What is Spinal Cord Development Disorder?
One of the more commonly seen spinal cord disorders is spina bifida. This disorder occurs when the spinal cord is left exposed to a degree after birth. It may affect only one vertebrae, but often multiple vertebrae are deformed. This issue is seen primarily at the lumbar or lower portion of the spine. The mutation that causes spina bifida is very easy to pass on, and if both parents are carriers many of their kittens may not survive to birth. Severe cases can also precursor meningitis and chronic inflammation of the affected area. Both the spinal cord and the nervous system are damaged by this disorder.
During development, the vertebrae form around the spinal cord. The cord is attached to the brain and controls neurological functions. Any variation to this development is referred to as “spinal dysraphism”, which can lead to structural problems in the cat. These issues may get worse as time goes on, although this is not always the case.
Symptoms of Spinal Cord Development Disorder in Cats
In mild cases, symptoms may not be obvious. Severe cases can be noted at the time of birth, with some kittens requiring immediate euthanasia due to the poor quality of life that may follow. Symptoms are as follows:
- Lack of balance
- Gait abnormalities
- Limb weakness
- Partial or full paralysis
- Neck or head pain
- Short or no tail
Causes of Spinal Cord Development Disorder in Cats
Spinal cord disorders can come from genetic or external sources. These disorders form inside the womb. Tailless breeds such as the Manx breed are prone to spina bifida and other genetic mutation issues. Known causes include.
- Genetic predisposition
- Maternal stress
- Pregnant mother exposed to toxins
- Malnourished mother
- Trauma during development
- Tumor during development
Diagnosis of Spinal Cord Development Disorder in Cats
Your veterinarian will need to have the cat’s full medical history at the initial appointment. It may take a kitten up to four months to exhibit symptoms. The veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination of the cat, noting all visible and palpable spine issues. If the spinal cord is exposed at birth, the recommendation may be euthanasia.
If the condition is at a treatable state, full blood work will be ordered including a complete blood count and a biochemical profile to assess the cat’s general health. Urinalysis may also be taken, especially if any underlying infections are present. X-rays can be useful for seeing the extent of spinal cord abnormalities, infections, or compressions. A dye is sometimes used to make these images more clear. If surgery is to be performed, an MRI or CT scan will be needed to complete the diagnosis and plan proper treatment.
Treatment of Spinal Cord Development Disorder in Cats
Very mild instances of spinal cord disorder require no treatment. There is no cure or complete fix for spinal cord development issues, only improvements to the comfort of the cat. Numerous secondary issues are often present with spinal cord disorders. These also may need treatment.
In progressed cases, surgery may be chosen as a last alternative to save a cat with spinal cord disorders. The surgery may prevent the issue from getting worse or may help cover exposed parts of the spinal cord. Spinal surgery carries great risks and can be especially hard on young kittens. The cat will be put under general anesthesia for the procedure.
If an infection is present, or if the cat has undergone surgery, antibiotics will be prescribed to remove harmful bacteria. These prescriptions may last anywhere from one to four weeks.
Certain medications may be prescribed to help reduce cerebrospinal fluids to ease pressure on the brain and spinal cord and help reduce neurological symptoms.
If a cat is partially paralyzed but is still experiencing a decent quality of life, a mobility cart or wheelchair can be used to give the cat more freedom and independence.
Recovery of Spinal Cord Development Disorder in Cats
If your cat is recovering from surgery, follow all at-home care guidelines and do everything you can to reduce stressors to the cat. The cat may need to be kept in a crate to limit all activity during the healing process. The incision site should be monitored for the signs of any infection. Take the cat to your veterinarian immediately if swelling or bleeding occurs. Spinal surgery carries a guarded prognosis due to how invasive it is.
The only way to prevent spinal cord disorders from happening is to keep the mother cat away from any harmful elements and keep her properly nourished during pregnancy. In tailless breeds, it may be necessary to stop breeding for the mutations that cause shortened tails, as these mutations are the same ones that cause spina bifida.