Spine Degeneration in Cats

By PetMD Editorial on May 11, 2009

Spondylosis Deformans in Cats

Characterized by the production of bone spurs along the bottom, sides, and upper aspects of the vertebrae of the spine, spondylosis deformans is a degenerative, noninflammatory condition of the spinal column. The bone spurs are simply projected growths of bone, usually grown in response to aging, or injury. In cats, spondylosis deformans tends to occur more often in the vertebrae of the chest.

Symptoms and Types

  • Patients are typically asymptomatic; bone growth can usually be felt by touch before you will notice any behavioral changes in your cat as a result of the growth
  • Pain may follow fracture of bony spurs or bridges
  • Stiffness
  • Restricted motion
  • Pain



  • Repeated microtrauma – repetitive pressure on the same joints, or bones, as through certain exercises or other activities
  • Major trauma – the body responds by attempting to grow new bone
  • Inherited predisposition to spurs


Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam on your cat, including a biochemical profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis and an electrolyte panel, in order to rule out or confirm other diseases, like cancer. You will need to give a thorough history of your cat's health, including a background health history, onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have precipitated this condition.

X-ray images of the chest and abdomen (side view) are essential for diagnosing spondylosis deformans.  X-rays will reveal osteophytes (small, bony growths) on the vertebrae, or in more advanced cases an osteophyte may be found as a bridge in the space between the vertebrae.

Your doctor may choose from several other types of tests in order to arrive at a definitive conclusion. A myelography, which uses injection of a radiopaque substance for internal imaging; computed tomography (CT); or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). They can assist your veterinarian in finding where a bony spur might be pressing on your cat's spinal cord or nerves (causing neurological reactions).



Typically, patients with spondylosis deformans will not show outward symptoms of early abnormal bone growth. A neurologic exam should be performed to rule out a spinal condition requiring surgery. If the growth has reached the point of damaging the nerves, tissue, or otherwise, and your cat is in severe pain, or if your veterinarian has settled on a surgical remedy, your cat will be hospitalized. Under normal circumstances, where damage to the body is minimal, and your cat is feeling some discomfort and pain, it will be treated on an outpatient basis, with strict rest and pain medication prescribed for home treatment. Pain medications can be administered to your pet after its meals. Acupuncture may also provide pain relief for some animals.  

Living and Management

Your veterinarian will schedule follow-up progress checks for your cat depending on the severity of the symptoms. Only give pain medications when your cat is showing signs of discomfort (and only after a meal), and only give the exact amount that was prescribed, unless your veterinarian indicates otherwise. Overdose of drugs/medications is one of the most common causes of unintentional deaths in pets. You will also need to provide a safe and quiet place for your cat to rest, away from other pets and active children. Only minimal activity will be necessary for your cat during this time. When your cat has not shown signs of discomfort for several weeks it may be slowly allowed to return to normal activity.

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