Cat Hip Dysplasia
Signs and Symptoms
Hip dysplasia is a condition that is more common in dogs than it is in cats. In fact, until recently it was believed that the condition did not occur in cats at all. However, it is now known that feline hip dysplasia does occur. The condition occurs as a result of improper development of the cat’s hip joint, and it has the potential to lead to a number of problems for the animal. In its early stages, cat hip dysplasia often does not produce any pain or symptoms. Because cats are smaller than dogs and are not exercised as often, it is less common to detect hip dysplasia in a young cat than it is in a dog, especially a large breed dog. Over time, however, symptoms of cat hip dysplasia may begin to occur and worsen.
The most common sign of cat hip dysplasia is an odd gait in which the cat appears to roll his hind legs when he walks. The cat may also appear stiff when walking. The affected animal’s hips often appear to glide up and down, and he will have trouble climbing or jumping. He may also have trouble lying down or getting up.
Signs and symptoms of hip dysplasia can appear when the cat is a few months old. More often the most severe symptoms begin to show up in older cats, even in seniors. Eventually a cat with hip dysplasia may become lame and unable to use one or both hind legs. Sometimes the symptoms first appear after a trauma. For example, soon after the cat has fallen or jumped from a very high place, you may notice that she can not move around as easily as she could before.
When hip dysplasia in a cat becomes symptomatic, you will probably notice a decline in your cat’s level of activity. Also, if you touch her near the dyplasic hip, she may exhibit discomfort or pain by crying or swatting at you. You will also notice that she does not jump onto furniture or climb stairs much anymore, and she will probably appear to sway or wobble when she walks.
Cat hip dysplasia may be difficult to diagnose in its early stages because there are usually no symptoms until the condition progresses. A veterinarian may suspect hip dysplasia in your cat if you report any of the symptoms associated with the condition, such as odd walking patterns, difficulty climbing or a noticeable decrease in activity. To confirm the diagnosis, the vet will look for signs of lameness by watching the cat walk. If the cat wobbles or rolls while walking or has difficulty moving around, getting up, or lying down, the doctor will probably palpate the cat’s hips to check the alignment of the ball and socket joint. This can be very painful in a cat with hip dysplasia, so it may be necessary to sedate the animal. In severe cases, the animal may need to be given anesthesia in order to undergo this type of exam.
To confirm cat hip dysplasia, a veterinarian will x-ray the cat’s hip or hips in order to examine the joint and determine whether it is misaligned. A cat with hip dysplasia may have a subluxated hip joint, meaning that the ball of the femur is not securely connected within the socket of the hip. The joint may also be completely dislocated. There is also an x-ray procedure that can detect looseness or laxity in the hip joint, which is also suggestive of dysplasia.
Hip dysplasia can exist in varying degrees. In some cases, there will only be a subtle misalignment. In other cases, the hip may be completely dislocated. The degree of difficulty walking or moving as well as the amount of pain experienced by a cat with hip dysplasia varies widely as well.
The hip joint is a “ball and socket” joint. In a normal hip, the ball of the femur, the bone in the leg that extends from the hip to the knee, fits into a socket – a cup-shaped depression – in the hip bone. The two bones are shaped so that there is a perfect match between them, and the connection allows the leg bone to move smoothly and painlessly in a 360 degree angle. A ligament holds the bones together.
If the hip joint is not developed properly, the bones do not match and there is a misalignment between the ball and socket components of the joint. This misalignment causes further wear that affects the spongy tissue within which the joint is supposed to move. Eventually, proper movement of the joint becomes more and more difficult. Problems with movement usually progress over time due to abnormal wearing of the joint.
Hip dysplasia is most often a congenital condition, meaning that the cat is born with it. In these animals, the ball part of the joint develops in such a way that it does not sit perfectly within the socket. The hip rides up and comes out of the socket when the animal walks. It’s possible that hormonal changes in the mother that occurred during pregnancy affect the ligaments, making them loose or too pliable so that the hip becomes dislocated once the animal is born and starts moving. Some cats are born with the hip joint intact, but develop an abnormality in the first few months of life while the animal is still growing.
Certain breeds are more susceptible to this genetic abnormality than others. Devon Rex, Maine Coon and Norwegian Forest Cats are more likely to inherit hip dysplasia than other breeds. Symptoms can be exacerbated in cats that are large because of the extra weight that the hip joint must bear. Male cats are more likely to have hip dysplasia than female cats.
The rate at which the cat grows may also be related to the development of hip dysplasia, and the quality of the animal’s diet can contribute to the onset of symptoms as well. In many cases, cats begin to experience symptoms like pain and restricted movement when they are older, even though they have had hip dysplasia all of their lives. Some cats with the condition never develop symptoms.
Hip dysplasia that does not interfere with the quality of the cat’s life does not need any treatment, though it should be monitored and managed to be sure that it does not progress to the point where the animal begins to experience symtoms. If the condition is causing pain, medical treatment may be necessary. Treatment may include the use of anti-inflammatory medications to manage pain. Overweight animals should be put on a weight loss diet and encouraged to exercise moderately. In very severe cases, surgery may be offered as an option in order to repair the dislocated joint. Surgery is performed either to repair the joint or to completely replace the hip. In many cases, this option is considered only for severe cases of hip dysplasia for which no other treatment has been effective.
Since hip dysplasia is a condition of the joints, the dietary supplements glucosamine and chondroitin can be used to treat the condition in cats, just as it is used for joint problems in people. Glucosamine and chondroitin are popular treatments for osteoarthritis and other chronic conditions that affect joints and ligaments. Glucosamine is a molecule comprised of glucose and the amino acid glutamine. It is involved in the formation and repair of cartilage. Chondroitin is responsible for the resiliency of cartilage tissue.
There are also a number of natural and herbal remedies for joint pain that may be useful in managing cats with hip dysplasia. Herbs like cayenne, ginger, and calendula have anti-inflammatory properties, for example. The soothing properties of aloe may also be helpful. Herbs like ginseng and milk vetch can help to increase the production of interferon, a substance in the immune system that may interact with and help to repair parts of the skeletal system. Herbs with analgesic properties like corydalis and California poppy can help to alleviate the pain of advanced hip dysplasia in cats. Formulas that contain several of these herbs are also available and may be considered as alternatives to prescription medications or surgery.