager to relive the playful days of its youth, joints and muscles can begin to stiffen and grow weaker. As your cat begins to wind down with age, mobility can become more difficult.

Although leg weakness is a common occurrence, understanding the core reason for the problem is the most crucial aspect of this topic.

Why is my Senior Cat Having Leg Issues?

Is your cat growing stiff due to age, a nerve issue, an organ problem or a combination of all three? While cats of all ages should receive routine professional care from a veterinarian, elderly cats require extra attention.

Your cat will not enjoy the same quality of life without strong legs so it can walk properly. Understanding why your cat is struggling to walk can be the key to ensuring a contented feline.

You need to know about and monitor the most common symptoms of leg weakness and stiffness. These reasons go far beyond a slower gait and the inability to play the way they once did.

What are the Common Symptoms?

These symptoms build up over time and do not occur suddenly. Because symptoms do not happen overnight, it can be easy to gloss over some of these signs.

  • Decreased activity is a common theme for most elderly cats. However, it is also common for your cat to slow down through no choice of their own. If your cat has slowed down over the years yet still seems verbally eager to be active, you may be able to connect the dots. A decrease in activity is a common symptom of leg stiffness, weakness, and pain.
  • If your older cat has been peeing and pooping around the house or your cat has stopped covering up its poop, it could be because it is finding it difficult to step in and out of the litter box. Rather than enduring pain, your cat may decide to avoid it by making life as simple as possible. This can result in him or her going to the bathroom on the floor.
  • Cats with leg issues are often hesitant to run, jump, and climb. In the same way that a person with leg problems would have concerns about being too adventurous, cats are the same.
  • The routine act of sitting can become a task when leg stiffness and weakness occur. The movement required to sit can hurt a cat’s back and rear legs. Some cats begin to take a posture of a semi-sit because resting all the way to the floor is too difficult.
  • Senior cats that are in the midst of leg weakness often display odd positions when standing and relaxing. What looks uncomfortable could be the new comfortable for them. To avoid pain, it is not uncommon to see your cat in an unusual physical position.
  • Older cats often find the motion of standing a challenging task if they have been sleeping for a long period of time. Some cats will stand, lie down, and then attempt to stand again. It may take two or three tries before a certain level of stability kicks in, and wobbly rear legs are often seen during these episodes.
  • Drunk walking is common in senior cats who are experiencing leg stiffness and weakness. No longer able to fully control their steps, a certain level of staggering or clumsy walking is common. You may find that your feline has trouble walking forwards without weaving from side to side.
  • Your cat has difficulty grooming its fur or cleaning its bottom after going to the toilet.

What are the Common Causes of Leg Stiffness and Weakness?

Even though leg problems can occur at any stage of a cat’s life, issues that appear once a cat reaches senior status are often tied to a small cluster of possibilities. Most of these involve poor joint and muscle health or organ difficulties resulting in symptoms that negatively impact the legs.

The Golden Years

While you should never attempt to self-diagnose your cat and reach your own conclusions, mobility issues can be brought on by the passing of time. If your cat is in the 15-20 age bracket, leg concerns could be the product of old age rather than a serious medical condition.

However, this is all the more reason why professional care is needed. Chalking the situation up to old age is void of treatment. If your elder cat is in pain, it is your responsibility to get the necessary help.

Arthritis

Arthritis is a common condition that can cause your cat walking and stability issues.

Leading to pain and reduced mobility, arthritis can be caused by an injury, infection, immune health issues, etc. However, the most common form of arthritis in cats is known as osteoarthritis. Most commonly referred to as a degenerative joint disease, this is an ailment where the connection area between joints transforms from smooth into a rough and ridged surface.

Causing a depletion in joint cartilage and fluid buildup inside the joint, bony type growths can begin to grow inside the joint. These bony growths can lock up joints entirely in some cases. It’s similar to placing a large rock inside of a bicycle spoke.

The most common symptoms of feline arthritis include…

  • Stiffness after prolonged movements (Exercise, playing, stalking, etc.)
  • Muscle deterioration
  • Reduced mobility (Cat not wanting to move, pondering movements that were once routine, etc.)
  • Joint swelling
  • Trouble standing, sitting, lying down, walking, climbing, and jumping
  • A grinding sound in one or more joints

You need to monitor all symptoms because arthritis can be hard to confirm, at least initially. Because the condition progresses at a plodding pace, and cats often mask discomfort, the issue could be building for months and even years without many visual flags.

Because many senior cat owners assume that slow moving is part of the natural aging process, they may not act at all. It is in these times where you are potentially missing an opportunity to reduce arthritic pain for your cat.

Making sure your cat receives regular visits to the veterinarian can be invaluable when discussing arthritis. Professionals, through x-rays, can notice changes (even in the early stages) and provide medical support.

Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus, if uncontrolled, can cause your senior cat to have difficulty walking and standing. This is the result of nerve damage. Taking on somewhat of a hunched over posture, felines in this state tend to walk very low to the ground.

Risk factors for diabetes include obesity, old age, physical inactivity, and being of the male gender.

When cells are unable to properly absorb glucose from the blood they no longer receive the energy they require to perform. In a quest to gain energy the body begins to take in fats and proteins to feed cells.

Unfortunately, this process results in weight loss. This is one of the most critical symptoms of feline diabetes. If your cat has been losing weight despite having an increased appetite, this should serve as a red flag warning.

Increased thirst and urination is another symptom of concern. Cats who are suffering from diabetes often have increased urine volume and water loss. This can cause a cycle where dehydration becomes common as does a need to consume more water.

Although a distorted gait can be a sign of prolonged diabetes, it can come as a surprise if more common symptoms have been ignored. This is why it is vitally important to monitor your cat’s body size and bathroom habits.

cat back legs collapsing

Kidney Disease

This is the leading cause of death in domestic cats and is quite common in senior felines.

In advanced stages of this disease, your senior feline may exhibit weakness in its hind legs. Wobbly, buckling, and instability can be common. These symptoms are due to electrolyte irregularities caused by ill-functioning or failing kidneys.

The overall treatment for kidney disease often depends on the scale of severity. Kidney disease is ranked on a scale of 1-4. The assigned ranking often determines the treatment method. This goes for the disease itself as well as mobility concerns.

While maintaining your feline’s quality of life for as long as possible is the ultimate goal, some things can be done to ensure this process.

  • Decrease the buildup of waste in the bloodstream.
  • Halt the overall progression of the disease.
  • Make dietary changes to include foods that are moist and dense. It is also important to feed your feline the best foods based on your cat’s breed.

Diarrhea, lack of appetite, frequent urination, depression, weight loss, and body weakness (legs) are the most common signs of feline kidney disease.

Neurological and Spinal Issues

These concerns can produce symptoms that can impair your cat’s legs. Whether the problems originate from wrong signals being delivered from the brain or nerve damage leading to the legs, neurological ailments and diseases require full evaluation and testing.

If you are concerned that your cat’s troubles are centered at the root of a much deeper issue, you should seek care ASAP. If your feline begins to drag a single rear leg, displays an inability to move its legs, or is unable to stand at all, emergency care is needed.

The causes are wide-ranging and can be a byproduct of other known conditions and ailments that have been documented in the piece you are currently reading.

Noted below is a brief list of known causes which encompass many different health concerns…

  • Back injury or slipped disc. The symptoms of this issue can be immediate, but they can also be delayed. It depends on the severity of the issue and how well your cat is masking the problem.
  • Infection of the spinal column
  • Inflammation and infection of the spine
  • Muscle inflammation
  • Nerve inflammation
  • Blocked blood flow to the spine and rear legs
  • Cancer of the brain or spine (tumors pressing on nerves)

If your cat behaves erratically when you touch its back, it may have a condition known as Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome.

What are the Primary Causes of Sudden Rear Leg Weakness?

Unlike a much slower process that can develop over the course of time, sudden rear leg weakness can be quite startling. If your senior cat is walking one day and then having great difficulty the next, this is due to something far more severe than arthritis.

Let’s explore 3 of the most common causes of sudden leg stiffness, weakness, and immobility.

Injury

If your cat has experienced significant trauma to its legs, the effects can be noticed immediately. Falling, being stepped on, being struck by a vehicle, etc., can all cause sudden symptoms and pressing concerns.

Saddle Thrombus

When a blood clot dislodges and becomes trapped in the pelvic end of the aorta, it can cause a sharp decrease in blood flow to the legs.

Clotting blood that is trapped in the saddle area is known as aortic thromboembolism or saddle thrombus. This issue is more common in cats that have been diagnosed with heart disease.

Unfortunately, this condition is, and the prognosis is often inadequate. Treatment to dissolve the clot and control the pain is the primary course of action.

Infection

Infectious diseases can leave your cat’s legs feeling weak and useless. Infections of the brain, bites from ticks, contamination from consuming a rodent, etc., can all lead to various types of infection.

In many cases, the symptoms of weakness and stiffness will only improve if your cat is seen by a professional in the earliest of stages. Senior cats are not able to fight off infection as well as they once could during an earlier stage of life.

Take your cat to the vet ASAP if you feel infection has compromised them.

How Can You Treat and Prevent Feline Arthritis?

Although routine trips to the vet can provide a fantastic opportunity to assess your cat’s health, many prevention and treatment methods can be done at home. While it is critical to receive an early diagnosis, the positive changes that come afterward can be the most valuable.

Even though options such as surgery are available, it is essential to do everything possible before taking that step. Elderly cats do not always perform well during surgical procedures so they should be avoided unless no other options are available.

Diet

Making sure your senior feline is eating the right amount of quality food is a positive way to assist with weight control. Many older cats who suffer from leg issues are just carrying too much weight. The greater the pressure, the more intense the pain and immobility.

Because pets are living much longer than in days past, it is not uncommon to see your furry friend reach its early 20s. Keeping your cat fit and slim does wonders for their joint health.

Exercise

Allowing your senior cat to play and exercise on a soft surface can be beneficial to his aging joints. Keeping your cat dry and warm while moving about is another positive aspect.

Cold and damp joints are more inclined to stiffen and lock up. These exercises and play tips can serve as both a prevention and treatment method.

Are weak back legs a sign of a health problem?

Supplements and Medication

Non-steroidal and anti-inflammatory drugs can relieve the pain of diagnosed arthritis and the common joint discomforts of aging.

Corticosteroids and osteoarthritis drugs can reduce inflammation while managing the pains and stresses that come from feline arthritis.

On the supplement spectrum, selections such as glucosamine and chondroitin have been used to manage arthritis and joint stiffness.

After a detailed examination of your cat, your vet can discuss with you the options to pursue when it comes to medication and supplement choices.

One of the more popular selections in recent years is Cosequin. It is the No. 1 vet-recommended retail joint health supplement brand. You can sprinkle 1-2 capsules on your senior feline’s food for an initial 4 to 6-week period.

Massage

Giving your cat a massage with a warm compress can ease the pain of stiff, weak, and arthritic joints.

Massaging your cat can increase circulation, thus improving flexibility. While you can massage your cat at home, you may also choose to rely on a professional animal massage therapist.

Soft Bedding

Soft bedding and soft walking surfaces are easy on the joints. If your elderly cat is currently sleeping on a hard surface or making long trips across hard floors, it is best to change those ASAP.

While you can only do so much concerning the surfaces of your home, you can change the relaxing and bedding area(s). Through the use of soft towels, pillows, and specially designed beds, your senior feline can be more comfortable.

If your cat suffers while walking, the last thing you want is for your cat to suffer while relaxing. You can add miles (literally) to your cat’s joints by introducing soft bedding.

Take a proactive approach and visit your vet. Just writing off the situation as a product of old age will do your cat no favors. Even if your assumption is correct, the mere act of getting medical assistance will decrease your cat’s discomfort and likely improve mobility.

In the same way that a senior would seek treatment for bad knees, you should always do the same for your cat. Continually monitor your cat for changes and supply them with the necessary assistance.