Weakness in Cats

Key Takeaways

Weakness describes a lack of power and energy available to the body.

• In cats, evidence of weakness includes fatigue after activity, difficulty executing athletic movements, asymmetry in the position of the body, difficulty rising, muscle shaking, and difficulty holding up the head

• There are many possible causes of weakness since disruption of any type to any of the body’s systems has the potential to reduce energy available to the large muscles

• Possible disease categories include developmental, degenerative, auto-immune, metabolic, nutritional, endocrine, infectious, and many more

• Cats with weakness require prompt veterinary attention, particularly if they show symptoms such as incoordination, pale gums, or difficulty breathing

• Diagnostic tools include physical examination, blood work, imaging, and urinalysis

• Treatment and prognosis are difficult to generalize due to the variety of possible underlying causes

A Closer Look: What is Weakness in Cats?

Weakness is a very common symptom in cats. In some cases, weakness in cats is not a serious health concern, but in other cases, weakness is a symptom of a life-threatening illness. Cats with weakness require veterinary attention. Cats with sudden and severe weakness, or weakness accompanied by high fever, tremors, incoordination, lameness, pale gums, weight loss, paralysis, or labored breathing, require emergency veterinary attention.

Signs that a cat is weak include:

• Inability to do the activities of daily life without fatigue

Exercise intolerance

• Inability or difficulty to  execute athletic movements such as running, jumping, balancing, or grooming

• Holding body parts in unusual positions. such as the hind paws make contact with the ground from the toes to the hock or the inability to pick the head up fully

• Asymmetry in the body or in movements

• Inability to use specific limbs properly

• Intermittent paralysis

It can be difficult to assess weakness in cats, especially when it is subtle, without veterinary expertise.

Possible Causes

Almost any condition that affects cats has weakness as one of its potential symptoms. This is because any type of disruption to any of the body’s systems has the potential to change the way the body as a whole functions. 

In general, weakness is potentially the result of:

• Developmental diseases, such as congenital myotonia

• Degenerative diseases, such as muscular dystrophy

• Autoimmune diseases, such as feline immunodeficiency virus

• Immune-mediated diseases such as myasthenia gravis 

• Inflammatory diseases, such as myopathies

• Metabolic diseases such as liver disease, pancreatitis, and kidney disease

• Endocrine diseases, such as hyperthyroid and diabetes mellitus

• Nerve diseases such as neuropathy

• Nutritional diseases

• Tumors or cancer

• Infectious diseases such as calicivirus and urinary tract infections

• Parasitic diseases such as heartworm 

• Toxicoses such as rodenticide poisoning

• Traumatic injuries, such as spinal injury 

• Heat exhaustion

• Idiopathic (unknown cause)

Risk Factors

The severity of weakness depends on how much of the body is affected, the seriousness of the underlying cause, whether it is resolvable or permanent, and whether it is progressive or not. 

In some cases, a congenital issue is present from birth, causing weakness. In these cases, the symptom appears in the first few months of life. 

In other cases, the onset occurs later in life. Sometimes, as with injury, onset is sudden. In other cases, such as with certain infections, the weakness is subtle at first but progresses along with the untreated disease process.

Testing and Diagnosis

Cats experiencing weakness require veterinary attention to determine the cause and plan treatment. Diagnostic tools include:

• Physical examination

• Bloodwork

• Diagnostic imaging, such as X-rays or ultrasounds

• Biopsy

• Bacterial or fungal cultures

• Urinalysis

Treatment is difficult to generalize due to the variety of underlying conditions. Some possibilities include:

• Antibiotics

• Antifungals

• Anthelmintics (also known as antiparasitics)

• Anti-inflammatories

• Surgery

• Blood transfusions

• Medications

Similar symptoms

Cats require significant amounts of sleep during the day. It is possible to mistake a normal amount of sleep for fatigue due to weakness. 

In some cases, the signs of weakness are subtle. Attention and observation are required to note small differences in stance, movement, and capacity.

Associated Symptoms

Symptoms that are often observed with weakness include:




• Paresis (partial paralysis)


• Loss of appetite

Weight loss

Pale gums

Labored breathing

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