Caring for Senior Cats
Learn about caring for your cat as they get older.
Our feline friends are much more than just pets. They are members of the family. And, as a family member, their well-being is often a priority as we want to ensure they are living a happy and healthy life.
That said, it is not uncommon for cats to be diagnosed with some back or spinal issue. As a cat parent, it’s helpful to learn how to recognize when your cat may have a back problem and what treatment options are available.
If you notice that your cat’s spine has become more sensitive, then there’s a chance that they have experienced a cat spine injury or developed a spinal condition.
Cat spine injury symptoms typically overlap with the signs of other spinal issues. In addition to a more sensitive spine, common symptoms include:
If you notice any of the above or another significant change in your cat’s behavior, it’s essential that you take them for a check-up with their veterinarian.
Keep in mind that cats are notoriously good at hiding when they are in pain or don’t feel well. Since felines are naturally more lethargic animals, it may not be easy to notice a difference when there’s a problem.
As the saying goes, though, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.” Even if you notice a slight change in your pal’s behavior and initially believe it’s nothing to worry about, it may still be worth it to take them in for an examination.
Although spine issues, in general, can be common, the cause and issues themselves can vary. Chances are, if your cat develops a back condition, it will be caused by trauma, syringomyelia, arthritis, cancer, inflammation, or intervertebral disc disease.
Trauma can be caused by any number of incidents, including anything from getting hit by a car, falling from a high perch, or getting into a fight with another animal. Although trauma can commonly be caused by accident (which, of course, can’t be prevented), there are some cautionary measures you can take to keep your cat as safe as possible.
For example, it is always best to keep your feline friend indoors. This will automatically eliminate the chances of them getting hit by a car. It will also lower their odds of having an altercation with another animal.
Syringomyelia is a condition where cavities along the spinal cord fill up with fluid. This is a relatively common spinal issue that can affect any cat breed, though some have a higher chance of getting diagnosed.
There are many signs of syringomyelia, including back or neck sensitivity, limited mobility, or unstable walking. However, to get a proper diagnosis, it will be necessary for your veterinarian to get an MRI scan of your feline friend.
Cat arthritis is quite similar to human arthritis. This condition is caused when the smooth surface between joints is worn down, and the bones begin to grind against one another. A number of items, from old age, injury, obesity, or genetics, can increase a cat’s chance of developing this condition.
Multiple cancers can affect a cat’s spine, and, in order to know definitively if your cat has cancer, official tests from your veterinarian will need to be run. Most cancers can be treated through chemotherapy or various medications depending upon the diagnosis.
Inflammation in your cat’s back can affect their spinal cord, vertebral discs, and surrounding tissues. The added inflammation can put pressure on the spinal column and, as a result, cause various health issues such as paralysis.
Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) occurs when the cushioning discs between the spinal column’s vertebrae harden. Although IVDD in felines is rare, it is still a serious health condition. Older cats are at a higher risk of developing this condition, but cats of any age or breed can be diagnosed.
As cat parents are already aware, your cat’s well-being and happiness are top priorities. Part of being a responsible pet parent is to be well-educated on possible health problems that could affect your best pal.
Cat parents undoubtedly have questions when it comes to their cat’s spine and the possible issues that could affect it. Some common ones include:
Yes, you should be able to feel your cat’s spine, along with their ribs and hip bones. That said, there’s a difference between being able to feel these bones and having them be protruding.
As a general rule, if these bones are too prominent, it could be a sign that your pal is underweight or malnourished. On the other hand, if you cannot feel any of these bones because they are hidden under a thick layer of fat, then there’s a good chance that your cat is overweight.
During your cat’s next visit with their veterinarian, feel free to discuss what a healthy weight for your cat looks (and feels) like. Whether your cat needs to gain or lose weight, your veterinarian can offer helpful advice about your cat’s nutrition.
If you notice bumps along your cat’s spine, it could mean that your cat has spondylosis deformans. This condition causes bony spurs to form on the edges of the spine. This condition can affect any cat breed and is more prominent in middle-aged or older cats.
Your veterinarian will need to run some tests to determine if spondylosis deformans is definitively the underlying issue. The good news is that this condition can typically be treated with medication, and if your cat is not experiencing any pain, then no treatment will be necessary.
Many cats can live years with this condition with no hindrances or pain at all. However, it’s possible that this condition could affect your cat’s mobility at an older age.
If you are looking straight down at your feline friend’s back and you notice that their spine curves to the side, there is a chance they could have scoliosis. That said, there are mild cases of this condition that may not be as obvious.
A cat with scoliosis may have this condition since birth, and the side effects can be seen even in kittens. Symptoms can include overall weakness, favoring one side, and stiffness. In order to get a proper diagnosis, though, you will need to take your cat to their veterinarian for an examination and some X-rays.
Treatment for scoliosis will vary based on your cat’s condition. For instance, minor cases may only require physical therapy, while more severe might require surgery. The chances of recovery going successfully post-surgery may be affected if your cat has any other medical conditions.
If your cat’s spine is sticking out, this could point to a few different underlying issues. First, if the spine is sticking out mainly in one area as if there’s a hunch or lump, then your cat could have a spinal issue called lordosis. Getting this particular issue diagnosed and treated is similar to that of scoliosis.
If you notice that your cat’s entire spine is much more prevalent than usual, then this could mean that your cat has lost (too much) weight and is possibly malnourished.
That said, if you have an older cat that hasn’t lost any significant amount of weight, but you notice that their spine is still sticking out, it could mean that they have just lost some muscle mass, which is common for elderly cats.
Although there are many spinal issues that could affect your feline friend, the good news is that most of them have multiple treatment options. To help catch any problems earlier on, be sure to keep an eye out for possible symptoms. If you do notice any odd behavior changes or significant differences in how your cat moves, be sure to take them for a visit with their veterinarian as soon as possible.
Nevertheless, cats with congenital spinal disabilities can often live a very happy, healthy, and normal life, only being affected by their condition minimally.
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.
title: Cat Spine Issues
author: Emily W.