Diagnosing Hip Dysplasia in Cats

Hip dysplasia is a deformity of the hip joint, often caused by abnormal development of bone. Until recently, it was believed that cats didn't suffer from hip dysplasia. In fact, cats display fewer symptoms of hip dysplasia than dogs. Since they're smaller, they place less stress on their hip joints and symptoms often don't become as severe. Here's what you should know about feline hip dysplasia and its diagnosis.

Causes of Hip Dysplasia in Cats

Feline hip dysplasia is an inherited condition that causes deformities of the hip joint. In a normal hip, the ball head of the femur, or thigh bone, fits snugly into the socket of the pelvic bone and the joint moves smoothly. In a hip affected by dysplasia, the bones of the joint may be malformed and unable to function properly. Or, the bones may not fit snugly enough together, causing laxity and dysfunction.

Cats aren't born with hip dysplasia symptoms. They develop them over time as the hip deformity causes the cartilage of the joint to deteriorate and osteoarthritis occurs.

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia in Cats

It can be difficult to determine when your cat is in pain. Cats often don't express pain, and many owners won't notice the symptoms of feline hip dysplasia until the condition is quite advanced. Cats with hip dysplasia may be reluctant to jump, they may move more slowly over time and they may gradually become less active. When symptoms become severe, your cat may begin to limp and may fail to do the things he used to do with ease, such as climb up and down stairs or play.

The symptoms of hip dysplasia in cats often don't become as severe as the symptoms of the same condition in dogs, because cats are smaller and more agile. Some cats never show symptoms of hip dysplasia. Many cats are diagnosed with hip dysplasia by accident, after they're X-rayed for other reasons.

Diagnosing and Treating Hip Dysplasia in Cats

Your veterinarian should be able to diagnose hip dysplasia with an X-ray of the hips. Deformities and abnormalities of the joint are usually quite visible on X-rays. 

Many cats don't suffer from severe hip dysplasia symptoms and may not be deemed to need treatment for the condition. If your cat's hip dysplasia symptoms become severe, and your cat is experiencing lameness and discomfort, anti-inflammatory and pain medications can help relieve his discomfort. If your cat is overweight, encouraging him to lose weight can help take stress off the joint and relieve the symptoms of hip dysplasia. Cats who have trouble moving should be kept indoors, where it's safer, and exercise should be restricted to lessen the severity of their symptoms.

In cats with severe hip dysplasia, a surgery known as femoral head and neck excision arthroplasty can remove the damaged tissue. This surgery has a high success rate and those cats who have it usually regain full use of the affected hip.