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Dr. John
Dr. John, Texas Veterinarian
Category: Cat
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Experience:  Over 14 years of clinical veterinary experience
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What would cause a cat to suddenly not be able to stand or

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What would cause a cat to suddenly not be able to stand or walk. When trying to pick her up, she rolls into a ball. She cannot stand or hold her head up. She is awake and tries to move, but seems to not be able to coordinate. She has eaten some wet food, but does not take water.

We have taken her to a vet and received care and a diagnosis, however, I am seeking a second opine here.
Hello. Thanks for writing in. Can she even move her rear limbs? If you even squeeze on her toes or the webbing between her toes, is it painful? Are her limbs cold to the touch? Do you know if she has a pulse in her rear limbs? What is her age? Any history of heart problems?
Customer: replied 8 years ago.

She can move and has feeling in all limbs. She has no history of heart problems. She is about 18 years old.



Thanks for the information. There are a few things to consider here. First and foremost, I would suspect a herniated disk in the back. Other things to consider include a vertebral fracture, infection of the vertebral end plates, severe spinal arthritis, metabolic neuropathy (such as diabetes) and aortic thromboembolism. A vertebral fracture would most likely be more severe but not always. Spinal arthritis usually will cause weakness, but they can still walk. Metabolic neuropathy can usually be ruled out with bloodwork. An aortic thromboembolism usually occurs due to an underlying heart problem. There is usually a lack of bloodflow, resulting in cold limbs. A vertebral fracture or spinal cord impingement can also be due to cancer around that area. Please let me know if you have any other questions. Hope this helps.
Customer: replied 8 years ago.

The vet we are seeing thinks there is some neurological issue. He first thought it was idiopathic vestibular syndrome, but now is saying it may be a more severe event, such as a stroke.


They do not believe there are any spinal issues. All the limbs are warm and she can move them, but not in any coordinated way. She cannot lift her head and when picked up will flair and pull her tail all the way back (towards the back) and stiffens her limbs, almost as if stretching.


Otherwise, she is completely motionless, except periodically she will do a stretch like motion.


She meows at us when we talk to her and obviously is 'alert'. She responds to noises and tries to follow with her eyes. Pupils appear equal. I dont notice any nystagmus.

Thanks for the information. I am sorry. I was not aware she was having problems in the front limbs as well. A disk herniation could also be occurring in the neck. A herniated disk does not mean that they cannot move their limbs at all or have coldness of the limbs. It does not cut off bloodflow. The degree of herniation and impingment of the spinal cord, determines the degree of the clinical signs. Mild impingment could just lead to incoordination. Usually with vestibular syndrome, there is a a head tilt and nystagmus. From your description, it doesn't sound like that is what is going on here. A stroke is possible but not a very common phenomenom in cats at all. The stiffening of the rear limbs may be Schiff Sherrington syndrome. This is usually caused by a severe lesion from T2 to L3 in the spinal column. A lesion closet to T2 would most likely cause from limb problems as well. It may be a herniated disk (not common over the thorax) or a mass growing near the spinal cord. A lesion on the brain, such as a brain tumor, can't be ruled out either. To be honest, if you want a true diagnosis, you are most likely going to have to pursue an MRI. It is unlikely that X-rays will give enough information. Please let me know if you have any other questions. Hope this helps.

Customer: replied 8 years ago.

Do you think that a herniated disk would explain going from normal to not being able to be mobile in just an instant? The event that occured happened almost instantaneously. She was acting normally just minutes before whatever event occured. She is indoor only and no injury preciptated the problems.


There were no signs or indicators previous to the "event" yesterday.


I just now picked her up to move her to the cage for the night, and upon picking her up, she extends and stiffens all limbs. I tried to stand her up, but she just leans forward on her face. She cannot or does not attempt to stand. However, you can tickle the hair on her pads and she will pull away. So she is feeling even the lightest touch. I checked her pupils again and they are equal and react to light.


With all this, would you rule out a vestibular issue? Or could this just be a severe case. Would a cat with a lesion or a herniation of a disk still be able to move all limbs but not be able to coordinate movement?


The vet we are seeing is preparing us for euthenasia tomorrow. Obviously if there is any hope for a meaningful recovery and quality of life, I don't want to rush into that.


Do you know any vets in the Lexington Kentucky area that have MRI capability?

In fact, a herniated disk would be the most common cause of not being able to stand in just an instant. A stroke is also a possibility, but, like I said, not very common in cats. Vestibular disease is possible, but I expect some nystagmus with that. Depending on the degree of spinal cord impingment, a herniated disk can present many different ways. In general, proprioception (being able to know where your limbs are) goes first, followed by motor movement, superficial pain then deep pain. Lack of pain perception, especially deep pain, is a very bad prognosis. Most cases of a herniated disk present with the ability to walk but with incoordination (lack of proprioception). Usually a veterinary neurologist or veterinary school would have access to an MRI. Some vets use a human MRI as well. You would have to talk to your vet about it. The question you have to ask yourself is that if cancer is found, is there anything you are going to do about it? Due to her age, treatment may not be a good option (assuming it can be treated). Even with a herniated disk, surgery may be needed. Not exactly the type of surgery I would want to put my 18 year old cat through. Steroids may help but may just offer temporary relief. The decision to euthanize is definitely a difficult one, but you are the best person for determining that. Your vet can only give you the options and their opinion. If you feel that she is suffering, and your vet is offering very little hope for recovery, or that any procedure may offer more harm than good, then euthanasia may be the best option. Please let me know if you have any other questions. Hope this helps.

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