What is Slipped Disc?
A slipped disc in cats is termed intervertebral disc disease (IVDD). This rather rare feline disease is a condition of neurological dysfunction the spinal cord. The intervertebral discs act as shock absorbers between the bones of the spine and allows the feline a great deal of movement. Over time, these discs experience degeneration of the nucleus pulposus (water within the disc) and lose shock absorption abilities, resulting in a compression of the spine. IVDD can affect the feline in any spinal column location, but the lower back, middle of the back, and neck are the most common locations of this condition.
If your cat has lost her ability to walk, is reluctant to jump up, and cries out when she is handled, then your cat could be suffering from a slipped disc. A disc is the gel-filled cushion between the cat’s vertebrae of the spinal column. The discs between the vertebrae, known as intervertebral discs, prevents the vertebra from pushing together, protecting the nerves. However, when these discs herniate or bulge, the vertebrae come together and compress on the various nerves running through the spinal cord space. The end result of one of these discs “slipping” is a great deal of pain, damage to the nerve, and even paralysis.
Symptoms of Slipped Disc in Cats
The symptoms associated with slipped disc in cats depends on the severity of the condition. Mild cases of IVDD may cause a feline to exhibit uncoordinated behavior and localized pain, but severe IVDD can cause a feline to lose mobility altogether.
- Inability to walk properly
- Problems with balance or coordination
- Reluctance to engage in physical activity
- Reluctance to jump up
- Vocalizing upon handling
- Pain in the back
Causes of Slipped Disc in Cats
Slipped disc in cats is caused by a degeneration of the fluid filled, nucleus pulposus of the intervertebral discs. A slipped disc can also be due to intervertebral herniation or bulging of the disc. The discs of the spinal column cushion the bones of the spine, working as shock absorbers when the feline moves. As the feline gets older, these fluid-filled cushions can breakdown resulting in nerve compressions. In other instances, the outer layer of the disc hardens due to unknown reasons and a traumatic incident causes the disc to slip out of place.
Diagnosis of Slipped Disc in Cats
The diagnosis of a slipped disc in cats will begin with a complete medical history, physical examination, and an exchange of noted clinical signs from the cat owner. The diagnosis of intervertebral disc disease is based on the physical examination. In addition to these routine diagnostic tests, your veterinarian will likely proceed to conduct the following tests:
X-rays, or radiographs, are used to detect the location of spinal compression.
A myelogram is the processes of inserting a needle into the dural sac (a bag that surrounds the spinal cord) and administering a colored dye. The dye will highlight any abnormalities within the spinal column, visible to the doctor on an x-ray.
A CT Scan
A CT scan is used to clearly identify the located disc to be used in the treatment procedure.
Treatment of Slipped Disc in Cats
Your veterinarian will base your feline’s treatment plan based on the severity of the condition. A mild case of slipped disc in cats can be treated with medication, but if the feline cannot move properly or is paralyzed, surgery is likely required. Medical treatment options for a feline with a slipped disc may include a form of steroidal drug to reduce inflammation and muscle relaxants to depress intramuscular spasms. When medical treatment proves ineffective, or if the case has become severe, surgery may be necessary.
Recovery of Slipped Disc in Cats
Recovery time for a cat with a slipped disc depends on the severity of the condition and type of treatment the feline received. Medical treatments usually last approximately four to six weeks with the addition of activity restriction, but can be accomplished as an outpatient. If the feline has undergone surgery, he or she will spend a couple days in the hospital to recuperate after the surgery. When the cat is allowed to return home, orders for activity restriction and pain medications are often sent home with the patient. Most cat owners are given an estimate of six to eight weeks recovery time for a surgically corrected slipped disc in their cat.
Follow-up care with the veterinarian is extremely important as both medical and surgical treatments of a slipped disc can have aftermath complications. The best way for your cat to have a positive prognosis is by paying close attention to what your veterinarian is telling you and following at home care directions.
Slipped Disc Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Hi my cat had something fall on him and it compressed his disc in his lower back. We chose the medical option because surgery was so expensive. He walks and moves around but he walks differently. He can jump up to his normal spots but has a hard time jumping. He is eating, sleeping, drinking and playing a little less than he normally does. He seems to be doing better but I am just scared he is in a great deal of pain or is suffering. Is the only way for him to get better is surgery?
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My cat has a compressed disc. My vet did ex-rays and gave me steroids to give her but she's not moving and wont drink water. I'm concerned if I don't do anything she'll get worse. Should I get a second opinion about going ahead with surgery?
If you are concerned that more can be done to help Tayon, you can get a second opinion; you may also be able to get a copy of the x-ray from your current Veterinarian (to save you paying for another one), in the United States you can request your pet’s records from your Veterinarian’s Office. The decision to go ahead with the surgery would be down to the Veterinarian, a case may be treated medically initially to see if improvement is made, but if there is no progress then surgery would be the next step. Ask your current Veterinarian about the surgery, may be they just tried medical management first before recommending surgery. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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