As with any ailment afflicting a pet, hind leg weakness is alarming; however, some causes are more common, and some may indicate need for more or less immediate and intense treatment.
It is important to remember to consult your veterinarian regarding any serious concerns you have regarding your pet’s well being.
Common causes of weakness in aging cats
Just as human bodies feel the stresses of advancing age, so do those of felines. Joint degeneration, arthritis, osteoarthritis, and stress on the joints caused by recurring inflammation, can all weaken the cat’s body and lead to hind leg weakness.
Hip dysplasia is frequently a cause of weakness in the legs for older cats; it is a degenerative disease, meaning that its symptoms and severity progress over time. It can affect any cat of any breed, although it is known to be primarily hereditary and therefore certain breeds are known to have a higher occurrence.
If you have a Maine Coon, Persian, Himalayan, or related breed and your cat is suffering from rear leg weakness, hip dysplasia may be the culprit. Cats experiencing these issues due to age often demonstrate stiffness, inability to jump and climb proficiently, and avoidance of exercise or activity requiring stress on their joints.
Systemic Issues leading to hind leg weakness
Diabetes and obesity, while far from common, can play a role in developing hind leg weakness. Hyperglycemia affecting about ten percent of cats may lead to diabetic neuropathy. This can lead to weakness, loss of sensation, pain, and in some cases paralysis.
A less obvious, but no less serious, cause of hind leg weakness may be related to your cat’s cardiovascular wellness. Cardiovascular diseases impact the ability of the heart to deliver blood adequately throughout the body.
These afflictions may present themselves in many ways within the arteries, blood vessels, or even as an arrythmia.
If your cat has thickened arterial tissue, it may lead to sudden or long developing weakness and paralysis in the limbs; it most commonly manifests in the rear legs.
This condition is known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
The other most typical cardiovascular cause of leg weakness is due to blood clots.
If the cat has a preexisting clot, it may cut off necessary blood flow from within the heart itself, or in the case of aortic thromboembolism, there may be a smaller clot that has detached from the larger clot; in these circumstances the smaller clot often travels a way but comes to block the main circulation of blood to the hind legs.
While a clot may block blood flow to a single leg, it is much more common for both hind legs to experience blockage.
This blockage is commonly called ‘saddle thrombosis.’
Indicators of both of these issues may include abnormally cold paw pads that also appear blue or purple, bluish nail beds, weakened pulse and lethargic behavior, refusal to eat or diminished appetite, and paralyzed or severely weakened limbs.
Infections leading to limb weakness
Any number of infections can lead to feline limb weaknesses and disorders. Although less common as individual causes, the sheer number of infections that can originate these symptoms makes them worth considering.
Parasitic infections often cause impaired motor function and inflammation of the spinal cord. Toxoplasmosis is one of the most common, and most recognized parasitic infections within cats; it is known to cause partial or full paralysis, muscular weaknesses, and abnormal gait.
Rabies causes a plethora of symptoms related to weakened muscles and functioning.
Because the rabies virus can cause the spinal cord to swell, paralysis is common, as well as diminishing coordination and motor function.
Feline leukemia also manifests reduced motor control and weakness as well as paralysis; although in this case it is most frequently due to nerve damage caused by the virus.
Damaging fungal infections in cats primarily focus damage on the central nervous system, or CNS. As a result of these infections’ targeting the central nervous system, the most common symptoms include paralysis, either complete or partial, and often spinal pain.
Cryptococcus and histoplasma are among the most widely recognized fungal infections that affect the CNS enough to cause weaknesses and paralysis.
It is important to distinguish however, that another rather common and much less worrisome fungal infection can cause symptoms that may be confused with rear limb weakness: ear infection. An ear infection may cause a cat have impaired equilibrium and coordination, although this is easily treated.
Ultimately, the treatment options available or necessary for your pet will depend on your veterinarian’s specific diagnosis. Treatments do vary, and can range between anything from herbal or prescription medications to changes in diet, to surgical procedures
Many fungal infections are more easily treated in felines than parasitic infections.
Your vet will be able to give you a prognosis based on the treatment options available and the progression of your cat’s infection. If your cat seems to be having spinal pain, is more fatigued, has trouble moving, or is losing function of its legs, be sure to check for other warning signs such as the bottom of their paws and contact your veterinarian immediately.
For aging cats with hind leg weakness associated with arthritic conditions, medications and supplements may be recommended.
Even traditional eastern medicine is being used to treat many disorders related to cats with issues of hip dysplasia, arthritis, and aging joints.
Hind leg weakness resulting from cardiovascular disease needs immediate treatment. Only a veterinarian can accurately diagnose and treat these issues, although various medications are known to help treat this condition, and a low sodium diet is recommended to assist in managing it.
The burden of cat hind leg weakness lends itself to many causes, few of which can be determined with absolute precision outside of the veterinary profession. While some progress slowly, others may come on without warning.
For whichever case it may be, if your cat has lost significant capacity to move, shows signs of pain, or has cold paw pads, an immediate veterinary consultation is necessary.