What is Spinal Cord Inflammation?
Spinal cord inflammation describes swelling in the spinal cord, vertebral discs, or tissues surrounding the vertebrae. The inflammation puts pressure on the spinal column and can result in paralysis and even death. Pets that demonstrate signs of spinal cord inflammation should be seen by a veterinarian immediately for diagnosis and treatment of the underlying cause of the inflammation. In many cases, damage to the spinal cord can be permanent. Proper, early medical treatment gives your cat the best chance of survival and reversing paralysis.
Symptoms of Spinal Cord Inflammation in Cats
Spinal cord inflammation causes issues with motor skills and muscle control, and can lead to paralysis. The symptoms may be more severe in either the front limbs or hind limbs depending on the location of the inflammation. Some causes of inflammation, such as bacterial infections, may also affect other parts of the body.
- Spinal pain
- Abnormal behavior or altered mental state
- Loss of motor control
- Sensitivity to touch
- Head tremors
- Neck pain or stiffness
- Muscle stiffness
- Leg rigidity
- Muscle spasms
- Inability to stand
- Partial paralysis
- Rigid or limp paralysis
- Total body paralysis
- Trouble breathing
- Respiratory paralysis
Causes of Spinal Cord Inflammation in Cats
Inflammation in the spinal cord can be brought on by numerous conditions. Your veterinarian will need to diagnose the cause in order to properly treat the cat. Causes include:
- Bacterial Diseases: certain bacterial infections, like Diskospondylitis, can cause spinal inflammation. This is usually caused by infection spreading from a nearby wound.
- Viral Diseases: various viral diseases, including the coronavirus or myelopathy associated with feline leukemia, result in spinal cord inflammation.
- Fungal Diseases: several fungal diseases can affect the spine, including Cryptococcus Neoformans, Blastomyces, and Histoplasma.
- Protozoal Diseases: Toxoplasmosis is the most common protozoa that can cause inflammation in the spinal cord and brain.
- Parasitic Diseases: Cuterebra fly larvae are a common type of parasite that can infest cats. They can travel through the bloodstream into cerebrospinal fluids and cause inflammation.
- Tumors: In the spinal cord, vertebrae, and related tissues, a tumor can cause symptoms related to inflammation as it grows.
- Nutritional Disorders: A diet too high in Vitamin A can cause Hypervitaminosis A, which causes spinal cord inflammation.
- Injury or Trauma: Any injury or trauma that occurs to the spinal cord, vertebrae, or is located nearby can produce inflammation and related symptoms.
- Poisoning or Toxic Disorders: Poison and various toxins can cause inflammation in the spine, including organophosphate intoxication and tetanus.
Diagnosis of Spinal Cord Inflammation in Cats
Observation of the clinical signs of spinal cord inflammation is usually all that is required to diagnose this condition. Determining what is causing the inflammation, however, may require several methods of diagnosis. Be prepared to discuss your pet’s medical history and any recent events that could have resulted in their condition. Your veterinarian may use X-rays or other imaging to get a clear view of the cat’s spine and surrounding areas. This imaging can help identify the location of the inflammation and may aid in determining or ruling out some of the potential causes. Blood and urine analysis may also be used to scan for bacteria, viruses, fungal infections, and parasites. It may be necessary to collect cerebrospinal fluid for analysis. This is a fairly routine procedure, but your pet may be put under anesthesia to complete it. Identifying the cause is essential to providing proper treatment and to prevent further damage to the spine and central nervous system.
Treatment of Spinal Cord Inflammation in Cats
The treatment of your pet’s spinal cord inflammation will vary depending on the cause of the inflammation. Properly treating the cause will require hospitalization in many cases. In some circumstances, no treatment may be available and the veterinary staff will only be able to treat symptoms. Some of the potential methods of treatment include:
- Antibiotics: For bacterial diseases, a course of antibiotic drugs will be used to kill off the bacteria causing the issue. This method will be coupled with proper wound care, if that is how the bacteria was introduced into your pet’s system.
- Surgery: In some circumstances, such as injury or tumors, surgical methods will be used to alleviate the pressure on the spine. As with any surgery, this carries some risk to your pet, but without treatment paralysis can become permanent or be fatal.
- Chemotherapy: For tumors, this method will help to reduce the size of the tumor and alleviate pressure on the spinal cord. This method of treatment may not be possible if your pet is not strong enough to withstand the side effects.
- Antiparasitics: This category of drug will be used if parasites are determined to be the cause. They are commonly used for treatment of parasites in cats and other companion animals and carry a relatively low risk.
- Antifungals: This category of drug will be used if a fungus is determined to be the cause of inflammation. They also carry a low risk of side effects. The success of the treatment depends largely on the type of fungal infection.
- Oxygen Therapy: Respiratory failure is the most serious risk associated with spinal cord inflammation and paralysis. Oxygen may be provided using tubes, masks, or oxygen cages to support your pet’s breathing and maintain proper blood oxygen levels. If respiratory paralysis has begun, a ventilator may be used to breathe for your cat.
Recovery of Spinal Cord Inflammation in Cats
The likelihood of a full recovery is slim in most cases. Often, even with treatment, lingering issues will be present. If your pet recovers enough to be released from the hospital, be sure to follow all of your veterinarian’s instructions. Finish the full course of medications and bring your pet back for any required follow-up visits. Your cat may be weak and need additional support during recovery. Ensure that their food, water, and litter box are nearby so they don’t have to try to walk too far. Monitor your pet closely and return to the veterinarian if symptoms return or worsen.