Published on May 8th, 2015 | by Debbie Martin0
Understanding and Managing Feline Hip Dysplasia
Feline hip dysplasia is a disease which has long been noted in dogs, but has only recently been discovered that it affects many cats, as well. Simply put, it causes the hip joint to develop abnormally, with one part coming loose from the other. This can cause problems, particularly as the cat grows older. In this article, we’ll examine these problems and see what can be done about them.
What are the causes?
The hip joint of a cat (and indeed, in a large number of mammals) comprises the ball-shaped end of the femur and the socket-like indentation in the hip. When formed properly, this joint can articulate in two planes, allowing for a large number of motions.
Hip dysplasia occurs when the bones which comprise the hip joints are abnormally shaped and thereby prohibit the correct movement of the joint. Over time, this can lead to the femur moving out of the socket slightly, which can exacerbate the abnormal shape of the hip bones. The end result of this is degenerative joint disease (a particularly painful condition) is them potentially suffering from osteoarthritis in later life. Most cases of hip dysplasia occur in both joints – though its affects may be felt stronger in one than the other.
Any cat can potentially suffer from hip dysplasia. However, the condition poses a greater threat to some more than others. The most influential risk factors appear to be genetic. Specifically, for a cat to develop the condition, both of its parents must be either be carriers – though not necessarily ones which develop symptoms. For this reason, many breeding programmes seek to eliminate the responsible cocktail of genes by not breeding cats which display the disease.
As one might suspect, the greater the weight the hip is expected to bear, the more likely it is to run into difficulty in the long term. Obese cats therefore stand a greater chance of developing the disease than those of a healthy weight. Similarly, larger breeds of cat, like the Persian and the Maine Coon, are at greater risk of developing problems. Age, too, can play a role; while kittens may suffer from the disease, they will not display symptoms until they grow older.
What are the symptoms?
In dogs, hip dysplasia is hugely problematic. In cats, it is less so – it may even go completely undiagnosed, since the relative smallness and agility of the cat means that it can overcome problems in its joints. For this reason, diagnoses often occur accidentally – it may, for example, be revealed by an x-ray undertaken to examine a completely unrelated condition.
That said, some affected cats will display obvious symptoms. They may have difficulty walking, appearing stiff and reluctant to partake in strenuous activity – particularly that which involves jumping and climbing. To begin with, this may manifest as a very minor idiosyncrasy, such as a uniquely swaying gait. It may from there degrade to the point where the cat is, at least for short periods of time, entirely lame. The most severe symptoms will only appear in rare instances; they may, for example, appear following a triggering incident, such as a shock or fall.
How is dysplasia diagnosed?
If your cat is displaying any of the symptoms we have looked at thus far, they should be taken to a vet for an examination. They will want as much information about the cat’s family history as you can provide, they will then perform a complete overview of the cat in order to ascertain the cause of the problem. This will involve taking blood and urine samples, as well as looking for inflammation of the joints. The vet will also physically manipulate the joint, in order to see whether it has subluxated (come loose from its socket).
An inspection of this sort will, generally speaking, only reveal the most deeply-ingrained sorts of dysplasia. In order to confirm the diagnosis, an x-ray will be required – and this is the method which most veterinarians will use to confirm the diagnosis.
How is dysplasia managed and treated?
Once we have determined that hip dysplasia is, in fact, present, we can move onto the business of treating it. As we have already mentioned, many instances of hip dysplasia in cats are effectively asymptomatic. Such instances may not require any treatment at all. That is not to say, however, that the condition can be ignored entirely; some precautionary measures may be prudent.
If the cat in question is obese, then this will exacerbate the condition and the associated discomfort. Your vet will therefore likely recommend a programme of weight reduction, which may include changes in diet, as well as the encouragement of moderate exercise.
If the cat is experiencing discomfort, then there are several means of addressing this. Your vet may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication to control any swelling and painkillers to limit the pain. Treatment might also focus on promoting joint health. There are a range of dietary supplements which can help toward that end. Your vet will be able to recommend one appropriate for your cat.
When a cat runs, climbs and jumps, it employs a lot of complicated joint movements to propel itself, including those of the hip. In cats suffering from hip dysplasia, this can be a problem; sudden and violent movements can cause the joints to degrade. Excessive exercise will thereby worsen the dysplasia. That said, no exercise at all carries its own health risks – among them obesity, which also worsens the dysplasia. Affected cats should therefore be carefully monitored in order than they don’t overexert themselves; gentle, regular exercise is the best route.
In particularly severe cases, surgery may be worthwhile. The procedure usually undertaken to combat hip dysplasia is known as a femoral head and neck excision arthroplasty. This involves the removal of any tissue which is problematic and the replacement of the femur into the hip joint. After a spell of post-operational healing, the hip should be restored to full and proper working order. Your vet will be able to provide further advice on this course of action, should it be required.