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, balance problems, and an inability to walk without a limp, the older feline can easily fall victim to joint and muscle deterioration.

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 normal stiffness that occurs naturally as part of the aging process and a more severe medical issue.

Cats are good at masking pain, so it is common for elderly pets to hide their discomfort until you notice that their back legs are giving way. If you notice that your cat is having trouble walking in a straight line or a cat’s back legs are collapsing underneath them, this is a red flag to a pet owner. We will look at the common symptoms of leg weakness in cats and medical explanations.

Senior Cats and Leg Troubles

Young cats and young people have very little in common, but older cats and older people share many similarities as they advance in years.

A lack of mobility in older cats is extremely common. As your senior cat becomes quieter and not as eager to relive the playful days of its youth, its joints and muscles can begin to stiffen and become weaker. As your cat’s body begins to falter, mobility can become more difficult.

Although leg weakness is a common visible symptom, understanding the core underlying 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 kittens and adult 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 finding it hard to walk is fundamental 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 Symptoms of Weak Legs in Cats?

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.

1) Cat is Less Active

Decreased activity and playfulness is prevalent among 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 eager to be active, you may be able to figure out why. A decrease in activity is a common symptom of leg stiffness, weakness, and pain.

2) Defecating in the House

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.

3) Difficulty Running and Jumping

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.

4) Problems Sitting Down

The routine act of a cat sitting can become a task when leg stiffness and weakness occur. You may notice that your cat’s back legs collapse or give way..

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 lowering 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 more comfortable for your feline.

5) Sleeping More Regularly

Older cats often find the motion of standing difficult 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 suitable level of stability is achieved, and wobbly rear legs are often seen during these episodes.

6) Drunk Walking

This 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 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.

1) The Golden Years

If your cat is in the 15-20 age group, leg concerns could be the product of old age rather than due to a serious medical condition. It’s just wear-and-tear on your cat’s bones and joints.

However, this is why professional care is needed. Chalking the situation up to old age means that they’re not getting treatment. If your cat is in pain, this discomfort needs to be reduced.

2) Arthritis and Joint Problems

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 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
  • Muscle deterioration
  • Reduced mobility
  • Joint swelling
  • Trouble standing, sitting, lying down, walking, climbing, and jumping
  • A grinding sound in the joints

You need to monitor all symptoms because arthritis can be hard to confirm, at least initially. Because the condition progresses slowly, and cats often mask discomfort, the issue could be building up for years without any obvious visual flags.

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

Making sure your cat has regular visits to the vets can be invaluable. Professionals, through x-rays, can quickly identify changes (even in the early stages) and provide comprehensive medical support.

3) Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes, if left untreated, can cause your senior cat difficulty with 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 male.

When cells can’t properly absorb glucose from the blood, then they no longer receive the energy they require to perform. In a quest to gain energy, the body takes in fats and proteins to feed cells.

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

Increased thirst and urination is another symptom of concern. Cats who have 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.

A distorted gait can be a sign of prolonged diabetes. This is why you must monitor your cat’s body size and bathroom habits.

cat back legs collapsing

4) Kidney Disease

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 treatment for kidney disease often depends on the scale of severity. Kidney problems are 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 goal, some things can be done to ensure this process. These are as follows:

  • 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

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

5) 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. Here is a list of causes:

  • Back injury or slipped disc. The symptoms can be immediate, but they can also be delayed. It depends on the severity 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 Causes of Sudden Rear Leg Weakness?

Unlike a much slower process that can develop over time, sudden rear leg weakness can be quite startling.

If your senior cat is walking one day and then having difficulty the next, this is ‘likely’ to be due to a medical problem that is more instantly debilitating than arthritis.

1) 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.

2) 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.

Treatment to dissolve the clot and control the pain is the primary course of action.

3) Infection

Infectious diseases can leave your cat’s legs feeling weak and useless. Infections of the brain, bites from ticks, contamination from eating 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 vet in the early stages. Senior cats can’t fight off infection as well as they once could when young.

How Can You Treat Feline Arthritis?

Although routine trips to the vet provide an 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.

1) Improved Diet

Making sure your senior feline is eating the right amount and type of protein is the best way to assist with weight control. Many older cats with leg issues are just carrying too much weight. The greater the pressure on the joints, the more intense the pain and immobility.

Because pets are living much longer than in days past, it is not uncommon to see your cat reach their early 20s. Keeping your pet fit and avoiding obesity can do wonders for your cat’s joint health.

2) Regular Exercise

Allowing your senior cat to play and exercise on a soft surface can be beneficial to their aging joints. Keeping your cat dry and warm while moving is also crucial.

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 for wobbly legs in cats.

Are weak back legs a sign of a health problem?

3) Supplements and Medication

Non-steroidal and anti-inflammatory drugs can relieve the pain of arthritis and the common joint discomfort that is associated with the aging process of cats.

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

In terms of supplements, you’ll find that selections such as glucosamine and chondroitin have been used successfully to manage arthritis and joint stiffness.

A popular supplement 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.

4) Massage Sore Legs

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

Massaging your cat can increase circulation, thus improving flexibility. While you can massage your cat at home, you may also turn to an animal massage therapist. Much depends on your budget.

5) Soft and Padded Bedding

Soft bedding and soft walking surfaces are easier 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 specialist beds, your senior feline can be made to feel far more comfortable instantly.

If your cat finds walking difficult, the last thing you want is for your cat to be in pain while relaxing. You can add years of longevity to your cat’s joints by introducing soft bedding.