Slipped disc in cats

Slipped discs in cats are less common compared to dogs. When it occurs, it is a painful condition that causes leg weakness or even paralysis and incontinence. This condition is most commonly seen in middle-aged to older cats. 

A slipped disc is a condition where the intervertebral discs (cushions between the backbones) slip out of place. This condition is also called intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) or herniated disc. If your cat shows signs of not wanting to walk, jump, or move, wobbliness or difficulty getting up, contact a vet immediately.



What is a slipped disc in cats?

In between each of your cat’s vertebrae (backbones) sit intervertebral discs.

Intervertebral discs are junctions filled with rubber-like cushions that absorb shock and provide support as your cat moves around.

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is a condition where these discs gradually lose their sponginess and slip out of place, compressing the spinal cord.

When the spinal cord is compressed, depending on the location, there is a loss of mobility and function.

This condition can be caused by:

  • Trauma/injury
  • Ageing
  • Genetics



Symptoms of a slipped disc in cats

Signs of IVDD can range from mild to severe and may appear gradually or suddenly, depending on the underlying cause.

You might notice some or all of the following in your cat:

  • Reluctancy to walk, jump, or move
  • Back pain
  • Vocalising in pain when moving or when touched
  • Back legs weakness
  • Complete loss of back leg function (paralysis)
  • Tail weakness
  • Difficulty peeing or pooing
  • Hunched back
  • Muscle spasming
  • Changes in behaviour, hiding or becoming aggressive



Cats at risk of slipped disc

There is some evidence that suggests Persians and British Shorthairs may be more commonly diagnosed with IVDD, but this is still unclear among veterinary scientists.



How is a slipped disc diagnosed in cats?

Your vet will take all the signs your cat is showing into consideration and do some further tests:

  • Neurologic examination
  • MRI or CT: used to find the location of the lesion and plan for surgery, if needed. Lesions can be difficult to find on x-rays.

Your vet might recommend one or more of the following tests to help rule out any other conditions:

  • Blood tests
  • Urinalysis
  • Spinal fluid (cerebrospinal fluid) analysis. A sample of the spinal fluid is collected from the spinal canal while your cat is under anaesthesia to check for any abnormal inflammatory or infectious cells.


Vet treatment

How is slipped disc in cats treated?

Treatment depends on many factors, such as their ability to walk at the time of diagnosis and the severity of the neurological damage.


If your cat can walk and has only mild signs of pain and/or neurological damage, your vet may recommend medication and rest to start with.

This treatment is aimed at controlling your cat’s pain and preventing the condition from worsening.


Surgical decompression of the spinal cord is recommended if a cat does not respond to medication or when they show more advanced signs of neurologic damage, such as the inability to walk or loss of deep pain perception.

Referral to a neurologist or vet specialist surgeon is typically necessary, and in many cases, it is urgent.

The outcome after surgery is variable and depends on the severity and duration of symptoms. Some cats can recover completely, while others can remain paralysed for the rest of their lives.


  • In very specific cases, “spinal walking” can be achieved with intense rehabilitation and physiotherapy. This is a term used when a paraplegic cat develops unconscious leg movements.


Home treatment

How to help your cat with slipped disc

During recovery, you will need to keep them well-rested, manage their pain, check their toileting and follow your vet’s instructions rigorously.

Keep them rested

It’s essential to rest your cat. Sometimes several weeks of strict rest may be necessary to avoid further deterioration.

Do not allow your cat to jump up or down, run or do any boisterous movements for the time recommended by your vet. You may need to put them in a dog cage to prevent unwanted activity.

Soft bedding

Providing your cat with a soft place to lie down will prevent pressure sores from forming and make them more comfortable.

Support their body

During recovery, it’s very important to avoid movement of the back. Avoid any arched or side movements in order to keep the spine stable.

When helping with toileting, support their belly using a lifting harness or as demonstrated in the picture.

Bladder expression

IVDD can cause problems with the nerves that control the bladder. If your cat is unable to pee, you will need to empty their bladder by pressing their tummy. You will be shown how to do this by your vet.

Rehabilitation and physiotherapy/hydrotherapy

Rehabilitation is very important for these patients.

Different protocols and goals are set depending on your cat’s medical needs.

It may be important to use these therapeutic options to gain full mobility or to support muscle and maintain body weight to avoid further deterioration.

Control weight

Lighter cats can support their weight more easily when they have mobility issues.

It can be difficult for a cat that can’t exercise to control or lose weight.

Physiotherapy can be a good option for some patients.

Nevertheless, feeding your cat correctly with a recommended diet and quantity is vital. Speak to a vet nurse if you need support.

How to take care of a paralysed cat at home

If your cat is not able to regain full neurological function and remains weak or paralysed, they will require lifelong nursing care at home, which may include:

  • Care to prevent sores, including soft bedding and change of positioning, and foot care with boots or socks.
  • Regular manual expression of the bladder to pee
  • Monitor for signs of urinary infections – UTI
  • Physiotherapy exercises
  • Custom-made carts or braces

It is not easy to care for a paralysed cat, but there are many different ways to help them maintain a good quality of life and keep them happy and comfortable.



How to prevent slipped disc in cats

Unfortunately, this disease can’t be prevented.

However, if the issue is addressed promptly, we can improve the outcome for these patients.

  • Do not delay vet attention if signs of IVDD are seen.


When to worry

When should you worry about your cat with slipped disc?

If your cat shows any of the following signs, call your vet immediately:

  • No improvement despite surgery or medication
  • Discharge or bleeding from the surgical wound
  • Inability to pee or poo
  • Sudden worsening of the pain or ability to walk

At Joii we can help you with:

  • Giving medications
  • Managing a paralysed cat at home
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