A sprain is a joint injury caused by a sudden stretching or tearing of the ligaments. The signs are pain over the joint, swelling of the tissues, and temporary lameness. If the cat refuses to put weight on a leg, have him examined by a veterinarian to rule out a fracture or dislocation. The same is true for any injury that fails to improve in four days. X-rays should be taken.
Treatment: The primary treatment is to rest the injured body part. Ice packs help to reduce pain and swelling. Add crushed ice to a plastic bag. Place the bag over the injured joint and hold in place with an elastic bandage or your hand. New commercial cool packs work well, as do bags of frozen vegetables. Apply the cold pack for 15 minutes every hour for the first three hours. If it is left too long, it may cause tissue damage.
Consult your veterinarian for safe pain and anti-inflammatory medications. Never give a cat acetaminophen (Tylenol) or any other over-the-counter pain medication.
A tendon may be stretched, partly torn, or completely separated (ruptured). An irritated or inflamed tendon is tendonitis. Strained tendons follow sudden wrenching or twisting injuries. The tendons in the front and back paws are the ones most often strained. Signs of tendonitis include temporary lameness, pain on bending and straightening the joint, and tenderness and swelling over the length of the tendon.
Rupture of the Achilles tendon that attaches to the hock joint is caused by sudden and extreme flexion. This tendon is most often injured in auto accidents and cat fights.
Treatment: Stretched tendons are treated in the same way as sprains. A ruptured tendon is an emergency and requires immediate veterinary attention. Surgery will be performed and the cat may need a splint or cast, as well as pain medications and follow-up physical therapy.
A cat with a ruptured Achilles tendon walks on his heel instead of the toes.
Muscle Strains and Contusions
A bruised or torn muscle can be caused by sudden stretching of the muscle fibers, overexertion from prolonged use, or a blow to the muscle. Signs are lameness, knotting of the muscle, tenderness over the injured part, and discoloration caused by bleeding. Muscle atrophy, the gradual decline in muscle mass due to a lack of use, starts as soon as 24 to 48 hours after a muscle is injured and not used.
Treatment: Rest and cold packs are recommended. Massage may be helpful, and physical therapy exercises may speed healing. Check with your veterinarian.
Ruptured Cruciate (Torn Knee Ligament)
The knee is stabilized by two internal cruciate ligaments that cross one another in the middle of the knee joint. A pad of cartilage (the meniscus) sits between the bones of the joint as padding. The knee ligaments may rupture and the meniscus can tear after a car accident or a fall from a height. Signs of injury include joint swelling, pain on flexing and extending the knee, and looseness of the joint. You may be able to detect a click in the joint, which is a sign of a torn meniscus.
Treatment: Immediate surgical repair of a badly damaged knee joint is the treatment of choice. A mild injury, perhaps limited to the meniscus, can be treated with cage confinement for three to five weeks to rest the joint and allow it to heal by itself. If lameness persists, surgery should be considered. TTouch (a trademarked form of physical therapy) techniques, massage, and physical therapy, even hydrotherapy, can help the healing process for a cat with a ruptured cruciate.
Degenerative arthritis follows trauma to the knee joint. Scar tissue develops in and around the joint, causing pain and stiffness. These arthritic problems are less likely to occur if the joint is repaired surgically. Chondroprotective supplements can greatly aid in delaying the onset of arthritis.