What is Neck and Back Pain?
If you are able to notice significant change in your cat's behavior that can indicate neck and back pain, then you should immediately take your pet to see a professional to gain an accurate diagnosis and come up with a treatment plan.
When your cat is experiencing any sort of discomfort along the spine, it is feeling neck or back pain. Neck and back pain ranges in intensity and is sometimes not easy to discern from other pain. For example, pain originating from the abdomen can sometimes be confused for pain in the back and vice versa. Since animals cannot clearly communicate their discomfort, it can be difficult to figure out exactly where the pain is and what may be causing it.
Symptoms of Neck and Back Pain in Cats
Cats can appear outwardly indifferent when something is irritating them, so signs of pain are not always apparent. Also, pain in one area can be mistaken for pain in another part of the body. It's important to pay close attention to how your cat behaves in order to determine if it is suffering from neck and back pain. Here are a few telltale signs to watch out for:
- Stiffness in the neck
- Arched back
- Change in appetite
- Vocalization (e.g. crying out when touched)
- Weakness in limbs
- Change in posture/gait
- Spine deformities
- Inability or reluctance to turn head
- Bruises around spine
Causes of Neck and Back Pain in Cats
There are a few injuries, diseases, and other conditions that can cause neck and back pain. Common causes include:
- Trauma (e.g. bite wounds, spinal fractures)
- Organ disorders near the back causing referred pain (e.g. kidneys)
- Vertebral disk disorders
- Inflammation/infection of the meninges (membranes that surround the spine and brain)
Diagnosis of Neck and Back Pain in Cats
To diagnosis the issue, your veterinarian will perform a complete examination as well as conduct a full medical history. If the cause isn't obvious, such as the case with an injury, then your vet will perform a variety of other diagnostic tests. To search for signs of infections as well as check on the state of vital organs, a Complete Blood Count (CBC), urinalysis, urine culture, and a biochemical profile will be taken.
Abdominal X-rays will show if there are any abnormalities in the organs, while spinal radiographs will check the spinal canal, vertebrae, and the disks. The latter is typically performed when your cat is under general anesthesia or heavy sedation. Other tests may include myelography, CT scan, or MRI to identify trauma or cancer and EMG to diagnose or rule out muscle disorders. If meningitis or inflammatory infectious diseases are suspected, your vet will recommend a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis, which requires a spinal tap.
Treatment of Neck and Back Pain in Cats
The exact treatment plan to manage and correct your cat's neck and back pain will be determined both after discovering the root cause and determining the severity of the discomfort. In some cases, back and neck pain can be simple to treat. Other times, however, treatment can be difficult, and it may take some time to see results.
Both pain and anti-inflammatory medication is usually given to help manage and treat pain. If your vet has discovered an infection, the treatment will include a round of antibiotics. The risk of side effects and relapse, especially with antibiotics, is high, however. Because of this, you should always consult with your vet before administering any medication. If cancer has been detected, chemotherapy drugs may be administered.
There are some situations in which your cat's neck and back pain will require far more invasive intervention, like a surgical procedure. Surgery goes hand-in-hand with medication as your cat will typically receive some medication to help cope with pain and prevent infection following the procedure. Operations are recommended if your cat is suffering from very difficult ailments. Conditions that usually require surgery are ones that deal with spinal injury, cancer, infections in the vertebrae and disks, and in the case of paralysis.
Recovery of Neck and Back Pain in Cats
If your cat has undergone any procedure, or if therapy has been recommended, it is important to closely monitor your cat's activities. Try to keep movement to a minimum and only what is suggested by your vet. Never allow your cat to perform any exercise that has not been approved by a professional. The outlook for cats that suffer from neck and back pain vary with the nature of the underlying condition. Also, when giving medication, always continue it as long as the vet prescribes to prevent complications or recurrence or infection or other issues.
Neck and Back Pain Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My 7-month cat has been growling when we touch her lower back and try to pick her up. She's also been slightly lethargic. This started 5 days ago, and she's never growled when we picked her up before. 2 weeks ago, she had conjunctivitis, but it's been clearing nicely. She also has some patches of ringworm, which she recently got from our other cat. But I don't think her growling and lethargy is related to her conjunctivitis or ringworm. Our other cat with ringworm isn't acting like this at all.
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