1. Keep your pet as quiet, calm and inactive as possible.
  2. If there are signs of shock (for example, in the case of trauma) perform CPR as required and seek immediate veterinary attention.
  3. If you suspect that your pet has a fracture, take it to the vet as soon as possible. If the fracture is severe, transport your pet in a good sized carrier lined with a towel and try to minimise handling or manipulation of its affected limb(s). Placing a splint is not recommended as an incorrectly placed splint can cause additional pain and may make matters worse.
  4. If your pet does not have an obvious fracture but is non-weight bearing and will allow you to do so, inspect the paw pads, toes and the skin in between these for any sign of a foreign body. You may need additional light and magnification. Some foreign bodies, such as stones or bindies, are easily removed.
  5. If there is haemorrhage or there are wounds, clean and dress these and seek veterinary attention.
  6. Do not give your pet any pain relief or anti-inflammatory medications without first seeking veterinary attention.
  7. If you are unable to take your pet to the vet immediately, ensure that it is confined within a small area and rested. Keep walks to a minimum, just for toileting, and do not allow your pet to run around freely. This will help to minimise the risk of causing further damage and promote rest and recovery.


Acute lameness refers to a sudden onset of lameness. Lameness is an abnormal function of one or more limbs or a change in gait that is usually caused by to pain or discomfort.


  • Change in gait (lameness) which can be persistent or intermittent
  • Less active, reluctant to walk
  • Vocalisation due to pain
  • Pain when touched or resents touch on affected limb
  • Swelling of affected limb/region of limb or joint
  • Affected limb/region of limb is warm to touch
  • Bleeding or wounds if there has been traumatic injury involved
  • Obvious deformity or fracture of the limb


There are many possible causes of lameness and it is usually associated with traumatic injury, but can be associated with inflammation, wear and tear, infection, or less commonly cancer, vascular disease, toxins or immune mediated disease affecting the bones, muscles, skeleton, tendons, ligaments, joints or nerves.

An exhaustive list of all the possible causes of acute lameness will be prohibitive but examples of causes of acute lameness include:

  • Subtle lameness: Ligament sprains, muscle strains, inflammation of the tendons
  • Moderate lameness: Hip dysplasia and arthritis, developmental orthopaedic diseases, angular limb deformities
  • Toe-touching lameness: Developmental orthopaedic diseases, cruciate ligament rupture
  • Non weight-bearing: Fractures, dislocations, footpad injury or foreign body such as a splinter or glass in the footpad.


Your vet will conduct a full physical examination and an orthopaedic and possibly a neurologic examination to identify the limb(s) affected and try to localise the area of the limb that is causing pain or discomfort. Your vet will assess each joint, ligament, tendon and bone for evidence of pain, restricted range of motion, instability or swelling.

X-rays and other tests may be required to make or confirm a diagnosis.

Due to the wide array of causes of lameness, each case will be managed and treated accordingly. Minor cases can be conservatively treated with strict confinement and rest and some anti-inflammatories. In cases of infection, aggressive antibiotics will be required. For some ligament ruptures and orthopaedic injuries like fractures or dislocations, surgery under general anesthesia may be required to fix and stabilise the fracture, repair the ligament or stabilise the joints. For cases of a foreign body stuck in your pet’s footpad, sedation or general anesthesia may be required to retrieve the foreign body, clean up the wound and possibly stitch up the wound if it is very severe. If injury or disease process associated with the nerves is suspected, your vet may request for other tests like MRI or a CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) tap.


Trout NJ (2008) Musculoskeletal system. In: Handbook of Small Animal Practice. 5thEdn. Morgan RV (ed.), Missouri, USA: Saunders Elsevier

Garosi L (2012) Neurological lameness in the cat: common causes and clinical approach. Journal of feline medicine and surgery. 14:85-93