Symptoms of Broken Cat Ribs

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Do your cat's ribs or sternum feel weird? Though it's normal to be able to feel these structures on a cat who is at a healthy weight, they should not stick out. If you feel one or more ribs sticking out along the thorax (chest) or if the sternum feels bumpy, your cat might have a fracture. You might notice other symptoms, like swelling on the sides of their chest, difficulty walking, and obvious pain when the area is touched. If you adopt an adult cat who has bumps along their ribs or sternum, it's possible that they previously had a fracture and the bones healed out of their proper position.

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Causes of a broken rib in cats

There are several common causes of a rib fracture or fractured sternum in cats:

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  • A fall from a high place. If you observe your cat taking a hard tumble, keep an eye on them for a few days to make sure they don't show any symptoms of a broken rib or other injury. It might take several days for your cat to begin exhibiting symptoms.
  • A dog bite.
  • Falling on something sharp.
  • Being hit by a car can also cause a broken rib, a fractured sternum, or other injuries.

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Symptoms and complications of a broken cat rib

If your cat has a broken rib or sternum, they may have one or more of these symptoms:

  • They cry or growl when the rib is touched.
  • Trouble walking or grooming themself.
  • The injured area could be swelling or bruised.
  • If the injury is a compound fracture, the broken bone might poke through the cat's skin.

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Potential complications include:

  • A punctured or collapsed lung:‌ If a cat fractures several consecutive ribs, this is called a flail chest. It is a severe problem that affects the entire chest and is normally accompanied by pulmonary contusions (bruised lungs), pneumothorax (collapsed lung), and subcutaneous emphysema (air under the skin).
  • Fractured pelvis or fractured back:‌ Cats who have been hit by a car might have a pelvis fracture or a fractured back. If you notice your cat isn't using their hind legs properly, take them to a veterinarian right away. With indoor cats, you might notice that they have trouble getting into the litter box.
  • Diaphragmatic hernia:‌ If your cat has a diaphragmatic hernia from being hit by a car, the thin muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdomen is torn. This will cause the stomach and intestines to end up in the thorax. A hernia requires surgery.
  • Head trauma:‌ If your cat has head trauma, they may have disorientation, uneven pupils, vomiting, or lethargy. Dry blood in a cat's ears or around their mouth or nose are also signs to look for. If they are meowing more than usual, they may be in pain.

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Treatment for a broken cat rib

If your cat has a broken rib or sternum:

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  • Do not attempt to wash a wound with a broken bone protruding from it. The best first aid you can provide in this situation is to cover the wound (if your pet will let you) and get them to a veterinarian immediately. If your regular DVM is closed, go to an emergency animal hospital.
  • Any cat who is having trouble breathing (look for panting) should be immediately taken to the veterinarian. Be very careful transporting a cat with a broken rib. Handle the cat gently and avoid the rib area as you place them in the carrier.
  • Your veterinarian will examine your cat and assess their bones and internal organs by taking radiographs (X-rays) and possibly performing an ultrasound. This might require sedation if your cat is in a lot of pain.
  • Pain medication will also be administered.
  • Any complications from the broken rib will be treated as well. If your cat requires surgery, your veterinarian will likely run blood tests first.
  • Once your cat is home, restrict their activity as much as possible. Movement can cause a lung puncture.

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Healing a cat's rib fracture

If your cat has only a broken rib or sternum with no other complications, treatment is simple — just restrict your pet's exercise for several weeks to allow the bone to heal. With worse injuries, it might be necessary for your veterinarian to surgically repair the fractures. A flail chest will have to be stabilized with a thoracic splint.

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Domestic cats like to wander and climb just like their wild counterparts. But you can prevent broken ribs by keeping your cat inside so they don't get hit by a car or get in a fight with another animal. Encourage them to stay off high surfaces not meant for cats so they don't take a bad fall. Provide them with safer climbing options, like a cat tree.

If you notice your cat has weight loss while they're healing from their injuries, contact your veterinarian for a follow-up visit. It's possible your cat is still in pain or needs other medical attention.

The bottom line

Cat owners know how much their feline friends like to climb. Sometimes, this can lead to a fall from a high place and cause a broken rib or a fractured sternum. If you feel something sticking out from your cat's body along their rib cage or under their thorax, it's possible they might have a fracture. Take them to your veterinarian right away because they may have additional injuries as well.

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