Narrowing of Vertebral Canal in Cats

By PetMD Editorial on Apr. 11, 2010

Lumbosacral Stenosis and Cauda Equina Syndrome in Cats


Cauda Equina Syndrome involves narrowing of vertebral canal, which results in compression of spinal nerve roots in lumber and sacrum regions. A cat's spine is composed of multiple bones with disks located in between adjacent bones called vertebrae. Seven cervical vertebrae are located in neck (C1-C7), thirteen thoracic vertebrae present from the area of shoulder to end of ribs (T1-T13), seven lumbar vertebrae are present in the area that starts from end of ribs to pelvis (L1-L7) and remaining vertebrae are called sacral and coccygeal (tail) vertebrae.


Pressure to or damage of the nerves within the spinal canal in the junction area between the lumbar and sacral vertebrae (sometimes called the cauda equine) due to narrowing of spinal canal can lead to this condition, also known as the cauda equina syndrome. This syndrome is rarely found in cats as compared to dogs. It can be seen in cats born with this problem (congenital) or acquire it in later life.


Symptoms and Types


  • Lameness
  • Pain in lumber and sacral regions
  • Pelvic limb weakness and muscle wasting
  • Weakness or paralysis of tail
  • Abnormal tail carriage
  • Urine and fecal incontinence (in some animals)




As stated earlier, cauda equina syndrome can either be a congenital or acquired condition, brought on by the instability of the lumbosacral junction or protrusion of disk between adjacent vertebrae.




You will need to give a thorough history of your cat’s health, including the onset and nature of the symptoms, to your veterinarian. He or she will then perform a complete physical examination as well a biochemistry profile, urinalysis, and complete blood count -- the results of which are usually within normal range, unless some other concurrent disease is also present. Radiographic studies usually reveal valuable information for diagnosis. But for definitive diagnosis, your pet’s veterinarian will typically conduct Computed Tomography (CT-Scan) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) testing.




Cats with urination problems are hospitalized for initial treatment (e.g., catheterization of bladder) until the patient regains control bladder function. Decompressing surgery is a treatment of choice and is often conducted to relieve the pressure of the nerve roots. If no treatment is conducted, the symptoms become severe due to progressive nature of this disease.


Even after surgery, however, some neurologic deficit may remain. Movements are restricted for at least four weeks after surgery. If surgery is not conducted, confinement and restricted leash walk is recommend along with pain control medications.


Living and Management


Avoid exercising your cat strenuously (jumping, running, etc.), as it may increase excessive pressure on the spine and cause symptoms to recur. Watch your cat for pain, lameness, urination and/or fecal elimination problems and notify your veterinarian immediately if you should notice any such untoward symptoms. Some diet modifications may also be recommended by your cat’s veterinarian to avoid obesity, which might also aggravate the condition.


Conform well to guidelines given by your cat’s veterinarian, especially directions regarding exercise, rest, and the diet of your cat. Without treatment, the condition of your cat may get worse due to progressive nature of this disease.

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