What are Meningomyelitis?
Meningomyelitis in cats is defined as inflammation of the meninges and spinal cord. The meninges is the membrane that surrounds the feline’s central nervous system. The spinal cord is a long, tubular bundle of nervous tissue, serving as a link between the brain and the body. Meningomyelitis in cats is commonly caused by a fungal or bacterial infection originating elsewhere in the body, reaching the spinal cord and brain. This condition causes clinical signs of neurological deficits such as seizures, altered mental state, and impaired movement. Neurological abnormalities in a feline with meningomyelitis gradually get worse over time, causing severe effects such as coma.
Symptoms of Meningomyelitis in Cats
Meningomyelitis in cats causes clinical signs of neurological deficits that often appear to affect one side of the feline more than the other. Neurological abnormalities in a feline with meningomyelitis might display include seizures, altered mental state and impaired movement. The signs associated with this inflammatory disease often arise suddenly and worsen over time. Other common symptoms cat owners and veterinarians note in a cat suffering from meningomyelitis include:
- Hyperesthesia (increased sensitivity to stimuli such as light or noise)
- Low blood pressure
- Heart murmur
- Urinary incontinence
- Defecation incontinence
- Cervical, lumbosacral, or thoracolumbar spinal cord lesions
- Focal lesions causing neurological deficits
- Abnormal gait and/or posture
- Thoracolumbar and/or cervical rigidity
- Spinal pain
Causes of Meningomyelitis in Cats
Meningomyelitis in cats is commonly caused by a fungal or bacterial infection originating elsewhere in the body, reaching the spinal cord and brain. In the specific case of meningomyelitis, osteomyelitis (bone infection) and discospondylitis (inflammation of the intervertebral discs) are usually to blame. Common causes of meningomyelitis in cats includes:
- Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)
- Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP)
- Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
- Bacterial infections
- Fungal infections
- Protozoal infections
- Felines with impaired immune systems, such as kittens, are easily infected with meningomyelitis-causing agents via the bloodstream.
Diagnosis of Meningomyelitis in Cats
Meningomyelitis in cats is diagnosed by conducting tests to find supportive evidence of meningomyelitis and by ruling out other possible diseases. Meningomyelitis in cats can mimic symptoms of other spinal conditions, therefore, your veterinarian will want to rule out the following feline conditions with a differential diagnosis:
- Spinal cord tumor
- Spinal fracture
- Intervertebral disk disease
A differential diagnosis is commonly based off of blood work and a urinalysis. However, radiographs may also need to be taken in order to find an abnormality of the spine such as a tumor of fracture. Meningomyelitis will not show up on a radiograph and therefore, if the imagery taken is negative, an MRI or CT scan will be requested. A CT scan or MRI will demonstrate contrast in the meninges, as a buildup of inflammatory fluid would be seen on one of these diagnostic imagery machines.
If an abnormality was found on the non-invasive diagnostic exams, directing the vet’s hypothesis to meningomyelitis, he/she will want a biopsy. The veterinarian will want to perform a spinal tap using fine needle aspiration to take a small sample of cerebral fluid to analyze. The analysis of the cerebrospinal fluid in acute cases of Meningomyelitis in cats will reveal marked polymorphonuclear pleocytosis and an additionally high level of variable red blood cells paired with elevated blood protein levels. The doctor may also choose to culture the spinal fluid for evidence of bacterial growth, but this test often proves ineffective as the infectious agent often produces a negative result.
Treatment of Meningomyelitis in Cats
The treatment your veterinarian chooses for meningomyelitis depends on the underlying cause for the inflammation in the meninges and spinal cord. If your cat’s condition is caused by an infectious agent, the vet will prescribe medication to eliminate the organism. Anti-protozoan drugs, antibiotics, and anti-fungal medication are a few common example of medications used to treat infectious causing meningomyelitis. Inflammatory causes of Meningomyelitis, such as bone infection or viruses, are usually treated with chemotherapeutic drugs or corticosteroids like prednisolone. Your cat’s doctor may also prescribe a series of supplements; selenium, vitamin E and C, paired with antioxidants, as feline patients tends to improve greatly with these additional treatments.
Recovery of Meningomyelitis in Cats
Early and aggressive treatment is a must when treating a feline with meningomyelitis. The treatment period may last several weeks or even months before the feline is considered cured from the disease. All physical activities should be avoided during healing time and at-home monitoring may require pet owners to postpone regular daily activities. Felines diagnosed with meningomyelitis carry a poor prognosis and therapy is usually only effective in the cases of bacterial infections. Ask your veterinarian about the risks and possible outcomes of your cat’s condition to acquire a better understanding of managing feline meningomyelitis.