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Hip Dysplasia in Cats

By: Dr. Nicholas Trout

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Hip dysplasia refers to the abnormal development of the hip joint and the clinical problems that stem from this deformity. Hip dysplasia is uncommon in cats and, when present, typically does not cause the severity of pain and lameness as is seen in dogs.

Hip dysplasia is caused by many different factors. There is a hereditary or genetic component with certain breeds and breed lines being predisposed to the disease, and then there are environmental factors such as type of diet, weight gain and rate of growth that can contribute to abnormal hip development.

Hip dysplasia, by definition, develops in young growing cats. The earliest age at which clinical signs may be noticed is usually around four months, but cats may not show any hindlimb abnormalities until they are mature or even geriatric. Males are more predisposed than females.

In the young cat look out for a "rolling" hindleg gait. The hips appear to slide up and down like a Marilyn Monroe "wiggle"! There may be difficulty getting up or down stairs. There may be an overt lameness on one or both hindlegs. Older cats may show greater exacerbation of these signs, struggling to lie down and to get up from a lying position.

Diagnosis

On physical examination your vet will be looking for a lameness at walk; a "rolling" hindleg gait as seen from behind and difficulty getting up or lying down. Since getting a cat to walk on command can be trying, additional tests are often needed.

Palpation and manipulation of the hips is usually painful. In playful young cats a thorough evaluation may require sedation or even anesthesia and this may be combined with radiographs of the hips. In young cats with hip dysplasia it may be possible to dislocate (subluxate) the hip by manipulation due to the poor fit of the "ball" of the femur in the hip "socket".

Radiographs may confirm the hip joint is dysplastic. The degree of hip dysplasia and the amount of associated arthritis can be seen on the x-ray.

Treatment

The type of treatment will depend on the age of your cat and the severity of the problem as defined by the physical examination and the x-rays. Financial considerations will also influence treatment options.

  • Medical management consists of weight loss, moderate exercise regimes, use of anti-inflammatory medication and use of chondroprotective agents.

  • Surgical management is rarely performed in cats.

    Home Care and Prevention

    For cats being managed medically, care will consist of monitoring body weight and avoiding obesity, together with a realization that your pet should only engage in regular, moderate exercise.

    Your vet may recommend a specific anti-inflammatory medication, chondroprotective agent or both. Carefully follow the recommendations for their use and be aware of any potential side effects.

    Picking up on the problem as early as possible affords your kitten the best chance of finding the right option, be it medical or surgical, to minimize the arthritic changes that will develop secondary to the hip dysplasia. Certain breeds of cat are now being evaluated by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. Check with their registry to see if the breed you are interested in has an OFA listing.

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