Limb Fractures in Cats

Key Takeaways

Limb fractures are common in cats and typically occur when a bone breaks after an injury such as car accidents, falling from heights, or other blunt force trauma.

• Fractures can also result from weakening of the bone from conditions such as bone infection or tumors

• Symptoms vary depending on the location and extent of the fracture, but most cases involve lameness of the affected leg, pain when the limb is handled, and bruising, swelling or obvious mis-alignment of the limb

• Diagnosis  involves physical examination, X-rays or CT scan

• Treatment options include pain relief, treatment of concurrent tissue injuries, and either conservative management or surgery 

• Prognosis depends on the cause, location and severity of the fracture, but most cases respond to appropriate treatment and heal within 8-12 weeks

A Closer Look: What are Limb Fractures in Cats?

Symptoms vary depending on many factors including:

• Location - long bone fractures, such as the femur or humerus, normally result in non weight bearing lameness whereas fractures in the feet, such as single metacarpal or metatarsal fractures are often more functional as the other bones share the load bearing.

• Severity - cases involving complete fractures are normally more lame than partial fractures.

• Open vs closed - describes the damage to the tissues surrounding the fracture site. Open fractures mean the bone has punctured the surface of the skin, and are at greater risk of infection. Infected fracture sites may ooze yellow green pus, and the cat may develop a fever. Closed fractures means the bone has not punctured the skin.

• Damage to the growth plates - in young cats, this occurs when the fracture is close to the ends of the bones. Damage to the growth area of the bone can prevent further growth of the leg, resulting in limb deformities.

• Salter-Harris fractures - describe fractures involving the joint surfaces. Fractures involving the joints tend to result in osteoarthritis and have a poorer long term prognosis.

Risk Factors

Limb fractures are a common and painful condition, which is less common in indoor cats.

Fractures are often accompanied by concurrent injury such as damage to the soft tissues or joints, which can negatively affect the prognosis.

Most limb fractures in cats heal normally once the fracture site is stable, but complicated or severe fractures sometimes result in amputation.

Possible Causes

There are multiple causes for limb fractures including

Excessive force applied to a normal bone such as:

• Car accident

• Falling from a height

• Blunt force injury

Normal force applied to a diseased bone such as:

• Bone infection

• Bone tumor

• Nutritional deficiencies

Main Symptoms

Symptoms of limb fractures include:

Lameness (often non weight bearing)

Unwillingness to move

• Unwilling to have the leg examined

• Hiding

Visible damage to the leg such as:

Swelling of the tissue

• Skin wounds

• Limb shortening

• Instability of the leg

• Severe pain

Testing and Diagnosis

Diagnosis of suspected limb fractures involves:

• Physical examination

• Bloodwork

• X-rays

• CT scan

In cases where serious traumatic injury has occurred, additional diagnostic imaging such as abdominal ultrasound may be recommended to rule out internal injuries.

Steps to Recovery

Treatment falls into two categories: symptomatic treatment to manage the patient’s pain levels and overall health, and treatment of the fracture itself. 

Symptomatic treatment may involve:

• Pain relief

• Anti-inflammatories

Treatment of concurrent traumatic injuries may also be necessary, including:

• Fluid therapy

• Antibiotics

• Wound management

Fracture management depends on many different factors, including which bone has fractured and the severity of the fracture. 

Specific treatment options fall into two categories: conservative and surgical fixation. 

Conservative treatment includes:

• Crate rest

• Pain relief

• Bandaging

• Nutritional management if applicable

• Casting or splinting

Surgical fixation includes:

• Plating

• Wiring

• External skeletal fixation

• Amputation

The overall prognosis of limb fracture in cats is good, and most cases heal with a full return to normal function. Bone healing depends on:

• Restoring the normal anatomy of the limb

• Appropriate stabilization of the fracture site

• Preservation of the surrounding tissues and blood supply to the bone

• Early return to function - encouraging use of the fractured leg at an appropriate healing point to restore mobility and encourage bone repair

Cats with appropriately stabilized fractures normally heal rapidly, with full healing between 8-12 weeks after injury.

Young cats with nutritional deficiencies may result in weakening of the bone and non-healing fractures. These cats have a poorer prognosis, and may require additional treatment. 

Older cats, or cats with concurrent disease such as diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, bone infection, or bone tumors sometimes experience delayed bone healing or, in rare cases, a non union where the bone is unable to heal. These cases sometimes result in amputation. Cats can have a good quality of life with three limbs.


Fracture prevention involves limiting access of cats to dangerous activities such as hunting and climbing. Ensuring proper nutrition throughout life helps prevent deficiencies that can contribute to weakening of bone tissue.

Are Limb Fractures Common in Cats?

Limb fractures are common in cats, particularly in younger cats.

Typical Treatment

• Pain relief

• Anti inflammatories

• Fluid therapy

• Antibiotics

• Wound management

• Crate rest

• Casting or splinting

• Surgical fixation

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