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Cruciate Ligament Injuries in Cats

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Cruciate ligament injury in cats is less common than in dogs. But if it happens, it can be a painful and debilitating situation for your feline friend.

What Is the Cruciate Ligament?

The knee has no interlocking bones. It's held together by a number of ligaments, which are fibrous bands that connect the upper leg bone (called the femur) with the lower leg bone (known as the tibia). The primary role of the cruciate ligament is to stabilize a cat's knee.

A cruciate ligament injury in cats occurs when it tears or ruptures completely. When this happens, the knee becomes unstable, and the leg bones can move in an abnormal way. The cat will have difficulty bearing any weight on the leg without it collapsing beneath them. This condition is painful, and it can lead to long-term joint complications if it's not treated properly.

Like veterinary terminology, pet insurance terms can be hard to decipher. Cruciate ligament injuries are seen more often in large dogs, such as German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Mastiffs. Learn more about dogs and this condition.

What Causes a Cruciate Ligament Injury?

The most common cause of cruciate ligament injury in cats is trauma. For instance, the ligament might rupture if a cat is hit by a car, gets caught in a fence they're trying to climb over, or falls out of a high window. In the case of a serious accident, cats will likely have additional injuries, such as a broken jaw, fractured ribs, or a punctured lung.

A cruciate ligament injury can also happen due to general wear and tear as a cat ages. It can start out as a small tear that gets worse over time. Obese or overweight cats are more at risk since those extra pounds put added stress on ligaments and joints.

tabby cat behind a curtain so only his legs are visible

What Are the Symptoms?

Cat cruciate ligament injury symptoms can include lameness or limping. Your cat may stop using the affected leg or intermittently favor the leg on the other side of the body. They may be in severe pain and cry out or run away if you try to touch the affected leg.

You may also notice behavioral changes in your cat. They may stop jumping up to get to their favorite spots on the couch or window sill. They may refuse to engage in playtime activities even when you try to entice them with a sprinkle of catnip. Cats who are in pain may become more anxious or irritable, eat less, and hide more than usual.

If you think something is wrong with your cat, you shouldn't hesitate to reach out to your veterinarian. You can help improve your cat's prognosis by getting a diagnosis and starting treatment sooner rather than later. And, of course, you don't want your cat to continue to suffer from pain or discomfort.

Cats are infamous for masking signs of pain, so it can be difficult to tell when your cat is hurting. See 5 ways to tell if your cat is hurt or sick.

How Is a Cruciate Ligament Injury Diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will ask about your cat's medical history and if anything happened recently that might have caused a knee injury. As part of the diagnosis process, they will:

  • Take your cat's vital signs and conduct a full nose to tail exam.
  • Palpate the knee and attempt to pull the lower leg forward, which can be a sign that the cruciate ligament is injured.
  • Look for signs of instability as they walk.
  • Conduct blood work to assess your cat's overall health and rule out underlying illnesses.

Your veterinarian may also perform X-rays on the leg. While X-rays won't necessarily show small tears in the ligaments, they can help evaluate the condition of the knee joint.

How Is It Treated?

In severe instances where the cruciate ligament is badly torn, your cat will likely need surgery. The surgeon will repair the ligament and stabilize the joint so that it can function as normally as possible. Recovery from surgery can take a few months.

In the case of a partial tear, your veterinarian may recommend a more conservative, non-surgical approach to treatment. This can include medications to reduce pain and inflammation and restricted movement for a period of time. This can mean keeping your cat from running and jumping for up to six weeks or more.

If your cat is overweight, you may also need to help them lose some of that extra fluff. Your veterinarian can suggest a healthy diet and gentle exercise program for your cat.

Keep in mind that your cat may develop arthritis even if the knee is surgically repaired. Be sure to take your cat to the veterinarian and follow their recommended treatment plan to help your cat get better.

Cat Cruciate Ligament Surgery Cost

The cost of cat cruciate ligament surgery varies depending on the severity of the condition and where you have it done. You can ask your veterinarian for an estimate of the bill beforehand. If you're concerned about how to manage your cat's veterinary expenses, you may want to consider pet health insurance.

black and white kitten with a pink collar and silver tag swatting at a toy

How Can I Prevent a Cruciate Ligament Injury?

There are a few things you can do to help prevent a cat cruciate ligament injury.

Make Sure Your Cat Is Safe

Cats should be kept indoors to help avoid accidents that can cause cruciate ligament injuries, like getting hit by a car. Keeping your cat inside also prevents them from contracting contagious diseases or parasites, getting into scrapes with other animals, and killing off small wildlife.

Other cat safety measures include checking the window screens in your home to see that they are secure. You don't want your cat pushing on them and falling out. If you have a balcony where your cat spends time, make sure they can't squeeze through the slats. Also, be sure to anchor tall bookcases to the wall to prevent them from wobbling or falling on your cat.

Even if your cat stays inside, you should still get them a microchip. This will help ensure a safe homecoming if they unexpectedly get outside.

Keep Them at a Healthy Weight

Your veterinarian will measure and track your cat's weight during their wellness visits. This can help you identify and address weight issues before they get to be too big of a problem. You can also use these steps to assess your cat's weight at home:

  • Run your hands along your cat's sides. You should be able to feel the ribs easily without a layer of fat in the way.
  • Move your hands along your cat's back. You should be able to feel your cat's spine without a layer of fat over it.
  • Look at your cat from the side. They should not have fat hanging low from their belly.
  • View your cat from above. You should be able to see an indentation or waistline below the ribs.

Spay or Neuter Your Cat

Spaying or neutering your cat can eliminate their urge to get outside during mating season to find a partner. It also has many other behavioral and health benefits, such as stopping yowling when they're in heat and reducing the risk of certain cancers.

It's not always possible to protect our kitties from harm, but there's a lot you can do to keep them safe from injuries, like a torn cruciate ligament. Being aware of common household pet dangers can help.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.


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