Diskspondylitis in Cats
In cats, as with other vertebrates, the vertebral column is composed of a series of vertebral bones. These bones maintain the structure of the body and serve in the protection of the spinal cord, which is nested within the vertebral column.
Between each vertebrae are structures called disks. These round, cartilaginous shock absorbers hold a nucleus of fibrous gel, which allows for normal movement of the vertebrae without the vertebral bones grinding against each other.
Diskspondylitis is the inflammation of vertebral disks due to an infection caused by the invasion of bacteria or fungus. The infections most commonly reach the intervertebral disks through the blood. Less common is infection due to fractures or local abscesses. Due to the proximity of the spinal cord many of the symptoms seen in affected animals are related to the nervous system. This disease is relatively rare in cats as compared to dogs.
Symptoms and Types
- Back pain
- Difficulty in standing and jumping
- Stiff, uncoordinated walk
- Limb weakness
- Paralysis in some patients, especially those not treated
- Bacterial infections
- Fungal infections
- Bite wounds
- Back injury
- Abscess near site of inflammation
Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your cat, taking into account the background history of symptoms and possible incidents that might have led to this condition. After the initial physical examination, your veterinarian will order routine laboratory tests, including a complete blood count, biochemistry profile, and urinalysis. These tests can be of value in determining the presence of any infections that are primary causes of this disease. Your veterinarian will also take blood and urine samples for laboratory culturing in order to identify the causative bacteria or fungus. Drug sensitivity testing may also help your veterinarian to select the most effective drug(s) for your cat so that the underlying infection is appropriately treated.
Radiographic studies will help your veterinarian to determine the location of the inflamed disc, as well as the extent of the problem in your cat. Spinal X-rays will usually reveal damage to the vertebra and adjacent structures that have occurred due to infection. Displacement and collapse of intervertebral (between the vertebral bones) disks will also be evident in spinal X-rays. More specific radiographic studies, such as myelography, computed tomography (CT) scan, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used for a more detailed and concise evaluation.
Myelography is a type of radiographic technique that uses an injectable substance that will contrast suitably on an X-ray device, in effect, "lighting" the internal area that is to be examined. This minimally invasive technique may allow your doctor to detect abnormalities of the spinal cord, making visible any compressions in the spinal cord, especially in those cases in which surgery may be required. Your veterinarian may also use CT or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans if normal X-rays and myelography imaging does not provide the needed details.
If your cat is suffering severe pain or has an apparent neurological deficit, your veterinarian may recommend hospitalization for intensive care and treatment. If the condition is still relatively recent, your cat may be managed medically on an outpatient basis. In others cases, where the disc and/or spinal cord has become severely affected, surgery may be required to decrease pressure on the spinal cord. During surgery, your veterinarian will remove any infected tissue and fluid, and may also remove a portion of affected vertebral bone if called for. Antibiotics can be used to control the residing infections, and pain killers can be used to control the pain that is associated with this disease.
Living and Management
While your cat is recovering you can help to keep it comfortable by providing a soft, dry, well padded surface in a quiet location in the house. Cage rest might be suitable under the circumstances, both to prevent the cat from moving and exacerbating the problem, and to protect it from others (other pets, children, etc.). Wherever you set your cat up, encourage it to keep its movement to a minimum by placing its food and litter box close by. Be sure to check on your cat throughout the day.
Because your cat will most likely be resting a lot as it heals from the injury or infection, you will need to make sure that it does not lay in the same position for too long, changing its position throughout the day to prevent ulcers from developing due to prolonged rest in same body posture. Watch your cat’s response to treatment and inform your veterinarian if you notice anything abnormal in your cat.
Your veterinarian will need to see your cat for a follow-up evaluation, to make sure that the site is healing properly. Response to both medical and surgical treatment is variable in different animal patients depending on age, breed, size and other considerations.
Complete antibiotic treatment is mandatory for successful treatment and eradication of the infection. Often, the symptoms will retreat soon after beginning medication, but this does no mean that the infection has been thoroughly eradicated. If such treatment is stopped prematurely, symptoms will recur, perhaps even worse than before. If your cat has been prescribed pain medication, follow your veterinarian's directions strictly. One of the most avoidable causes of pet deaths is from over medication.