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Spinal Malformation in the Neck of Cats

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Atlantoaxial Instability in Cats


Atlantoaxial instability results from a malformation in the first two vertebrae in the neck. This causes the spinal cord to compress and results in pain, or even debilitation. The disorder affects cats, but is generally found in smaller breeds and is uncommon in older cats. To ensure the best possible chance for a full recovery, it is important to have your cat treated once an occurrence or sign of distress is observed.


Symptoms and Types


Cats suffering from atlantoaxial instability may collapse frequently or may suffer from paralysis, depending on the severity of the spinal cord injury. Many cats also exhibit severe neck and back pain and a lack of activity.




The most common cause of atlantoaxial instability is an abnormal formation of ligaments in the cat's vertebrae, often leading to fractures. The formation may also be the consequence of trauma due to an accident.




Your veterinarian will look for signs of trauma, seizures, tumors (neoplasia), severe exercise intolerance, and disk herniation. An X-ray or radiograph of your cat's spine may be taken to see if there are any injuries to the neck or spine. In addition to radiographs, CAT scans (computed tomography) may be used to view the soft tissue structures in your cat’s neck and spine. If this disorder goes untreated, it often will lead to acute spinal cord trauma, respiratory arrest, and possibly even death.





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