What is Vertebral Disc Inflammation?
Although IVDD is rarely seen in felines, it is a serious condition that must be addressed by a veterinarian.
A hunched posture, muscle spasms or inactive behavior could be an indication of vertebral disc inflammation, a painful condition for cats. Though various conditions can lead to vertebral disc inflammation, the most common cause is intervertebral disk disease (IVDD), a progressive disease of the spinal column that can result in spinal nerve and cord compressions. A cat with IVDD has either had the cushioning, fibrocartilaginous tissue of the intervertebral disc enlarge or herniate, which in turn causes the spinal column compressions. When a cat jumps on and off of furniture, or is handled roughly, the shock-absorbing discs of tissue found between the bones of the spine could be compromised.
Symptoms of Vertebral Disc Inflammation in Cats
Vertebral Disc Inflammation in cats is typically first noted by pet owners during a petting session, as the most common sign associated with this disease is localized neck or back pain. The cat may vocalize, bite, or scratch owners as pressure is placed on the inflamed disc. The spinal column houses the body’s nerves which controls movement of the entire body, therefore, these additional symptoms may be present in a cat with IVDD:
- Holding the head low to the ground
- Unwillingness to jump
- Reluctant to stand or sit down
- Odd or unsteady gait
- Overall body stiffness and/or weakness
- Toe, foot or leg dragging in one/all limbs.
- Hunched or arched posture
- Abdominal tenderness
- Crying out when touched
- Inappropriate urination or defecation
- Localized paralysis
- Sudden collapse
There are two types of Vertebral Disc Inflammation that cats can develop:
- Type I: Type I IVDD is characterized by a herniated or slipped disc with a sudden development of symptoms. Type I disc disease can occur in felines of any age or breed, but it is commonly seen in dwarfed breed types.
- Type II: Type II IVDD is characterized by a degenerative protrusion of the intervertebral disc that occurs as the feline grows older. Type II IVDD is commonly seen in cats between the ages of eight to 10 years.
Causes of Vertebral Disc Inflammation in Cats
Vertebral disc inflammation can be caused by a variety of reasons including; a result of previous injury, a genetic mutation, old age, obesity, illness and unknown reasons.
Type I IVDD
In Type I IVDD, the outer layer of the intervertebral disc calcifies and hardens, damaging the supportive disc. The calcification around the intervertebral disc turns the collagenous, shock absorbing disk into a fragile tissue between vertebrae that can be easily damaged upon impact (when a cat jumps and lands). The calcification of an intervertebral disc can be caused by:
- Genetic Mutation: Mutations in a cat’s DNA caused by breeding that have caused a curvature in the spine. This spine curvature is often noted in the tail and identified as Bobtail, Corkscrew (piggy), Kinked tails, Ringtail or Manx.
- Hyperparathyroidism: Hyperparathyroidism is characterized as an abnormally high concentrations of the hormone parathyroid released into the blood. The excessive amount of the hormone results in a calcium deficiency, which in turn causes the bones to weaken.
- Old age
- Unknown reasons
Type II IVDD
In Type II IVDD, the intervertebral discs deteriorate over time, hardening and breaking down as the cat reaches causing the spine to compress.
Diagnosis of Vertebral Disc Inflammation in Cats
If you notice any of the above symptoms, especially localized pain or dragging of the limbs, your cat is likely suffering from IVDD. Diagnosis of IVDD in cats will begin with a physical examination performed by a veterinarian. He or she may perform a sensory function test to locate neurological signs of lost motor control. A sensory test is a simple examination, as the veterinarian will simply pinch the toes and tail of your cat to encourage a pain response.
During this physical examination, the veterinarian will need to know your feline’s medical history and any unusual behavior you have noticed. Helpful information you can provide includes:
- The symptoms you have noticed at home
- When you first noticed a change in your cat’s behavior or symptoms, and for how long.
- Your feline’s normal activity levels
- Past history of injury if any
- Current medications and change in medication
Knowing this information can help the veterinarian establish the problem and determine the best next step in the diagnosis. To confirm the diagnosis of IVDD, the veterinarian may perform an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), CT (computed tomography), myelography and/or x-rays.
Treatment of Vertebral Disc Inflammation in Cats
Cats which minimal pain and moderate signs can often recover within a few weeks with conservative care. Ask your veterinarian about anti-inflammatory and steroidal drugs that can discourage intervertebral swelling. Treating IVDD with conservative care has proven to be very effective if the pet owner can provide cage rest for the feline.
In cats with severe neurological symptoms, such as limb dragging or incontinence, emergency surgery must be performed to alleviate spinal cord pressure. A procedure called a laminectomy is often performed, which is a procedure involving removal of the lamina to relieve the compressed pressure.
Recovery of Vertebral Disc Inflammation in Cats
Cats receiving conservative care can recover within a few weeks, however about 30% of these felines will have their symptoms recur and managing the condition may be a lifelong process. Cats which have received emergency surgery have a strong positive outlook of a full recovery if the surgery was performed within 48 hours of pain perception loss. If the surgery is delayed longer than this period of time, the chances of permanent damage increases.
A large majority of cats that have been diagnosed with IVDD also suffer from muscle spasms. Physical therapy and prescribed medical treatment can alleviate these spams, so talking with your pet doctor as soon as symptoms arise will help your cat’s condition.
Proper nursing care at home and in the veterinary office is the key to improving quality of life for those cats diagnosed with IVDD. Catching signs and symptoms early can increase the chances of your feline’s complete recovery, so do not hesitate to contact a veterinarian as soon as you notice chances in your cat.
Vertebral Disc Inflammation Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My vet and I are perplexed. My 10-year-old female has exhibited many of the symptoms described above for five weeks. Blood work is great except for elevated H Creatine (724 on Jan 5 and 855 on Jan 25). Could these be at all related?
Thank you. I'm requesting a myelography tomorrow. Biscuit has seen the vet over 5 times in the last 5 weeks, so she is well examined. My vet never brought up IVDD as a possible diagnosis. I imagine vets roll their eyes when human clients do this, but I'm also taking a couple articles in as well. (She has been on Metacam for ~3 weeks - monitoring kidney function - all good. But it hasn't diminished her pain much.)
Again, thank you!
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Should I keep my 2 year old cat cratted to keep himself from moving around and straining himself/hurting himself more? He had lost 2 lbs and something is wrong with his lower back or spine for almost a month now. Today for the 1st time he wasn't able to get himself into the litter box to go to the bathroom, I had to pick him up and put him in it. He still eats but not as much, he doesn't play anymore because he is in pain.
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