Your cat can go from a standstill to crazy zoomies within a blink of an eye.
They can be energetic and lively when they feel like it. But what if you have recently noticed that your cat has been walking a lot slower than usual?
A cat suddenly walking slowly is a cause of concern. Common causes are leg or back injury, diabetes, viral or bacterial infection, urinary tract infection or even a bad diet. You should take your cat to the vet immediately if you notice this behavior happening.
Dive deeper with us to recognize early warning signs before it starts to take a toll on your dear cat’s health.
Why Is My Cat Walking Slowly?
Understanding why your cat is moving slowly involves a careful observation of its overall behavior and health.
Now, let’s unravel the mystery behind your cat’s slow pace.
1. Leg Injury Or A Sprain
Cats are really silent when they walk due to their ability to retract their claws and the muting effect of their paw pads.
I lost count of the number of times when I turn around or look down and suddenly notice my cat next to me.
It might seem adorable to have your cat appear out of the blue but it can also lead to incidents like accidentally stepping on your cat’s paw.
Any pet parent will feel really bad about stepping on their cat by accident but it is bound to happen to the best of us especially if you have a cat that likes hanging around your feet.
I have stepped on my cat’s paw by accident before and thankfully it only resulted in an angry meow and a stare of disdain that says “YOU CLUMSY OAF!”
But in the unfortunate event that you stepped hard on your cat’s leg, it can result in a bad injury or sprain.
A cat in pain will be walking slowly with its tail down.
Common symptoms of a leg injury are:
- Swelling of the affected paw
- Bleeding if there’s a wound
- Excessive licking of the paw
A cat can also injure its own leg by jumping or falling from a high enough ledge.
When my cat was younger, he would leap down from the top of his cat tree which makes me uncomfortable every time I see it.
All it takes is one bad landing to cause an injury.
2. Back Injury
Having a back injury can also cause your cat to walk slower than usual.
Damage to your cat’s spinal column can cause symptoms that can be minor or severe in nature.
Symptoms can include:
- Muscle spasms
- Slow and uncoordinated movement
- Urinary incontinence
- Bowel incontinence
- Partial paralysis
Back issues in cats can be caused by congenital disorders or genetic abnormalities.
Most indoor cats can suffer from a bad injury by being stepped on or falling from higher ground.
But if you allow your feline friend to roam outdoors, the risk goes up exponentially.
Your cat can be hit by a car, attacked and bitten by a dog or wild animals or even get shot by someone who really hates cats.
Please always keep your cats indoors. You might feel that you’re doing your cat a favor by letting it outdoors but you’re not.
The only thing that you’re doing is putting your cat in harm’s way or giving it an opportunity to run away.
3. Side Effects Of Anesthesia
Has your cat recently been through a medical procedure that required your cat to be sedated?
If yes, then you can expect your cat to not be its usual self for a few days.
Putting your cat under general anesthesia helps to relax all its muscles and prevent it from feeling pain during the procedure.
When an anesthetic agent has been used on a cat, it can cause side effects like drowsiness, lack of coordination, dilated pupils, loss of appetite and confusion.
I remembered the time when I brought my cat back from the vet after his neutering surgery.
When he walked out of his carrier, he behaved like a drunken sailor.
He was walking in slow motion and couldn’t even maintain a straight line.
The vet said that he should be back to his normal self within a week which he did.
4. Reaction To A Vaccination
Just as with humans, cats can sometimes exhibit side effects after receiving a vaccination.
This is the body’s natural response to the inoculation and goes away within a few days.
If the injection was intramuscular or into the leg muscle, your cat will be feeling sore and tight in that area for a while.
That could explain the slow walking or limping.
5. Bad Nutrition
A cat’s diet is special and not many cat owners are aware that a cat is an obligate carnivore.
This means that your cat needs a high-protein diet from animal meat to survive.
What diet is your cat on?
If you have been feeding your cat dry food or unhealthy human food all the time, it will be bad for your cat’s well-being.
Most cats can handle a small percentage of carbohydrates in their diet but a good 95-99% should be protein.
A diet that is high in carbs isn’t ideal for cats.
Young cats and kittens need a lot of food in their development phase to reach their full potential.
You can’t feed these cats like how you would an adult cat.
A growing cat needs to be fed at least 3-6 times a day and is allowed to eat as much as they want.
If you are not feeding your cat a good quality diet and it is not getting sufficient calories, it won’t have the energy to function properly which can cause it to slow down.
Other signs can include loss of hair, unexplained weight loss and sleeping more than usual.
6. High Prey Drive
Not all causes of your cat walking slowly are medical in nature. Many cats deliberately walk slowly due to their high prey drive.
You might see your cat as a clumsy and lazy furball but hidden somewhere inside is a tiger waiting to get out.
Cats are amazing hunters and have one of the best hunting success rates in the animal kingdom.
Cats hunt their prey by stalking and slowly moving toward them before pouncing for the final blow.
Having an indoor cat doesn’t mean that their hunting instincts are gone.
In fact, indoor cats are more prone to stalking their owners to satisfy their hunting itch.
My cat does this too from time to time and it’s really cute to see him in action.
It usually starts when I peep at him from behind the wall and that sends his prey drive into overdrive.
He will slowly walk towards me and stop when I stick my head out to spot him.
When he gets close enough, he will do a full-on charge and paw-punch my leg before running off.
You can tap on your cat’s prey drive by buying toys that resemble prey to your cat. It helps to keep your cat engaged and active.
7. Viral Or Bacterial Infection
It can be common for cats to get a viral or bacterial infection at some point in their lives.
A bacterial infection happens when your cat’s body is infected by cells that are living inside or outside.
Common bacterial infections in cats are:
A viral infection happens when a virus invades your cat’s body and uses it as a host to multiply into huge numbers.
Common viral infections in cats are:
- Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
- Feline Leukemia (FeLV)
- Feline Distemper (FPV)
- Feline Calicivirus (FCV)
Many of the above infections can give your cat similar symptoms that include mild fever, lack of appetite, weakness, movement issues, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.
The only way to ascertain the type of infection is to take your cat to a vet for a full blood test.
My cat has FeLV and I only found out about it when I bought him to the vet for a chronic cold that wouldn’t go away.
Some of these infections can be deadly if left untreated so it’s better to get your cat checked just to be safe.
Especially if you have adopted a cat without much of a medical history.
8. Getting Old
Many cats slow down as they get older. It is part and parcel of life and it happens to humans too.
When cats hit 11 years of age, there are considered to be senior cats.
This is when your cat’s body starts to slow down in terms of movement speed and recovery.
Even though your cat is still healthy, it will tend to sleep more and move lesser or slower.
A common problem with older cats is osteoarthritis and hip dysplasia.
Many older cats also suffer from urinary incontinence which makes them pee on themselves as they can’t control their bladder well enough.
Osteoarthritis is a form of arthritis that affects the joints of your cat causing joint pain.
The cartilage that sits between your cat’s joints gets worn away through wear and tear.
It is a progressive and degenerative disease that can get worse as your cat gets older.
A study conducted on 100 senior cats showed that 90% of them had some form of degenerative joint disorder1.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis and it can only be managed with pain medications and therapy.
Cats with hip dysplasia have a condition whereby the ball and socket joints of the hips are misaligned. This can cause a lot of pain when your cat walks.
For some cats, surgery might be an option if they are suitable candidates. Otherwise managing the problem is the only way.
Cats with joint issues should not be made to move around too much.
If your cat likes to jump on higher ground, make it easier for your cat to get up and down by providing ramps or platforms.
You can also make it easier for your cat to eat and drink by raising up its water and food bowls. Your cat won’t have to bend lower to eat or drink.
9. Diabetic Neuropathy
Do you know that more than 50% of cats and dogs in America are overweight?
That is an alarming figure as overweight cats are prone to getting diabetes.
One common complication that can arise from a diabetic cat is diabetic neuropathy. This happens when the nerves of your cat’s legs are affected by diabetes.
It usually starts with weakness in the cat’s hind legs.
The cat will be walking slowly or limping awkwardly. As the issue progresses, the cat might not be able to stand up properly at all.
Thankfully, this condition can be reversed if treated early otherwise the poor cat might suffer from permanent nerve damage.
10. Food Poisoning Or Toxicity
If you have a cat that is greedy and likes putting strange things in its mouth, ingesting something that is poisonous or toxic can affect its movement.
Certain human foods contain high levels of salt.
And if your cat consumes something really salty like beef jerky, it can lead to salt poisoning.
Sodium toxicity in cats can cause:
- Excessive thirst
- Uncontrollable shaking
- Excessive drooling
For cat owners that keep many plants indoors or outdoors, make sure you know what plants are toxic to cats.
Some cats are known to chew on plants and chewing on a toxic plant is bad news.
See A Vet When In Doubt
There are many medical conditions in cats that can affect your cat’s movement speed.
And many of these problems have overlapping symptoms which can be hard for you to know what is wrong.
If you notice that your cat has not been walking normally recently, please take it to the vet immediately for the vet to find out what is wrong.
What To Do If Your Cat Can Barely Walk?
If your cat can barely walk, it’s crucial to keep it calm and avoid any further movement. Immediately consult with a veterinarian to determine the cause and appropriate treatment.
How To Tell If Your Cat Is In Pain?
Cats are often very good at masking their pain but signs such as loss of appetite, lethargy and hiding more than usual can indicate discomfort.
1. Hardie EM, Roe SC, Martin FR Radiographic evidence of degenerative joint disease in geriatric cats: 100 cases (1994-1997).