Watching your cat stop their impressive and graceful jumping can be concerning. Whether extraordinary jumps from bookshelf to bookshelf or a vertical shot up onto the tabletop, many cats naturally love jumping. But you might notice that your acrobatic cat is now snoozing in lower places and hesitates before joining you on the couch or bed. The change in behavior may have you questioning why—and rightly so.
Could my cat be afraid of heights?
Fear of heights is unlikely, but not impossible. Some cats love to climb, while others are content to stay closer to the ground. Unfortunately, so many cats have such little fear of heights that “feline high-rise syndrome” has become the description for the many cats who are unafraid of high places and end up falling from windows, balconies and similar.
Most cats do love to jump, so if your Olympic jumper is suddenly avoiding the stairs, your bed or countertops you should look for other likely causes, such as pain.
Signs of mobility issues in cats
Here are some signs to look for that might mean your feline family member is having mobility issues and/or pain:
- Your cat no longer hangs out in their favorite high spots. They’ve stopped visiting the best bird-watching high spot or the top of the refrigerator, wherever your cat used to like jumping to.
- Your cat hesitates before jumping down.
- Your cat avoids stairs, or goes up them more slowly, perhaps using the same leg to lead with.
- Your cat has become a hide-and-seek pro. Hiding can be a sign of pain or illness.
- Your cat doesn’t let you pet them in certain places anymore. Cats may try to avoid letting you touch them because they don’t want a petting to accidentally create more pain. Cats that go from love-bugs to handling-haters are probably hiding something that’s upsetting them.
- Your cat doesn’t seem interested in you or your life. Even if your cat was never super cuddly, they probably come to check out what you are doing once in a while. Cats in pain may show less interaction with their humans.
- Your cat becomes aggressive when you least expect it.
These are only some of the signs that your cat may be in pain or struggling with mobility. Keep in mind, each cat and situation are different. If you suspect your cat is in pain, give your veterinarian a call.
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Medical conditions that may stop cats from jumping
Of course, your cat may simply not want to jump and that’s perfectly fine. If you’ve been working on training with your cat, maybe it’s finally paying off. However, if non-jumping is consistent, there are a few things to consider before you celebrate a training win.
Specifically, there are some medical conditions that may be a contributing factor, including:
- Osteoarthritis or other causes of joint pain: If your cat is in pain every time they jump, they’re less likely to keep trying. Osteoarthritis is visible in about 90 percent of x-rays of cats over 14, meaning most cats are masters at carrying on like everything is normal. If your cat is younger, joint dysplasia or an old fracture may be causing issues.
- Vision trouble: An inability to see around them can cause a cat to be more cautious in their movement. Your cat may have been born blind or may have an eye problem. Cats with high blood pressure can become blind, too.
- Heart Disease: Heart disease may cause your cat to feel less sturdy or weaker over-all. If your cat is feeling weaker, they may not be jumping as often or as freely. Cats may pause climbing the stairs or even pant like a dog—a sign that something is seriously wrong.
- Muscle weakness due to kidney disease: Cats with kidney disease will urinate more often. They lose protein in their urine, and the body often tries to mobilize protein from the muscles instead- what we call catabolism. Kidney diseases are very common, and usually start with drinking more and urinating more.
What can I do NOW to help my cat?
You’ll want to really examine your cat’s body and behavior for obvious signs of discomfort that might be impacting your cat’s ability to move. Don’t forget that your cat may be uncomfortable—if he or she looks worried or like they might bite, it’s best to leave the examination to your veterinarian.
- Check your cat’s paws for broken or ingrown nails. Look at the pads to make sure there isn’t an obvious injury that may be impacting your cat’s comfort with walking and jumping. The dew claw commonly overgrows in older cats, so don’t forget to check there, too.
- Check for limping. Start watching your cat more closely, particularly when using the stairs or jumping. Do they hesitate? Use other ways to get around the house? Getting video may help your vet with a diagnosis. You should also consider keeping a journal of the changes you’ve noticed, so you have lots of information when you go to the veterinarian.
- Ask your vet. Any injury, seen or unseen, could be stopping your cat from jumping, so have your veterinarian give your kitty a once-over to be sure you don’t miss something. With so many possible causes, it’s important you get to the vet to have a thorough examination. Pain can be hard to pinpoint, so giving your veterinarian as much information as possible can help.
Questions to ask veterinary and behavior professionals
If you suspect or are unsure if your cat is in pain and want to learn more about why your cat is finding mobility a challenge, it’s important to talk about it with your vet.
You might ask your vet:
- My cat suddenly avoids jumping up and down from favorite spots. Are there medical issues that could be causing this? What else should I look for?
- My cat isn’t as agile as before. Are there supplements that could help?
- How can I help my older cat to be more comfortable?