Hip disorders are common in domestic cats, especially older felines. Debilitating damage to the bones and surrounding tissue can arise from physical injury, degenerative conditions and genetic factors. Most joint injuries are uncomfortable and significantly limit the animal's movement.
Hip pain often leads to loss of mobility as well as behavioral changes, depending on the severity. Prompt treatment improves the chances of recovery, so don't hesitate to consult or visit your veterinarian if you believe your cat is suffering from hip pain.
Signs of Discomfort
Lameness in Limbs
Most hip injuries and diseases limit the function of the joint, which hampers your pet's movements. Your cat may hobbling with one foot off the ground, with the knee of the crippled limb facing toward her belly, according to VCA Animal Hospitals. However, some cats adjust to hip dysfunction and show no apparent indication of lameness despite the discomfort.
Hip pain is evident when cats traverse stairs or try to step into the litter box. They may struggle to perform these routine activities or avoid them.
Cats respond to pain much like humans. They often behave aggressively, avoid physical activity and lose their appetite. You may notice changes in your cat's grooming habits after hip damage. Loss of mobility and discomfort can discourage him from thoroughly cleaning himself, while pain may prompt him to overgroom certain patches of skin near the hip, according to International Cat Care.
Many companion animals suffer from abnormal development of the hip. This congenital joint deformity, also known as hip dysplasia, is present at birth and continues to develop with the kitten, according to the Winn Feline Foundation. Some cats adapt to the dysfunction and show few signs of discomfort, so the condition is not always obvious in kittens.
Dysplasia destabilizes the joint and increases the chances of hip luxation over time. Affected cats may suffer from complete luxation, when the ball pops completely out of the socket, or partial dislocation. This condition can damage and inflame surrounding tissue if it is not treated.
Hip dysplasia is closely linked to genetics and is considered a hereditary disorder. While it's present in all types of cats, the Maine Coon, Persian and other large breeds are at higher risk.
The hip has two main parts: the acetabulum, the "socket" in the pelvis, and the femoral head, the "ball" at the end of the thigh bone. A group of muscles and ligaments surrounding the joint provide stability and facilitate movement. The hip is essential for most feline activities, including walking, sitting and jumping. Any damage to the bones or soft tissue connected to the joint may provoke severe pain for your pet.
Falling from heights, collision with automobiles and battles with predators can result in serious injury to your cat's limbs, including:
- Dislocation of the hip joint, also known as luxation, resulting from a car accident other other blunt trauma.
- "Slipped cap" resulting from a fracture of the femur's growth plate, seen mainly in young cats.
- Bone fractures of the pelvis or femur.
- Tears in the ligaments or muscles around the joint.
Age eventually catches up to even the most sprightly cats. In fact, the overwhelming majority of cats over the age of 12 show signs of arthritis. The condition is characterized by cartilage loss in the cat's leg joints, like the hip, ankles and elbows. The lack of cushioning leads to inflammation and eventual deformity of the tissue.
While the causes of arthritis are not fully understood, there appears to be a genetic component that predisposes larger breeds. This degenerative disorder may develop as a side effect of other health issues, such as excess hormone production, physical injury or hip dysplasia.
Assessing the Damage
Hip pain can indicate a recent injury or long-term condition that is affecting your pet. Either way, prompt diagnosis and medical attention is the key to managing and possibly reversing the deterioration. Consult with a veterinarian if you notice lameness or behavioral changes that could result from hip damage, and make an emergency appointment if necessary.
Your veterinarian may probe the joint with his hands, a technique called palpation, and take X-ray images of the bones. Sedatives are often administered before the joint is examined to avoid additional pain for your pet.
The solution to your cat's hip pain hinges upon resolving the initial cause of the damage. Surgery is often required to fix serious issues, such as slipped cap fractures and torn ligaments. Some minor dislocations can be fixed simply by your vet popping the ball back into the socket. Your cat may be prescribed pain reducers to ease discomfort. Anti-inflammatory drugs are also used to control irritation to the joint tissue and manage degenerative joint disease.
Follow your vet's postoperative care instructions closely. After surgery, your cat will need to wear a bandage and stay confined to her cage for several weeks.