Problems with Ruptured Discs in Cats

by Betty Lewis, Demand Media
    "My back is just fine, thanks for asking."

    "My back is just fine, thanks for asking."

    If Kitty's one of the rare cats with intervertebral disc disease, also known as IVDD, she's probably been quite uncomfortable. This condition comes with a variety of problems, so it's best to see the vet if you suspect something's wrong. Early treatment means a better chance of successful treatment.

    Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)

    Kitty's spinal cord is a bundle of nerve cables contained by a collection of bones known as vertebrae. Those nerve cables link her brain to local nerves that control her body's movement and functions. The intervertebral disc is a soft pad in the joint between each two vertebrae. When a disc bulges or bursts into the spinal cord space, it presses on the nerves running through her spinal cord. If this happens, Kitty has ruptured, or herniated, a disc; this causes pain, nerve damage and in extreme cases paralysis. Though it's a serious condition, it is not common in cats.

    Causes of Ruptured Discs

    There are two types of herniated discs. Type I usually occurs in the neck area from a hardening of the outer layer of the discs. As the outer layer hardens, it breaks down and an ordinary impact, such as a landing from a jump, can cause one or more discs to burst. A Type II herniation occurs when the discs break down over time; they expand and compress Kitty's spinal cord. Cats tend to experience Type I disc bulges in the neck and upper back. If a healthy disc herniates, it's due to trauma, such as getting hit by a car or falling from a high spot.

    Symptoms of a Ruptured Disc

    A herniated disc is painful, and since Kitty can't actually tell you she has back or neck pain, she conveys her discomfort in her posture. Her head will likely be low and her back rounded. She'll also probably move less than normal and if she does, she may cry when she moves. If her slipped disc is putting pressure on her spinal cord, she may have some paralysis, loss of coordination, incontinence, weakness and lameness. The symptoms of Type II herniated discs are less severe than those of Type I ruptures.

    Treating a Ruptured Disc

    If Kitty has a ruptured disc, her treatment will depend on how severely her spinal cord has been damaged. If she's suffered minor damage, the vet may prescribe medication, such as steroids and anti-inflammatories to manage pain and reduce swelling of her spinal cord. She'll probably be confined to a cage for several weeks to keep her from aggravating her injury. If Kitty's spinal cord damage is severe, she'll probably need surgery to open up space in her spinal cord.

    Complications from Ruptured Discs

    Sometimes surgery isn't effective or Kitty's IVDD may flare back up over time. Because the condition causes direct pressure on her spinal cord, she could have great discomfort from the condition. Her symptoms are common problems of IVDD: lack of bladder or bowel control, difficulty walking, pain, lack of coordination and weakness are a few of the problems she may face. If Kitty's carrying a bit of extra weight, it's a good idea for her to shed a few extra ounces—or pounds—to help reduce the stress on her spine.

    About the Author

    Betty Lewis is a writer and editor specializing in pet care, animals, careers and emergency management. She previously ran an animal shelter, where she also served as a kennel attendant and dog trainer. Lewis holds a bachelor's degree in journalism, an M.B.A. and a master's degree in professional studies.

    Photo Credits

    • Michael Blann/Lifesize/Getty Images