Odds are, if your feline has a problem with his sternum, he's either a young kitten or a senior citizen. With babies, chest bone deformities are fairly obvious early on, while older cats often develop bone spurs near the sternum.
The sternum is your cat's chest or breast bone. It's a flat, long bone situated in the middle of the thorax, the area between his neck and abdomen. The sternum connects to your cat's ribs via costal cartilages. Your kitty's heart and lungs lie beneath the sternum. Normally, you can easily see and feel your cat's breast bone.
Pectus excavatum, a sternum deformity, compresses the lungs and heart. While a vet must make a formal diagnosis with X-rays, its presence is likely if your kitten is flat-chested. Affected kittens experience breathing difficulties, don't gain weight properly, cough frequently and don't run around excitedly the way normal kittens do. Along with a chest X-ray or ultrasound, your vet will take blood samples and perform a urinalysis. Because of the sternum deformity, the hearts of some kittens might not be in their proper place. Your vet sees where your kitten's heart and lungs are located and the extent of the deformity on an ultrasound. If your kitten isn't seriously affected, your vet might teach you exercises for compressing your pet's chest. Eventually, this might cause his sternum and cartilages to become more convex. Your vet might also put your cat in a cast to reform the sternum. Severe cases require surgical correction, which consists of removing the affected area of the sternum and replacing it with a graft. The earlier your cat is treated, the better his overall prognosis.
Formally known as spondylosis deformans, bone spurs form along the spine, especially in the chest vertebrae. These bone growths generally occur in older felines. You can't see the spurs, but you might feel these odd growths when holding or petting your cat. If your cat suffered a trauma, such as getting hit by a car and breaking bones, his body might produce bone spurs after recovery. Symptoms include stiffness or reluctance to move, but many cats don't display any signs. If you suspect bone spurs, your vet will take an X-ray of your cat's chest and abdomen or use magnetic resonance imaging. If your cat is in severe pain, surgery to remove the spur might be necessary. If your cat's pain is relatively mild, your vet might prescribe medication to ease his discomfort.
As your cat ages, he's more likely to be affected with osteoarthritis, or inflammation of the joints. According to the American Animal Hospital Association, the most common arthritis seen in cats is that of the vertebrae and sternum. You'll notice that your cat isn't as active as he used to be, perhaps no longer jumping up on favorite perches or avoiding stairs. Your vet can recommend supplements to ease arthritis symptoms or prescribe medication for pain relief.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.