Any cat owner who has ever watched their cat lounging on the sofa and stretching out to the point that their whole body curves outwards could be forgiven for thinking that the spine of the cat is made of rubber, so flexible do cats seem to be! Because cats are very surefooted and apt to land on their feet even when they fall, spinal injuries in the cat are not as common as they are in people, or even other four-legged mammals like dogs.
However, spinal injuries in the cat can and sometimes do occur, and just as is the case for people, they can be very painful and greatly restrict the cat’s range of movement if they do. In this article, we will look at the three main types of spinal injuries and problems that can occur in cats in more detail, including how they may happen, and what can be done about them. Read on to learn more.
Injuries and accidents of all kinds can potentially damage the spine itself, and it is important to remember that the cat’s spinal bone extends along their tail too, making up part of the whole structure-this means that injuries and breaks to the tail are also a spinal issue.
Accidents such as being hit be a car or bike, falling from a height, or being hit with a falling object can all damage the spine itself, and will lead to symptoms such as pain along the back that may be evident if you stroke your cat’s back, and a painful walking gait or loss of the normal range of movement. Damage to the spine or impaction of the spine can also serve to restrict or cut off the blood flow to the part of the body behind the injury, which can lead to paralysis of the hind limbs, and potentially, inability to control bladder or bowel movements.
Fractures of the spine may affect either the bone of the spine or the spinal cord, and again, such injuries may be caused by falls, accidents or crush injuries. The symptoms of a spinal fracture will vary depending on whether or not the nerves of the spine are affected, but will often include severe pain, loss of movement and potential paralysis.
Nerve damage or damage to the spinal cord will both likely be hugely painful and potentially, lead to loss of movement of the hind legs once again.
The discs of the spine themselves can become jarred, injured or begin to break down due to trauma or illness, and such issues can be harder to identify in terms of their symptoms. A condition called intervertebral disc disease can also lead to a gradual deterioration of the spine over time, which may begin with minor symptoms such as limping or lethargy, progressing to pain and a markedly pained-looking walking gait.
Tumours and growths along the spine too can lead to restricted blood flow and move the discs out of place, all of which will once more be gradual in onset and potentially, harder to spot than problems caused by injuries.
If your cat has suffered any form of trauma or accident that may be potentially serious, such as a crush injury or being hit by a car, it is vitally important to get your cat seen by the vet, even if they appear to be fine immediately afterwards. The same goes for injuries to the tail, such as breaks or if the tail is crushed in a closing door, as the tail makes up part of the cat’s spine too.
Even if your cat seems to be displaying transient or mild symptoms of back pain or restricted movement and they have not had an accident, it is vital to get them seen by the vet nonetheless, in case there is a progressive problem in the making-such issues will not go away on their own, and will only get worse.
When you take your cat to the vet, they will ask about the symptoms that your cat has displayed at home and if anything has happened to cause a problem with the spine, and perform a full physical examination of your cat too.
If they suspect a spine problem, they will also run an X-ray examination and potentially, some other tests and exams to identify the source of the problem, and get a better idea of what is going on.
In the case of fractures to the spine itself, your vet will usually wish to correct this surgically, to ensure that the spine heals properly and to limit the amount of pain and loss of movement that your cat will have to deal with. Medications to reduce swelling and pain will also usually be administered, and when your cat goes home, they will need to have their movement restricted for some time, to aid with their recovery.
Tumours, diseases and other medical causes of spinal problems will be tackled on a case by case basis depending on what is amiss and how advanced the problem is, with the goal of reducing pain, restoring your cat’s range of movement, and treating or managing the underlying problem.
The prognosis for cats with a spine or back problem will vary depending on what the issue is and how advanced it has become, but prompt diagnosis and treatment is vital in order to give your cat the best possible change of recovery.