hip dysplasia in cats

Hip Dysplasia in Cats: Complete Guide for Pet Owners

Anant Shastri
By Anant Shastri
Medically reviewed by Ivana Crnec, DVM
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What is Hip Dysplasia in Cats?

What is Hip Dysplasia in Cats

Hip dysplasia in cats is an inherited and painful joint disease. In hip dysplasia, the ball-and-socket joint connecting the head of the femur to the hip bone is malformed.

The cat’s hip joint consists of two bone parts – the femoral head (in this case, the “ball”) and the hip bone’s acetabulum (in this case, the “socket”). In healthy cats, the head of the femur fits in the acetabulum snuggly, but it is free to glide and rotate – which allows the cat to run, climb, walk, play, etc.

In dysplastic hips, the ball and socket are loose and misaligned. As a result, the femoral head cannot glide and rotate within the socket. Over time, the misfit between the bone and socket (known as dislocation or subluxation) wears down the hip joint. Incapacitating looseness and osteoarthritis are the main consequences.

The exact incidence of hip dysplasia in cats varies between studies. According to reports, it is relatively rare in domestic short-haired cats (affects less than 5%). However, it is common in purebred cats (in which the incidence goes up to 20%). Himalayan cats, Persian cats, and Maine Coon cats are the most common breeds in cases of hip dysplasia.

What Causes Hip Dysplasia in Cats?

The exact cause of hip dysplasia in cats is not determined. However, it is believed that the malformation of the hip joint is inherited, with obesity and trauma being risk factors.

Here is a closer look at the causes of hip dysplasia in cats:

  • Genetics. The fact that hip dysplasia has a higher incidence in purebred cats of certain breeds points to the genetic component of the orthopedic condition.
  • Obesity. Excess body weight and obesity increase the risk of hip dysplasia in cats. This is because the more the cat weights, the bigger the pressure on the hip joints.
  • Trauma. Physical injuries and trauma can increase the cat’s risk of developing joint laxity and dysplasia. For example, a car accident that caused a hind limb fracture.

What are the Signs of Hip Dysplasia in Cats?

What are the Signs of Hip Dysplasia in Cats

One of the first signs of hip dysplasia in cats is hind limb lameness. In addition to limping, a cat with hip dysplasia will be less active and irritable.

Let’s take a closer look at the signs of hip dysplasia in cats:

  • Hind Limb Limping. Back leg limping is the telltale sign of hip dysplasia. Usually, the limp is progressive and worsens over time. It is caused by the decreased range of motion and pain in the joint.
  • Stiffness. The pain and changes in the joint can make the cat stiff. The stiffness may not always be noticeable. The back leg stiffness is most striking when the cat gets up from a lying position.
  • Exercise Intolerance. A cat with hip dysplasia is in constant low-grade pain. Movements make the pain worse, which is why cats with hip dysplasia are reluctant to exercise. Due to the decreased range of motion, some movements are not even possible.
  • Muscle Mass Loss. Significant muscle loss in the cat’s hips or thighs is indicative of hip dysplasia. In contrast, the chest and shoulder muscles can be enlarged – this is becuase the cat relies on the front legs and top half of the body.
  • Grooming Changes. There are two possible scenarios – first, unkempt coat since the cat is not able to groom herself becuase of the pain, and second, excessive grooming of the hips as small animals (dogs and cats) tend to lick where it hurts.
  • Litter Box Avoidance. The decreased range of motion and joint pain may prevent the cat from using the litter box. So, if you suddenly start finding accidents outside the litter box, hip dysplasia can be the culprit.
  • Irritability. Finally, cats with hip dysplasia are likely to be more irritable and moody. This is becuase pain decreases their patience and makes them anxious. Irritability is easier to notice in otherwise calm and mellow cats.

How is Hip Dysplasia Diagnosed in Cats?

To diagnose hip dysplasia in cats, the vet will start with a full physical examination. Then, they will perform an orthopedic exam (evaluate the hip joint’s ability to flex, extend, rotate, and abduct).

A definitive diagnosis is set with x-rays of the affected hip joint. The radiographs of cats with hip dysplasia show visible signs of joint looseness and variable degrees of joint degeneration (osteoarthritis).

How do You Treat Hip Dysplasia in Cats?

How do You Treat Hip Dysplasia in Cats

There are different treatment approaches for hip dysplasia in cats. In most cases, to achieve maximum effect, your trusted DVM will suggest using several options together.

Here are the best treatment options for feline hip dysplasia.

Medications for Cat Hip Dysplasia

The go-to meds for treating feline hip dysplasia are the non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). The two FDA-approved NSAIDs for cats – Meloxicam and Robenacoxib. Long-term use of any anti-inflammatory medication can trigger side effects. If your vet prescribed such treatment, they will recommend regular checkups.

Surgery for Cat Hip Dysplasia

There are two surgical treatment options for cats with hip dysplasia:

  • Femoral Head and Neck Excision. This is the most commonly advised surgical option for cats with hip dysplasia. The vet will remove the femur’s dysplastic head and neck. During recovery, the muscles and surrounding structures form a new, false joint.
  • Total Hip Replacement (THR). Based on the situation, the vet may recommend total hip replacement (THR). The procedure involves replacing the dysplastic hip with a synthetic one (called micro-THR). Total hip replacement is an expensive option.

Supplements for Cat Hip Dysplasia

Supplements are an excellent addition to the hip dysplasia treatment strategy. There are many types of supplements, including:

  • Natural Supplements. The best natural supplements for joint health and chondroitin and glucosamine. They support strong and functioning joint structures and help relieve pain and inflammation.
  • Cannabidiol (CBD) Oil. Cannabidiol (CBD) is extracted from hemp and is beneficial to cats with hip dysplasia due to its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. We suggest the Honest Paws Well CBD Oil for Cats – it is organic, safe, and efficient.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Omega fatty acids have strong anti-inflammatory properties and are an integral part of hip dysplasia management. The best way to ensure adequate omega-3 intake is to supplement your cat with fish oil.
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Therapy for Cat Hip Dysplasia

When it comes to therapy for cats with hip dysplasia there are different options such as:

  • Physical Therapy. Physical therapy is beneficial as it helps strengthen the muscles and surrounding tissues. Plus, it relieves pain and supports weight loss. Massages and swimming (hydrotherapy) are among the best options.
  • Acupuncture. This ancient Chinese technique includes the insertion of fine needles in specific pressure points resulting in pain relief. Luckily, most cats tolerate acupuncture really well and experience quick improvements.

Environmental Support for Cat Hip Dysplasia

When parenting a feline friend with hip dysplasia, consider some environmental factors that can make your cat’s life easier. Here is what you can get for environmental support:

  • Orthopedic Beds. A simple yet helpful tool for achy joints is the orthopedic pet bed with a soft memory foam mattress and low entrance.
  • Special Litter Boxes. Getting in and out of the litter box can be painful – buy a litter box with a low entrance so your cat can access the inside without having to jump.
  • Elevated Bowls. Elevated food and water bowls are great for pets with hip dysplasia as they allow the cat to eat in a more natural position.

Can a Cat Live With Hip Dysplasia?

Can a Cat Live With Hip Dysplasia

Yes, a cat can live with hip dysplasia.

Hip dysplasia in cats is not a life-threatening condition. However, it does affect the quality of life. Luckily, with proper management, cats with hip dysplasia can live long, happy, and pain-free lives.

How can I Prevent Cat Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia in cats is not fully preventable. However, there are certain things cat owners can do to minimize the risk.

Here are some helpful tips for preventing feline hip dysplasia:

  • Responsible Breeding. It is paramount to get a cat from a responsible breeder who has both parents tested for hip dysplasia before breeding. This goes both ways – if your cat has hip dysplasia, have it spayed/neutered since its offspring is likely to suffer too.
  • Weight Management. Another way to prevent hip dysplasia is to keep your cat’s weight in the normal range. This is best done through regular physical exercise and giving high-quality cat food.
  • Regular Vet Checkups. Finally, you need to have your cat regularly examined by a vet. If caught early, hip dysplasia can be managed with medications. Adequate veterinary care can be expensive, and we recommend getting pet insurance such as FirstVet.
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