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What is Spinal Birth Defect ?

There are three different types of deformation that can happen to the spine. The first is scoliosis, an issue in which the spine is curved to the side when looking down at the cat. The second is kyphosis, which manifests as a hunch or lump in the cat’s spine. Lordosis is the final variation, in which the spine curves down in a “u” shape. Multiple deformities may be present at once. 

Sometimes the vertebrae are misshaped and wedge-like, which can lead to neurological problems because of spinal cord pressure. Block vertebrae (or fused vertebrae) can also occur, limiting the cat’s flexibility. Spinal defects are commonly paired with thoracic wall and sternum deformities.

The spine of a cat is made up of 30 vertebrae with discs of cartilage in between each bone section to absorb impact. Cats also have a floating collarbone, which helps them to be extremely flexible. When problems happen during fetal development, deformities of the spine and its connected bones may occur. These defects are relatively common in cats, and can be noticed in affected young kittens.

Spinal Birth Defect Average Cost

From 278 quotes ranging from $200 - $5,000

Average Cost

$1,200

Symptoms of Spinal Birth Defect in Cats

Because most cases of spinal defect are not severe, many cats with mild spine defects experience no pain and little discomfort. Serious symptoms can arise in extreme instances of birth defects. Symptoms to watch for include:

  • Weakness
  • Leaning or tilting to one side
  • Difficulty grooming
  • Stiffness
  • Lameness
  • Paralysis
  • Varying neurological issues
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Causes of Spinal Birth Defect in Cats

Birth defects form while the fetus is developing in its mother's womb. Any cat with spinal defects should be sterilized to ensure that said defects are not passed on. Queens that have multiple kittens with spinal defects should also be spayed. Potential causes include:

  • Genetic mutation
  • Malnourished mother
  • Chemical carcinogen exposure while pregnant
  • Inbreeding
  • Genetic predisposition (as seen in the Burmese breed of cats)
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Diagnosis of Spinal Birth Defect in Cats

Often, you will notice spinal defects in a cat’s first few weeks of life. Take your cat to a veterinarian immediately if symptoms are severe. Once at a veterinary clinic, the vet will perform a complete physical examination of the cat. Just feeling the spine can help determine what defects are present. If the case is extreme, you may be referred to a veterinary orthopedic specialist for further testing. 

X-rays will need to be taken from above and from each side to identify the exact angle of the curve in the spine. An X-ray can also show any associated sternum defects. If necessary, surgery will be planned based on radiograph images. The cat will need to undergo a pre-anesthetic health check to make sure it is fit for surgery. A blood-gas analysis may be used to see how much oxygen and carbon dioxide are in the blood if associated cardiac issues are present.

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Treatment of Spinal Birth Defect in Cats

Many cats learn to adapt to their spinal deformities. Surgery should only be chosen as a last resort attempt to offer a severely deformed cat some quality of life. Surgery of the spine is always risky, however, risk is increased when the recipient is a kitten. 

Physical Therapy 

Over time, physical therapy can help a cat learn how to restore movement to affected body parts. Stretches and extension exercises can help with this. The cat may also need to go through balance training to learn how to compensate for spinal defects. Hydrotherapy has also been proven to help cats gain more mobility when a spinal deformity exists. 

Surgery

If deemed absolutely necessary, a surgery to correct the alignment of the spine may be performed. During surgery, the chest cavity may be expanded and sternum deformities may be corrected. This is usually done by implanting a splint externally and attaching the sternum to it using sutures. The splint will remain attached for 10-21 days. The best time to correct spinal defects is when a kitten is approximately two weeks old. Older cats can also undergo corrective surgery, however, a sternectomy (removal or partial removal of the sternum) may be the only surgical option at that time. 

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Recovery of Spinal Birth Defect in Cats

If the cat has undergone surgery, you will need to monitor it closely for any suture abscesses, dermatitis or abrasions that may develop. The splint will need to be adjusted as the kitten grows. Multiple veterinary check ups will be needed during recovery. Spinal surgery carries many complications and is not always survived. 

If a cat has only a mild defect, having a few X-rays taken each year can help monitor the progression of spine curving. Many cats live long and normal lives with spinal deformities. Even permanently disabled cats tend to function well and learn how to accommodate their limitations. Extreme cases may require euthanasia if surgery is not an option and the cat's quality of life is significantly damaged. 

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Spinal Birth Defect Average Cost

From 278 quotes ranging from $200 - $5,000

Average Cost

$1,200

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Spinal Birth Defect Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Ceedee

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Tuxedo house cat

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9 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Joint Stiffness
Hip Stiffness
Spine Has Hump
Isn'T Very Active

What if any treatments exist for kyphosis? One of my cats has it ( undiagnosed but you have to be literally blind not to see it) Could the hip stiffness and difficulty jumping more than a few feet that is currently being attributed to possible arthritis, instead come from the convex spinal formation? I've only had her for a handful of years and frankly I don't remember much about her behavior past 8 months ago. So I don't know and or remember how long she's had it.

Aug. 9, 2018

Ceedee's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Some cats may be severely affected by kyphosis whilst others go about their daily business; kyphosis may lead to other issues with the hind legs causing weakness and incoordination. There is no treatment for kyphosis and generally we give supportive care where needed; however you should visit your Veterinarian for an examination to determine whether the issues with mobility are related to the kyphosis or another cause and if there are any management options available. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 10, 2018

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Freya

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Bengal

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9 Months

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Arched Back
Drop Along The Spine

My cats a half Bengal, and I’ve noticed quiet a dip along the vertebrae, 1/3 of the way, the vertebrae is straight but as you trace your fingers along her spine there’s a sudden drop, she usually arches her back as well. There’s no pain and discomfort and she is still quite young.

Jan. 28, 2018

Freya's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Without examining Freya’s spine I cannot say whether this is something to be concerned about or not, if it is something which doesn’t feel anatomical then you should have your Veterinarian perform an x-ray of the spine to determine if there is a deformity or not. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Jan. 29, 2018

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New Kitty

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domestic short hair

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2 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Large Hump On Spine

I work for a rescue and found about 30 kittens in a barn 2 summers ago one was left outside while the others were inside the barn the one left outside wasn’t moving much but looked somewhat healthy he remained with me because I noticed his breathing was abnormal vet thought mild case of flat chest kitten syndrome, at about 3 months old his breathing was much better but he had a growth spurt and his spine seemed to have a dip in it and his front legs a much shorter then hind legs. He never got very big only weighs 5 lbs. can not run or jump we have sets of stairs all around for him to get up on furniture also his jaw doesn’t seem to open much he eats and drinks but when he yawns his mouth opens not even half as much as it should

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Scooterdoodle

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Siamese

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8 Weeks

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

None
He Has A Hunchback But Is Happy

Scooterdoodle was given to me by a breeder because of his Kyphosis and my backround in animal and human medicine which she knows I will be better able to support his medical adventures and never abandon him if Scooterdoodle's life becomes difficult. I firmly believe that us caregivers who take care of animals and humans who have taxing lives sometimes, are so blessed and enriched by sharing their lives and trials. We learn so much and are loved so greatly beyond all other love outside of God's great love for us all.

Spinal Birth Defect Average Cost

From 278 quotes ranging from $200 - $5,000

Average Cost

$1,200

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