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What are Spinal Cord Disorders?

The most common disease that brings about spinal cord problems in cats is feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). It is a surface related disease that affects segments of the spinal cord. FIP is often seen in young cats under the age of two. Lymphosarcoma is another common disorder of the spinal cord. It is a rapidly growing cancer that reduces spinal cord circulation. Intervertebral disc disease is the third most commonly occurring spinal cord disorder in cats. It is degenerative and it mainly affects the lumbar (lower portion) of the spine. Veterinary attention is necessary for any spinal cord disorder, as early detection can help save the life of an affected cat.

The spinal cord is a fragile group of nerves that extend from the brain and control nerve responses throughout the body. This cord is protected by vertebrae and discs that make up the spine. Any disease or issue that damages or affects the spinal cord can have a significant impact on bodily function. Spinal cord disorders can cause a number of disabilities in a cat. Severe trauma, such as being hit by a car, can damage the spinal cord. This may come with a host of other life-threatening injuries and blood loss, which may need to be treated first.

Spinal Cord Disorders Average Cost

From 368 quotes ranging from $500 - $6,000

Average Cost

$2,000

Symptoms of Spinal Cord Disorders in Cats

Progressed cases of spinal cord disorders produce very severe symptoms. If symptoms are mild, overall chance of recovery is better. Because spinal cord disorders stem from many different types of issues and injuries, symptoms from the underlying cause may also manifest. Symptoms of spinal cord damage include:

  • Stiffness
  • Weakness
  • Ataxia (uncontrolled body movements)
  • Partial or full paralysis
  • Lesions
  • Granuloma tissue formations
  • Head tremors
  • Muscle spasms
  • Behavioral changes
  • Locking jaw
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Eye problems
  • Lesions
  • Severe pain
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Causes of Spinal Cord Disorders in Cats

Many different medical conditions can cause damage to the spinal cord. Issues can be present from birth or may come from an external source. Possible contributors to spinal cord disorders are listed below.

  • Viral infection
  • Bacterial infection
  • Fungal infection
  • Parasitic infestation
  • Inflammation
  • Cancer or cancerous tumors
  • Injury from trauma
  • Birth defect
  • Hereditary disorders
  • Degenerative diseases
  • Nutritional issues
  • Vascular disease
  • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
  • Tetanus
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Diagnosis of Spinal Cord Disorders in Cats

Upon arriving at a veterinary clinic or animal hospital, you will need to provide your cat’s full medical history to the veterinarian. A physical examination will be completed to assess spinal problems and identify any other serious injuries needing attention. You will be asked about any possibility of your cat being exposed to chemicals. If trauma has taken place, you will need to relay all details about the event. The goal is to identify the underlying issue that is causing the spinal cord problems and to treat it if possible. 

Blood work including a complete blood count and a biochemical profile can help to determine if cancer is present in the cat. Cerebrospinal fluid testing can help diagnose many spinal cord diseases. Urinalysis may be helpful for identifying infections. X-rays and ultrasounds will be required if tumors, fractures, or lesions are suspected in the cat. If any level of paralysis is seen, tests will be performed to monitor deep pain responses. These responses include head turning, attempted biting, or crying when certain parts of the body are prodded. 

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Treatment of Spinal Cord Disorders in Cats

Appropriate treatment will vary greatly depending on the underlying cause of spinal cord problems. Mild cases have the potential to be cured, while severe disorders may only be treated with supportive nursing care to the cat.

Antibiotics 

If bacterial infections are present in the cat, or of surgery has been performed, antibiotics will be prescribed to remove all harmful bacteria in the body. Prescriptions generally last from one to four weeks.

Antifungal Medication

 

If fungal infection has been identified in the cat, antifungal medication can help to rid the body of the attacking fungi.

Antitoxins If tetanus is found to be the underlying cause of spinal cord issues, antitoxins can be administered in the early stages to effectively treat the disease.

Chemotherapy 

A combination of immunosuppressive medications may be administered for an extended period of time to kill cancer cells in the body. This is often paired with the surgical removal of larger cancerous masses.

Diet Change 

If excessive amounts of vitamin A from consuming too much liver have caused a spinal cord disorder, your vet may create a specialized diet to help with the issue. These diets can prevent further spinal cord damage but cannot reverse damage that has already occurred.

Medication 

A cat suffering from fractured vertebrae can derive benefit from certain drug therapy if it is administered quickly.

Surgical Realignment

 

Surgery may be necessary to properly realign the spine if it has been fractured. General anesthesia is required for this high risk surgery. 

Surgical Removal

 

If cancer is present, surgery may be needed to remove tumors causing spinal cord damage. If the tumors are located inside of the cord, it is considered inoperable, however, if the tumors are located on the outside, prognosis improves. If the tumor is in an optimal location, full excision is possible. 

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Recovery of Spinal Cord Disorders in Cats

If the cat has undergone spinal surgery, it will need to be confined to a crate or cage for four to six weeks. Remove all possible inducers of stress to the cat. Monitor the incision site closely for signs of infection. If the spinal cord disorder produces incontinence in the cat, it is generally not reversible. Moving the litter box beside your cat’s bed may help with the issue. 

If all feeling below the affected portion of the spinal cord has been lost, significant damage has happened to the nerves and the outlook is not positive. If respiratory paralysis occurs, the cat will die. In most severe cases of spinal cord disorder, overall prognosis is poor. If the cat is diagnosed with feline infectious peritonitis, euthanasia may be required, as there is no cure. Very mild spinal cord issues have the potential to be cured or, at the very least, prove to be manageable throughout the cat’s life.

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Spinal Cord Disorders Average Cost

From 368 quotes ranging from $500 - $6,000

Average Cost

$2,000

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Spinal Cord Disorders Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Cassie

dog-breed-icon

tabby

dog-age-icon

19 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Back Leg Weakness

My 19 year old cat is having weakness in her back legs, she’s also had some weight and hearing loss, she does cry in pain but it does seem to be getting worse, I hate to put her thru the stress of going to the vet

July 6, 2018

Cassie's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

Cassie may need to go through the stress of seeing a veterinarian to have an exam, as I can't see her or recommend anything, and she may need pain medication if she is actually crying out. Most OTC medications are toxic to cats, and she may need a prescription to keep her comfortable . I'm sure it will be worth the trip to see a veterinarian.

July 6, 2018

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Patrice

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european

dog-age-icon

7 Years

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Critical severity

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

Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Pain

Hello, i have a 7years old caf that from 1 day to another starting showing disconfort when walking on one of the back legs. Within 1-2 weeks he was less and less active, staying only in 1 spot sleeping. We went to the doctor and they identified he has issues with his kidney (stones and sand)... they did the necessary to eliminate the cumulated urine. He also had a radiology that showed he has column beaks. We did an RMN that didnt showed any issues. He helds his paws in a wierd position he is unable to walk and is very painfull for him to stand when he needs to pee or poo.. he is in a lot of pain when we put him to stand up. When he is prescribed anti-inflamators he is able to move and walk without he cant. He took for 3 weeks cortisol. We do not know what else to do and what is his affliction. The Vet says it might be related to spinal nerves. Can you give us an advice or hint please on what else to try?! Thank you!!!

May 22, 2018

Patrice's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

I'm not able to comment on what might be going on with Patrice from your description and without more information, but if he responded to anti-inflammatory therapy and does better while on medications, that may be one option for him, long term. That is something that you can talk with your veterinarian about, to find out how to make him more comfortable long term.

May 22, 2018

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Babers

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short hair

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5 Weeks

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Fair severity

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

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Walking Tenderly
Walk Unevenly
Shifts Weight On Between Back Legs

Cold my kitten have something wrong with her spine? She’s walking odd on back legs. She’s always has one leg out. Shifts weight (when sitting) between her two back legs.

April 26, 2018

Babers' Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

From your description, it is possible that Babers has a problem with her spine, hips, or bone development. It would be best to have her examined by a veterinarian, as they can examine her, assess her growth and conformation, and determine what might be going on and if any treatment is needed. I hope that all goes well for her.

April 26, 2018

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Willow

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Short haired domestic

dog-age-icon

9 Years

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Serious severity

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1 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Difficulty Voiding Bladder
Difficulty Voiding Colon
Behaivor Changes

A couple of weeks ago, my cat viciously attacked me, which was abnormal behavior for her. We took her to the vet, and found that her bladder was very full. They did urine test and blood tests on her, and everything came back clean. After not using the litter box (urine or bowel movement) for another day or so, we brought her back in. They gave her two enemas, and a subcutaneous injection after determining she had constipation. She had one largeish bowel movement, but didn't use her litterbox for urine. Over the weekend, same thing, no litter box usage at all. (We haven't found any signs of her going outside the litter box either). We took her back to the vet again, and her bladder and bowels were again full. They expressed her bladder and got about half of it out. They also did a neurological exam, and came back that the perineal nerves didn't reflex at all, even with a very hard pinch. All tests have come back negative. She had an extensive blood panel, x-rays and urinalysis done. I've wiped out most of my account in trying to understand what's wrong with her, and now they'd like us to take her to a neurologist. I don't think I can afford anymore work on her. The vet had a consult with another vet within the hospital, and neither had seen this in a cat before. Current medicines: quarter of a pill of prozac, miralax daily, and for the next three days an NSAID in hopes that inflammation is the issue. So my questions are: 1. What are some common problems associated with a missing perineal reflex? I'm researching online, but I don't come back with a lot of answers. 2. How long can a cat go without defecating? 3. If left un-treated, how long can I expect my cat (approximately of course) to survive? Thank you.

April 10, 2018

Willow's Owner


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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

If the perineal reflex is not there on exam, there can be problems with the nerves supplying the bladder and colon. Cats can not live very long without defecating, similar to people. I don't have a really good way to gauge how long Willow may live in her condition without being able to see her, and this would be an appropriate question for your veterinarian. If she is unable to urinate or defecate, and further testing or care is not an option, there will probably be a point where humane euthanasia is the best option for her, as sad as that is for you. It would be best to discuss this with your veterinarian, as they have seen her and know more about her situation. I am sorry that this is happening to her.

April 10, 2018

Thank you for responding. I had asked my Vet on what to expect for longevity, and instead of providing an answer she was trying to give us hope that it would somehow resolve itself. She hasn't been able to defecate now for almost a week. We're probably going to see if they'll give her another enema in the next day or so, but it's been very frustrating trying to find answers. Thank you again for your time. I appreciate your candor.

April 10, 2018

Willow's Owner

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Ziggy

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American Shorthair

dog-age-icon

14 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

I have an older cat (13+ now) who has had problems with his his back for 4+yrs. At 1st the vets suggested low doses of Tylenol-likes (50mg/day) since we thought pain relief was all we could do. After adopting 2 kittens who were thrust upon us ("orphans of the storm"} he recovered quite a bit. But now it is getting bad again. His back dips while walking frequently now, and he is more unsure of jumps. I can feel a swelling in the vertebrae just ahead of the hind legs - by my inexperienced count it appears to be 6th ahead of the tail. Is there any way to treat this short of a vet? which I simply cannot afford (I no longer have teeth because I cannot afford dentistry, I do not treat my cats worse than me before you judge)

March 3, 2018

Ziggy's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

Thank you for your email. Without examining Ziggy, unfortunately I can't diagnose him or recommend any therapy, but Tylenol is quite toxic to cats and can easily kill a healthy cat. It would be a good idea to have him examined by a veterinarian, and many clinics do offer a 'free first exam' that would allow you to have him seen, and evaluated, and see how much long term prescription pain medication may cost if that is what he needs. Safe pain medication for cats is typically quite affordable. I hope that all goes well for him.

March 3, 2018

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Boo

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Domestic shorthair

dog-age-icon

9 Years

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Moderate severity

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

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Wobbly Rear Gait
Muscle Spasms

Our cat began presenting with ataxia suddenly back in October. He is 9 years old and has had a history with IBD in the past year. He was extremely wobbly and couldn’t support himself on his back legs consistently - falling over easily. He also has muscle spasms in his back legs and tail. The original diagnosis upon being taken to the ER was invertebral disc disease but a follow up was scheduled with a neurologist. Th neurologist was skeptical of that diagnosis and suggested it could be polymiositis or toxoplasmosis. We ran bloodwork and his levels came back normal without an elevated CK. Additionally we ran tigers to look for toxoplasmosis and that came back borderline. Since then he has been on antibiotics and steroids. There have been times where he has shown significant improvement although he has never gotten back to 100%. The neurologist is now suggesting an MRI, a spinal tap and an EMG. I hate to put my poor boy through more invasive tests but it may be our only choice at this point. Does anyone have any similar experiences? Is there an option we are missing here in testing that could b causing these symptoms?

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Philly

dog-breed-icon

Siamese

dog-age-icon

5 Months

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

Moderate severity

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

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Falling Over

Philly is a 5 month old male SIAMESE kitten. All of a sudden, his back legs started wobbling while he walked. A few days went by and they give out and he falls to either side. My husband and I took him to the vet and they prescribed him antibiotics and ear drops for an inner ear infection. His behavior did not change. I contacted the vet a week later and asked what to do. They said, recovery/change in walk may take several weeks. We are two weeks out from seeing a vet and still no change. He is still eating, drinking and using the litter box. His spirits are HAPPY. Do you have any advice?

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Nala

dog-breed-icon

Bengal

dog-age-icon

4 Years

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

Moderate severity

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

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Pain
Paralysis
Left Leg Won’T Move

4 1/2 years old and can’t use her back left leg. We came home and she was pulling herself by her front two legs. After going to an emergency visit and getting X-rays we really got no answers. She can use one leg some but her other leg not much. Since starting the steroids she can move her tail very little. She wasn’t eating for the first two days and now she is eating and going the bathroom fine but confined to our bathroom. If anyone has experienced this please help. I think she is too young to put down but I cannot have her suffering. We just lost another animal a couple months ago, after many tests came back from our doctors negative the only thing we can think is spinal cord trauma... will she walk again :(

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Mr Big

dog-breed-icon

Persian chinchilla

dog-age-icon

8 Years

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

Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Drag Back Legs

My cat started to walk with a limp, 1 week ago. We took him to the vet who did a physical examination and said nothing appears broken. He was given anti inflammatories to take. The following day he seemed to be worse so we took him back and they did xrays. They saw what looked like a bone chip on his left knee and said to continue with anti inflammatory and if no improvement see a specialist. He then got even worse on day 3 and was dragging his back legs so we took him to the specialist who did an MRI. The seem to think it is a tumor on his spinal cord and not his spine bones. Can this be treated?

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Pretty girl

dog-breed-icon

Calico

dog-age-icon

One Year

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

Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Broken Tail

Me and my fiance adopted my son's one year old female white Calico pretty girl she had half of her tail gone and very underweight from other cats bullying and eating all the food but she's up to weight now...I have notice a slight problem with her eye sight and bowel movements I'm guessing from her tail injury. We are just glad to have her and take care of her cause she had it rough. We love her and she is a family member.

Spinal Cord Disorders Average Cost

From 368 quotes ranging from $500 - $6,000

Average Cost

$2,000

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