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Health & Wellness

How to detect and treat scoliosis in cats

Most cats who have scoliosis are born with the condition. Here’s how pet parents can ensure their pet has the best quality of life.

While incredibly rare, cats can suffer from scoliosis. Usually, this condition is congenital, meaning a cat is born with it, so if your pet has scoliosis, you most likely already know about it. However, in some cases, it can also be caused by trauma. Here’s what to know if you think your cat has scoliosis to ensure they are comfortable and well cared for.  

What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis is an abnormal position or curving of the spine. Extreme cases of trauma can cause scoliosis, but it’s most likely a condition your pet would’ve been born with.

“A mother’s exposure to toxins, poor nutrition or even stress during gestation can cause her babies to be born with scoliosis,” Jessica M. Sewell, BAS, CVT, LVT RVT, regional technician and assistant director of VCA Animal Hospitals, says. “In fact, it’s inherited as a dominant trait in Manx cats.”  

Underlying causes for the unusual curvature include:

  • Irregular shaped vertebrae
  • Ligament abnormalities, leading to bending and instability
  • Insufficient muscle support around the vertebrae

When the spine curves in a cat with scoliosis, spinal cord compression can occur. Just like in intervertebral disk disease, when the spinal cord is compressed, pain and neurologic signs can occur. Cats with scoliosis may have back pain, particularly around the curve of the spine, and they may also have neurologic deficits in their hind or front legs (or both).

“In some types of scoliosis, a cat may exhibit no clinical signs and lead a normal life,” Sewell says. “Cats with other types may show a range of symptoms, such as weakness in the rear limbs or all over, the favoring of one side, stiffness, paralysis, hopping during walking or, in more severe cases, even death.”  

RELATED: How to detect and treat scoliosis in dogs

How to detect scoliosis in cats

Luckily, scoliosis is rare, and it often doesn’t cause any trouble when it’s present. If you think your pet has a spine that’s curvier than normal, but doesn’t have associated pain, you should talk to your vet at your pet’s next appointment. But if you begin to notice back pain or changes in how they walk, you should contact your vet immediately.  

There are many types of scoliosis in cats. Diagnosis is easily made by taking an X-ray of your cat. The atypical curvature of the spine can be seen right away. 

Diagnosing neurologic involvement is a bit trickier, however, and will usually require more advanced tests, such as injecting contrast material into the spinal column or doing a magnetic resonance imaging test (MRI).

Treating scoliosis in cats

Treatment for cats with scoliosis will depend on how severe the symptoms are. Often, no treatment is needed. Or, if your pet has mild scoliosis, they can be treated with cage rest on days when they’re sore. 

“In moderate to severe cases, urinary or fecal incontinence can be an issue,” Sewell says. “So proper nutrition is an important part of managing this. A veterinarian may recommend regular radiographs as a means of managing scoliosis in a cat.”

As for severe cases, your cat may need surgery or physical therapy. One of the more common types of physical therapy is water therapy — and even the use of an underwater treadmill. 

“For spinal surgeries — if intervention is prolonged, it’s possible the patient will not respond to surgery,” Sewell says. “Plus, if other disease processes are present, it can affect the patient’s ability to recover from, or even survive, the surgery.”  

To make sure your pet is safe and comfortable after a surgery, you should work with your vet to create a strict and effective recovery plan. For cats with scoliosis, pet parents should consult with a veterinary specialist in orthopedic surgery to make sure your furry friend gets the best possible care.

The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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