Inflammation of the sciatic nerve -- a condition called sciatica -- is a painful and potentially serious medical condition for cats. Without prompt medical attention, the condition may cause permanent damage. Sciatica is often caused by trauma, but medical procedures and tumors may also cause the troubling ailment.
Getting on Their Nerves
In vertebrates, the sciatic nerve stretches from an animal’s lower back through the hip area and into the lower leg. The sciatic nerve contains both motor and sensory neurons, making it responsible for both detecting stimuli and coordinating movement. Inflammation or injury to the nerve can cause discomfort, pain and resistance to using the affected limb.
Causes for Concern
Traumatic incidents such as dog attacks and collisions with cars frequently damage the sciatic nerve. Even if the initial injury does not cause sciatica, healing bones may grow in such a way as to place pressure on the nerve. In other cases, medical procedures lead to the disorder. The nerve may acquire damage during hip, back or leg surgery. Less invasive medical procedures can also cause sciatica, such as an errant injection in the caudal thigh muscles that nicks the nerve. Additionally, tumors that grow on or near the nerve can put pressure on it, causing inflammation or pain.
Symptoms of Sciatica
If your cat favors one leg, or exhibits signs of leg or hip pain, consult your veterinarian immediately. Although it is possible that your feline only has a splinter, cut or bruise that is causing her to display such symptoms, it is important to ensure that the cause is not something more serious. Partial limb paralysis is one of the most telling symptoms, and often indicates some type of nerve damage, whether it is sciatica or something else.
Sciatica Treatments and Rehabilitation
See your veterinarian if you suspect that your cat has sciatica. Minor cases may resolve on their own, given proper rest. Extreme trauma may tear the sciatic nerve completely, or pull it from the spinal cord. Complete tears result in paralysis of the affected limb. Veterinary surgeons may treat sciatica by clearing the scar tissue surrounding the nerve. After any surgical treatment, your veterinarian will likely prescribe a physical rehabilitation regimen, to avoid muscle atrophy. Some veterinarians treat traumatic nerve injuries with anti-inflammatory drugs, but little evidence exists to support such treatment. During the healing process, it is important to prevent your cat from damaging the affected limb by dragging or chewing on it.
- The Merck Manual for Pet Health: Disorders of the Peripheral Nerves in Cats
- Veterinary Clinics Small Animal Practice: Rehabilitation for the Neurologic Patient [PDF]
- A Practical Guide to Canine and Feline Neurology; Curtis W. Dewey [PDF]
- The University of New Mexico: The Sciatic Nerve
- Michigan Veterinary Specialists: Fractures of the Pelvis [PDF]
- BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images