What are Proprioceptive Deficits?
Proprioceptors are sensory receptors found in muscles and organs that primarily control movement and placement of limbs and extremities. Cats suffering from proprioceptive deficits often lack the perception or spatial skills necessary to place feet, walk, or otherwise control limbs and movement. This can be a painful and dangerous condition for your cat and can also be a result of a number of serious underlying conditions. If your cat is suffering from proprioceptive deficits you should seek veterinary assistance immediately for the best prognosis for full recovery.
Symptoms of Proprioceptive Deficits in Cats
Proprioceptive deficits involve lack of perception in your cat’s limbs which affects paw and leg position and the ability to move correctly. Signs of this serious condition may include:
- Abnormal limb posture
- Abnormal reaction to improper limb placement
- Stumbling or drunken gait
- Weakness in the limbs
- Crouching or sinking stance in rear legs
- Fainting or lack of consciousness
There are two primary types of proprioceptive deficits; those with an orthopedic (muscular or structural) origin and those with a neurological (having to do with the nerves) cause. Depending on whether the injury is degenerative, hereditary, or due to trauma, these two types may occur independently or in connection with each other.
Causes of Proprioceptive Deficits in Cats
Proprioceptors are controlled by various structures within your cat’s brain and spinal cord. The majority of proprioceptive deficits are caused by some damage, trauma or other abnormal condition within these structures. Underlying causes of proprioceptive deficits include:
- Damage to the spinal cord
- Damage to the brainstem
- Damage to the peripheral (surrounding) nerves to the spinal cord or brainstem
- Certain brain tumors
- General deterioration of muscles of nervous function due to old age or arthritis
- Lesions of the spinal cord
Diagnosis of Proprioceptive Deficits in Cats
Given the broad nature of injuries and conditions that may cause proprioceptive deficits, it is important for your vet to pinpoint the area of the brain or spinal cord that has become damaged. It is only through accurate diagnosis of the specific area that an effective treatment protocol can be developed. During your initial veterinary visit you should provide a thorough medical and physical history of your cat. Prior difficulty in movement, previous injuries and the approximate age of your cat, if known, will all be important diagnostic facts. Additionally, if your cat has previously been diagnosed with arthritis or other degenerative disorders this will be important to help pinpoint the cause of the proprioceptive deficits.
There are several diagnostic tests your veterinarian will perform in-office to determine the underlying cause of proprioceptive deficits in your cat. First, a thorough physical exam will allow your vet to observe foot placement, reaction to manipulation of limbs, and pain reaction through the use of minor pin or needle pricks. Although this may cause some discomfort to your cat, it is an important procedure for assessing the severity of damage and whether the symptoms are caused by a neurological or muscular condition.
Another definitive test for determining proprioceptive deficits involves turning a cat’s paw so that they are stepping on their toes. In a healthy cat, this manipulation of the foot will immediately cause the cat to move the paw into the correct, upright, position. In a cat suffering from proprioceptive deficits, they will often bear weight on the foot and not correct the positioning. Finally, your vet may order MRI or similar imaging to evaluate any potential orthopedic damage or deformity in the spinal column, brain or other structures.
Treatment of Proprioceptive Deficits in Cats
Treatment of proprioceptive deficits in your cat will depend on the underlying cause of the condition. In case of nerve injury, healing and regeneration of the nerve conduit is sometimes possible. Your vet may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs or steroids to help reduce swelling and aid in the healing process. The same types of drugs may be prescribed with some injuries resulting from minor to moderate trauma, in addition to pain medications. In these instances, it will be important to monitor your cat’s blood and urine levels to ensure proper function of liver and kidneys since these types of medications can be very taxing to these internal organs. If arthritis as a result of old age or general deterioration is the cause, corticosteroids and pain medication will also be prescribed.
Recovery of Proprioceptive Deficits in Cats
The prognosis for recovery of your cat suffering from a proprioceptive deficits will depend on the underlying cause. In any animal suffering from this condition, strict cage rest will be vitally important to the recovery process. You will need to keep your cat separated and calm and in a quiet portion of the house. Heat and cold therapy using warming and ice packs can help speed the healing process in the case of orthopedic injuries.
If a severe neurological injury is the cause of the proprioceptive deficits, some cats may never be able to recover full movement and use of their limbs. Owners of these animals should discuss their particular pet’s condition with their veterinarian to develop an appropriate plan that ensures a good quality of life. This may include management of your cat’s activity level, restricting them to indoors, or limiting their access to certain portions of the house.