How to recognize a broken leg in a cat

And how to treat it

How do you recognize a broken leg in your cat? What symptoms would you notice in your cat? It is not always easy to determine whether your cat has a broken leg or “just” a bruise or abscess. In many cases, this requires a visit to the vet. And if your cat’s leg turns out to be broken, how much will it cost to have its leg treated? And what are the alternatives? You can read it all in the article below.

an x-ray of a fracture in the hind leg of a cat

What is a broken leg in a cat?

Presumably everyone knows what a broken leg in a cat is. One of the bones that provide strength to the leg is no longer one piece. As a result, there no longer is any strength in the paw and it is not (properly) possible for your cat to rest its body weight on that paw. It simply hurts too much. 

How do you recognize a broken leg in a cat?

In some cases it is very clear that a leg is broken. When one of the long bones in the leg is broken, abnormal mobility of the leg can usually be felt. The lower part of the leg then dangles a little loosely from the upper part of the leg. As if there is a joint halfway down the bone. Sometimes a leg is in such an abnormal position that it is very clear that there must be a fracture in a bone.

But in many cases it is not very clear. A fracture may have occurred where the two bone parts are still relatively well positioned to each other. From the outside, no abnormal position or abnormal mobility of a leg can be seen.

In both cases, a broken leg is almost always so painful that your cat will hardly, if at all, lean on it. So he walks on 3 legs. Or even not at all anymore. But if a cat does not support its leg at all, this does not automatically mean that a leg is broken. An abscess in a paw can also be so painful that a cat decides not to use it.

Even for a veterinarian it is sometimes not entirely clear whether a cat has a broken leg. That is, it is not always visible to a veterinarian with the naked eye. Therefore, if in doubt, it is better to have an X-ray taken. Unfortunately, it is therefor sometimes also not possible for you as the owner to determine a fracture yourself.


How do you make a difference between a broken and a bruised leg?

Broken leg

  • Possibly abnormal mobility of the paw
  • Possibly an abnormal position of the leg
  • Very painful
  • Your cat does not have a fever
  • Comes on very suddenly and is immediately very painful.
  • You may sometimes/often experience a crackling sensation when you feel the fracture
  • Sometimes you can feel a hard bone protrude under the skin.
  • If there is also damage to a nerve, your cat may not have feeling in its paw, but drags its paw along the ground.

Bruised or inflamed leg

  • Paw can only be moved in the normal way, although this can be very painful for your cat. The leg cannot therefore bend in a different direction than normal.
  • Your cat can hold it in an abnormal position as he would normally dog, but it is not rotated in relation to the top part.
  • It can be very painful. Especially if there is an abscess.
  • Your cat may have a fever if he has an abscess.
  • It occurs suddenly, but often the limping worsens much more the next day.
  • If there is an abscess on his leg, you will often also feel a soft, warm swelling that is very painful when you touch it.
cat visits a veterinarian with a limp

Can a cat walk with a broken leg?

In most cases, a cat will not support itself on his broken leg. Simply because this is too painful for him. But if there is a fracture of a small bone, such as a bone in the toe, many cats will use their paw while walking. However, they do walk much less than you are used to from them. They also usually don’t like jumping on and off furniture anymore. But there are some really tough cats out there who still make use of their broken leg.

In addition, we have also experienced a cat having several broken legs. To get home, they had to walk on their broken legs. But this is always accompanied by a lot of pain. If there is no pain, an important nerve that is supposed to transmit the pain signal may be damaged. But in that case, a cat can hardly ever move its paw and therefore stand on it.


What can be the cause of a broken leg in a cat?

In the vast majority of cases, broken legs in cats are caused by a collision with a vehicle. But a kick from the angry neighbor, a collision with another cat or a fall from a greater height can also cause your cat to have a broken leg. We also regularly hear that a dog tried to play with a cat, but that the game was a bit too rough.

According to this study published in 2022, bone fractures in the paws of cats occur more often in young cats than in older cats. 65.54% of fractures occur in cats younger than 1.5 years old and 34.46% of fractures occur in cats older than 1.5 years old.

Most fragile bones in a cat’s paws

According to a Bulgarian study conducted between 2016 and 2020, male cats appear to have a broken leg more often than female cats. This is probably because male cats take risks more often than female cats. Furthermore, their upper hind leg (femur) breaks the most (52.06%), followed by their lower hind leg (tibia/fibula) (18.35%). In third place is their lower forelimb (radius/ulna) (14.98%) and in fourth place is their upper forelimb (humerus) (14.61%).

x-ray of a broken leg in a cat
veterinarian examines a cat with a possible broken leg.

Diagnosis of a fracture in a cat

If a leg is in a clearly abnormal position or there is very clear abnormal mobility of the leg, then the diagnosis of a “broken leg” is easy. But in most cases it is not that easy to determine it with the naked eye.

In that case, an x-ray will have to be taken. This makes the bones visible and therefore also a possible fracture of the leg.

Yet we often also take an X-ray of an obviously broken leg. We want to know what the fracture looks like to determine the best treatment for your cat.


Treating a broken leg

The treatment for a broken leg depends on how the bones look. In most cases, surgery is the best option. A pin is then placed in the broken leg using special metal, so that both bones can be attached to each other again and the bone can start to heal. Sometimes metal plates can also be used, but a cat’s bones are usually too small for this. However, bone operations are often quite expensive and can easily cost anywhere between €750 and €5000. So, pretty expensive.

If it really is a very “simple” fracture, it is sometimes possible to apply a plaster cast to a cat. This is often much cheaper than surgery, but does cause more discomfort for the cat afterwards. Learning to walk with a cast is heavier and therefore more difficult. They usually have much less trouble with this after an operation.

And of course, your cat will also be given a painkiller and in many cases also a course of antibiotics.


What are the costs of a broken leg for your cat?

A consultation with a veterinarian often costs €50, plus an x-ray of approximately €100. And then you still have no treatment.

Operating on a broken leg in a cat can be quite expensive. The more complicated the fracture, the more difficult the operation and therefore the longer the operation takes and possibly also more material. That is why there is such a difference between the prices of the operation. Most operations for a broken leg in a cat cost somewhere between €750 and €5000.

Plaster placement is often cheaper. But it still often costs €500 minimum.

Of course, it all depends on whether you visit your vet during office hours or at night. And some cats need more follow-up checks than others, which also entails additional costs. And then there are still the unlucky ones who have broken more than one leg.


Can a broken leg in your cat heal on its own?

A broken leg in your cat can indeed grow back together on its own after about 4 to 6 weeks. In most cases, however, this is not in the correct position of the paw, which will cause problems with a cat’s joints a few years later. After all, they are then used in an abnormal way and therefore wear out more easily. The result is that your cat will have pain in his paw for the rest of his life. And to prevent that, it is better to have your cat treated by your vet and accept the costs. (Well, accept the costs with pain in your heart…)


Limping cat is being examined by a veterinarian to exclude a broken leg.
cat licks its broken paw because it hurts

How long does it take to heal a broken leg in your cat?

If surgery has been performed, your cat will usually regain limited use of its paw within a few days. He still has to be a little careful with it and it will still be a bit painful at the surgical wound, but he can use it again. The pin or plates do not need to be removed, unless they will cause trouble later on in life.

If a cast is chosen, the fracture will usually heal again after 4 to 6 weeks. After removing the plaster, your cat will still have to train his paw muscles again, but within a month or two he should be as good as new again. The younger the cat with a broken leg is, the faster and better it will heal.



Putting a cat to sleep with a broken leg

We find it very sad, but unfortunately it happens all too often. A cat has suffered a broken leg and the money to have the operation performed is simply not there. Or the cat is so old that an owner decides that surgery is no longer desirable. If you are also thinking about having your cat put to sleep with its broken leg because you cannot raise the money, take a look at the page of Go-fund-me. It is a crowd funding platform where you can raise money for your cat’s operation if you can not afford it yourself. Who knows, you might be able to raise the money this way. You would probably prefer to keep your cat with you a little longer.


Get well soon for your cat!

If your cat does indeed have a broken leg, we wish you and your cat good luck, happiness and a fast recovery. Hopefully he will soon be his happy self again and you will soon forget about the vet costs.