A Guide to Cat Spine Injuries, Trauma, and Diseases

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Some people say that a dog is a man’s best friend. While that may be true for some, cats are just as loved and accepted as other furry members of the family.

We know that cats love to run, jump, and squeeze themselves in the smallest of spaces which can be alarming when you have to retrieve your kitty from the hole in the wall by your dryer vent for the third time this week.

When your cat suddenly doesn’t seem interested in jumping or contorting its body to fit into small spaces, it might be an indication that your cat is getting old or has cat arthritis, but it could also be a sign that there’s something more serious going on, like a spinal injury.

Spinal injuries in humans are taken very seriously since damage to the spine can affect various parts of the body and result in severe health issues or even death.

The same can be said for cats, so if your feline friend is acting strange, especially after an accident that could have caused trauma to the spine, then you must seek veterinary care for them right away.

While this article isn’t a substitute for the medical diagnosis of a veterinarian, it does provide education on cat spine injuries and problems so you can be more educated in noticing the signs of your cat’s declining spine health.

Let’s start with the basics and get straight into the nitty-gritty on everything related to cat spines.

Intro to Cat Spine Problems

Cats, just like humans, have a nervous system that is made up of two components: the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system is what we’ll focus on here since it consists of the brain and spinal cord.

Here is a visual diagram of cat spine anatomy:

cat spine anatomy


Since a cat’s brain and spinal cord are connected in one system, spinal injuries will often present with neurological symptoms either alongside or exclusively from physical symptoms.

The brain and spinal cord being one connected unit is important to remember, since it can be difficult to identify a cat in pain unless you know what to look for.

If a cat is experiencing spinal problems and is in pain, it will often present in neurological symptoms due to the connection of the brain and spinal cord. 

A lot of the same neurological conditions that affect humans can also affect cats in similar ways, including spinal injuries. In other words, as a result of spinal injuries, cats can:

  • Become paralyzed
  • Develop ataxia (uncontrolled body movements)
  • Lose limb control

Your cat’s nervous system is responsible for controlling the same involuntary functions as humans, like being able to move their head and legs, to keeping internal functions of their body working properly, like their lungs taking in oxygen or their heart beating.

Cat spinal problems can be very serious since any injury to the spine can very quickly affect basic bodily functions and prevent your cat from being her normal feisty self.

If your cat has a spinal problem or you suspect that it might have a spinal problem, you should take them to the vet immediately for consultation and treatment.

What are the Most Common Spine Conditions for Cats?

The most common spine conditions for cats are inflammatory and infectious diseases, as well as feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) and sometimes Lymphosarcoma, which is a type of cancer.

Other cat spine problems are often caused by birth defects, such as scoliosis (curved cat spine), short spine syndrome (often referred to as Manx syndrome or some form of dysplasia), or bony spine (spondylosis deformans).

What is Feline Infectious Peritonitis?

feline infectious peritonitis

FIP is a type of inflammatory disease that is unique to cats, with its main symptom being severe inflammation in the body. This inflammation can cause organ failure, antibiotic-resistant fevers, and thick, yellow fluid to accumulate in the chest or abdomen.

When a cat has an abnormal reaction to regular feline coronavirus, which is quite common in cats, then FIP can develop. Typically, cats who are exposed to feline coronavirus will get mild symptoms, including gastrointestinal issues, and recovery naturally. However, some cats can experience mutations of the virus in their intestines, which can enter other tissues in the body resulting in a severe reaction.

FIP is especially common in young kittens due to their undeveloped immune system, but the chance of infection increases in all cats when they are exposed to overcrowding situations or increased stress.

Since FIP is directly linked to feline coronavirus, it remains difficult to test for the distinction of one or the other.

What are the Symptoms of Feline Infectious Peritonitis?

Identifying the symptoms of FIP can be a little tricky. You might notice behavioural changes in your furry friend, like being more lethargic than usual, (which can sometimes be hard to notice, since cats sleep so much) or not as interested in food (decreased appetite).

The more serious signs typically take some time to develop, but the most telling sign of FIP is a swollen abdomen due to the accumulation of that thick, yellow fluid that we mentioned earlier. Since this fluid can also accumulate in the chest cavity, your cat might also experience difficulty breathing.

Unfortunately, most cats who contract this illness do not have a good prognosis, so it’s important to get your cat to the vet as soon as possible to give her the best chance of survival.

What is Lymphosarcoma in Cats?

Lymphosarcoma is a type of cancer that attacks the lymphocyte blood cells and lymphoid tissues in the body. This cancer can originate in many areas of the body with the spinal cord being only one of them. Therefore, lymphosarcoma isn’t specifically a spinal cord disease in cats, but since it can affect the spinal cord and is common cancer, it’s worth a mention.

Cats of any age can be affected with lymphosarcoma, and they are especially susceptible if they’ve survived having the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) or if they have the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).

The type of Lymphosarcoma that a cat is diagnosed with depends on the site of cancer. If the cat has this disease in their spine, then they will likely exhibit cat spine injury symptoms, such as weakness, pain, reduced appetite, and more. Cat spine injury symptoms are discussed in more detail below.

Scoliosis in Cats

scoliosis in cats

Just like humans, cats can have scoliosis in their spine. Your kitty’s spine should be straight from her head to her tail, but if it curves at all, she might have scoliosis. Of course, a vet would have to confirm this diagnosis.

Scoliosis in cats is often congenital, which means it’s a condition that’s present from birth, so you would likely know that your kitty has scoliosis from a very early age. Other times, this condition can present as a result of trauma or disease.

Treatment for scoliosis in cats varies depending on your cat’s symptoms. Some cats are perfectly fine, and some may have minor movement issues. If your cat isn’t in pain and the condition doesn’t seem to affect them negatively, then treatment likely isn’t needed.

Of course, if your kitty develops symptoms due to her scoliosis or what you suspect might be a result of her scoliosis, then she must be checked out by a vet.

Short Spine Syndrome in Cats (Manx Syndrome)

Have you ever seen a cat with a short tail? The most commonly accepted history of the short spine cat or Manx cat was that it was bred on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, though there are other interesting historic theories associated with this breed.

Humans have bred cats for this short tail presentation — called Manx — because of its aesthetic. However, the short tail presentation is associated with spina bifida, a condition that can cause incontinence and painful infections.

Spina bifida is a term that is used to describe several conditions of the spine, where the neural tube that forms the spinal cord fails to close or the vertebrae of the spine doesn’t completely form.

While some short spine cats are fine and don’t show signs of serious spinal cord problems, others are not so lucky. Due to the risks involved with Manx syndrome, it’s difficult to comment on the moral issues with continuing to breed short spine cats, but future information could at least inform pet owners on the risks involved.

Cat Bony Spine

Have you ever felt your cat’s back and noticed that you could feel her spine? While being able to feel some of her spine is normal, and can even be an indication as to whether your cat is overweight or underweight, there are spinal disorders that can cause your kitty’s spine to feel strange.

spondylosis deformans (the scientific term for cat bony spine) could be one reason why your feline friend’s spine seems to be protruding more than usual.

Spondylosis deformans is a condition that affects the vertebral bones of the spine and is identified by bony spurs or osteophytes along the edges of the bones. In some cases, these bony spurs can become large enough to seemingly form a bridge between vertebral bones, which is why you may be able to feel more pronounced areas on your cat’s spine.

This condition often develops in cats as a result of ageing, and is common in cats 10 years of age and older. There’s no specific breed of cat where this condition is more common, and typically felines with spondylosis deformans are free of symptoms.

Common Cat Spine Injury Causes

cat spine injury causes

The most common causes of cat spine injuries are:

  • Trauma
  • Inflammation of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord
  • Bacterial infection
  • Blocked blood vessels
  • Genetic conditions
  • Tumours

Even if the cause of the injury is obvious, your vet will likely want to perform an x-ray or scan of your cat’s spine to determine the level of injury.

Symptoms of a Cat Spine Injury

Since the brain and the spinal cord are directly linked in the central nervous system, it makes sense that when your cat has a spine injury, it will likely exhibit neurological symptoms.

Neurological symptoms indicating a cat spine injury often include:

  • Weakness
  • Severe pain, which can often be recognized by excessive meowing or crying
  • Behavioural changes, like increased aggression or intentionally avoiding you
  • Abnormal posture
  • Muscle spasms
  • Tense or stiff muscles
  • Inability to use the litter box properly — urinary and fecal incontinence
  • Reduced appetite
  • Complete or partial paralysis
  • Hunched posture or abnormal posture
  • Ataxia (uncontrollable body movements)

Cat Spine Health

cat spine health

Cat spine health can be affected by several factors, including congenital disorders, disease, trauma causing damage to the spine, and ageing. Since we often don’t have control over most of these factors, it can seem like there’s nothing that we can do about taking preventative measures to protect our cat’s spinal health.

However, there actually is a way to be proactive about your cat’s health. While the supplements we’ll discuss are not specifically for your cat’s spine, they help prevent other diseases or disorders that could potentially lead to spinal problems for your cat.

Cat Joint Supplements

A cat spine consists of vertebrae that are effectively joints, so it makes sense to incorporate joint supplements into your cat’s diet as a way to maintain spinal health alongside the health of your cat’s other joints.

Using glucosamine for cats is an important consideration, as their often daredevil running and jumping means that their joints are being put to work. Glucosamine is a naturally occurring substance in most animals, including cats, dogs, humans, horses, and more, and works to repair the cartilage and synovial fluid in our joints.

As cats age, like humans, the body’s natural production of glucosamine lessens, which can lead to joint pain and stiffness.

To ease joint pain, there are two products that you can consider:

So what’s the difference between these two products?

Both are powdered products that are easy to add to your cat’s regular food. They both contain high-quality glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM as a preventative and restorative method of maintaining your cat’s joint health.

However, TRI-ACTA H.A. for Pets includes Hyaluronic Acid, which aids in keeping your cat’s ageing connective tissues well lubricated and moist. Typically, this supplement is given to older cats who are showing signs of reduced mobility or have mobility issues after receiving surgery or other medical procedures. TRI-ACTA Regular Strength is given to younger cats as a preventative or when there are mild to moderate mobility concerns.

Cat Spine Treatment Options

While it can be scary if your cat develops a spinal injury, cat spine injuries can often be treated with medications, surgery, and physical therapy.

The type of treatment that your cat receives for its spinal injury will vary depending on its severity. Typically, your vet will start investigating the injury by performing a physical and using information gleaned from an x-ray or CT scan.

Once your vet has determined the type and severity of the cat spine injury, they will recommend a course of treatment.

Common cat spine injury treatments are:

  • Surgery (typically only for more severe spinal injuries)
  • Rehabilitation therapy (such as hydrotherapy, cold laser therapy, and exercise)
  • Acupuncture

The main purpose of each of these types of therapies is to reduce, eliminate, or manage the pain your cat experiences from its spinal injury.

Aiding Recovery from Cat Spine Surgery

The aforementioned TRI-ACTA for Pets and TRI-ACTA H.A. for Pets are also both good options for supporting your cat’s spinal health and can aid in their recovery as well if they receive surgery or other treatment for a spinal injury.

Oftentimes, we take supplements to help ourselves recover from an injury or just as a preventative measure, and our furry friends are no different. If you’ve been giving your cat joint supplements (following your vet’s advice) then chances are they will recover faster from a spinal injury.

Cat Spine Q&A

cat spine QA

Look, cat spine facts and spinal health can be complicated. If you’ve read this far, then chances are you still have some questions. Let’s take a look at some common questions (with answers) related to the feline spine.

Cat Spine vs. Human Spine — What’s the Difference?

Cat spines have 52 or 53 vertebrae, while humans have 32 to 34. The extra bones in a cat spine are spaced out and have more padding when compared to a human, aiding in a cat’s flexibility and the ability to turn, twist, or spring into the air. This is part of the reason why a cat is so much more flexible than a human, but the rest of the cat’s bones also play a huge role in their litheness.

Why Is My Cat Losing Hair Along Spine?

There are a variety of reasons as to why a cat could lose hair along their spine, including excessive grooming, hormonal changes (such as too much thyroid hormone or increased steroid presence in the body), parasites (like mange or ringworm) or alopecia. Your vet will need to examine your cat to determine a diagnosis.

Should I Be Able to Feel My Cat’s Spine?

A common test to check if your cat is overweight or underweight is to feel your cat’s spine and rib cage. To feel its rib cage, rub your hand gently over one side of your cat’s belly. If you can’t feel her ribs, it may indicate that she is overweight, especially if you can feel a significant layer of fat. However, it can go the other way as well, so if you feel like there’s barely anything between your cat’s ribs and her skin, then it could mean she’s underweight.

With your cat’s spine, if the vertebrae feel quite knobbly like there’s nothing on top of them, then it could be an indication that your furry friend is underweight. In contrast, like with the rib cage, if you are having trouble feeling the bones in your cat’s spine and can feel excessive fat, then your kitty could be overweight. In both cases, a vet visit should be done in order to determine the next steps.


A cat spine is a complex series of bones that give human spines a run for their money when it comes to flexibility and movement ability. And just like humans, cats can suffer from diseases and disorders that affect the spine, with a lot of them being diseases and disorders that also affect humans.

Thankfully for our feline friends, there’s a great deal of information available about cat spine anatomy and the various afflictions that can affect cat bones in general, so we’re well-prepped to be able to help our cats with spinal issues live long fulfilling lives.

Nobody likes to see their cat suffer from spinal issues. Help prevent cat spine issues in your feline friend from kittenhood to adulthood with specially-formulated supplements that are designed to support your cat’s joint health.

Try TRI-ACTA H.A. for Pets today for your senior cat, or TRI-ACTA for Pets for your younger kitty.

TRI-ACTA H.A. for Pets

Our maximum strength formula is optimally designed to accelerate the formation of cartilage, minimize inflammation, expedite the healing process, and improve joint conditions.