Spinal Cord Disorder Caused by Blocked Blood Vessel in Cats


PetMD Editorial

Published Jul. 31, 2009

Fibrocartilaginous Embolic Myelopathy in Cats

Fibrocartilaginous embolic myelopathy in cats is a condition in which an area of the spinal cord is not able to function properly and eventually atrophies as a result of a blockage, or emboli, in the blood vessels of the spinal cord. Though relatively rare in cats, the cause of this disorder is typically the result of an injury to the spine. Injury may be the result of jumping and landing in the wrong way, fighting, or any accident that leads to a spinal injury.

Symptoms and Types

The symptoms appear suddenly and usually follow what appears to be a mild injury or vigorous exercise.

  • Sudden, severe pain, cat may cry out at time of injury
  • Pain may subside after few minutes to hours
  • Paresis (signs of weakness or partial paralysis)
  • Paralysis
  • Lack of pain response
  • Cat may stabilize within 12-24 hours
  • Wobbly, uncoordinated or drunken gait (ataxia)


The exact cause is still unknown, but it is thought that a seemingly minor injury to the spine can force intervertebral disc material into the spinal cord, causing an embolism, or blockage of blood flow through the spinal cord.


You will need to provide a thorough history of your cat's health leading up to the onset of symptoms, and any injuries that you suspect to have recently occurred. Your veterinarian will rule out other causes, such as spinal tumor, intervertebral disc disease, or fracture before settling on a diagnosis. The above mentioned conditioned are very painful, therefore, a lack of pain can be indicative of an embolism in the spinal cord. Keep in mind that though there may be a lack of pain, the condition can be progressive and may affect long-term damage to the spine and neurological system. Immediate and supportive care is paramount.

Routine laboratory test results, such as urinalysis and complete blood counts, are usually unremarkable. A sample of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) may be taken for analysis, and a sample of blood from the veins and arteries of the spinal cord may show microscopic fragments of fibrocartilage. Radiographic imaging studies may help in diagnosis. Apart from routine radiography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) remains the best diagnostic technique for viewing the spinal cord. In the later stage of fibrocartilaginous embolic myelopathy, swelling may be present at the site of the blockage.



Treatment will be directed according to your cat's condition, the severity of the symptoms, and the extent of damage to the spinal cord. Mild improvement may be seen in the first 14 days of treatment, with further improvement occurring between three to six weeks of treatment. From there on, recovery should progress until your cat is feeling up to speed again. Recovery from weakness is slow but gradual and will require patient, supportive care.

While your cat is recovering from this injury, it may have some troubles with incontinence, both urinary and fecal, or it may suffer from urinary tract infections. These symptoms should improve. However, if symptoms do not improve or if there is irreversible damage to the spinal cord, your veterinarian may suggest that you consider euthanasia for your cat.

Living and Management

While your cat is in the recovery process, provide a calm and comfortable space for it to rest and heal, away from other pets and active children. If it is not practical to restrict your cat's movement, cage rest may be an option. Your cat will be feeling weak in the first several weeks of recovery. To save your cat and yourself the frustration of accidents, you will want to place your cat's litter box near to where it is resting. Even if your cat normally spends time outdoors, you will need to restrict your cat to the indoors until it has recovered.

Part of supportive care will include creating a resting area that is well padded, and making sure to turn your cat frequently to avoid bed sores. Do not underestimate the healing capacity of affection. Stroking your cat so that it feels safe will relax its muscles and encourage its body to release the chemicals that are required for optimum healing. You may also want to hand feed your cat during this period of time, or at least make sure that the food is easily accessible.

Your veterinarian will schedule a follow-up visit to monitor your cat's recovery and make changes to its diet or physical routine if necessary.

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