Hip Dysplasia in Cats

hip dysplasia in cats

Carol Yepes / Getty Images

Hip dysplasia is an orthopedic condition of the hip joint that can affect cats. It is the result of abnormal development of one or both hip joints and causes instability and degeneration of the joints. Hip dysplasia is a very common health problem in dogs but is also seen in cats.

What is Hip Dysplasia in Cats?

Hip dysplasia is a degenerative disease that causes a malformation of the ball-and-socket joint in the hip, leading to pain and stiffness. Cats with hip dysplasia will likely develop osteoarthritis as the disease progresses.

A normal, functioning hip joint consists of a rounded femoral head that sits in a socket-like structure called the acetabulum. The joint is able to operate smoothly with the assistance of cartilage, joint fluid, and muscles.

When a cat has hip dysplasia, the femoral head develops an irregular shape and does not sit properly within the acetabulum. The joint becomes unstable, causing pain, inflammation, and stiffness. The poorly-fitting joint may eventual erodes the cartilage, leaving the bone to rub together. In some cases, the femoral head becomes dislocated from the acetabulum. Over time, osteoarthritis can occur and the joint develops abnormal bony growths. This further restricts the range of motion and causes pain and stiffness to become even worse.

Hip dysplasia can affect one or both hips in varying degrees.

Causes of Hip Dysplasia in Cats

Hip dysplasia is a hereditary disease in cats. It is rare among domestic cats (mixed breed cats) and more commonly occurs in large purebred cats like the Maine Coon and Himalayan. Hip dysplasia is far more common in dogs than in cats. However, some vets believe that mild to moderate cases go undiagnosed in cats because of their natural ability to mask and adapt to illness. In reality, hip dysplasia in cats may be more common than we realize.

Signs of Hip Dysplasia in Cats

  • Lameness or limping that gets gradually worse
  • Trouble jumping
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Lethargy and/or irritability (due to pain)
  • Stiffness and decreased range of motion in on or both rear limbs
  • Muscle loss in rear limbs

It is common for cats to show no signs of illness in the early stages of hip dysplasia. Cats with mild to moderate disease may never exhibit signs. In fact, your vet may discover signs of hip dysplasia during a routine wellness exam or when taking radiographs for another reason.

As the effects of hip dysplasia progress, signs often appear gradually and continue to worsen over time. Osteoarthritis typically occurs secondary to hip dysplasia, making the pain, inflammation, and stiffness even worse.

The signs of hip dysplasia may be similar to the signs of other injuries. If you see these or any other signs of illness in your cat, contact your veterinarian for an appointment.

Treatment

Your vet will diagnose your cat's hip dysplasia thorough examination and radiographs. Treatment considerations are based on the severity of the radiographs as well as the symptoms your cat exhibits.

Hip dysplasia in cats is typically first treated conservatively. This generally includes medications to manage pain and inflammation. The vet may also recommend rest and exercise restriction. Nutritional supplements, or nutraceuticals, like glucosamine and chondroitin may help slow the progression of the disease and reduce some of the symptoms. Alternative therapies, such as acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine may also offer some pain relief.

If the conservative approach is not enough, your vet will talk to you about surgical treatment for your cat.

The most common surgery is called a femoral head and neck excision. The vet removes the deformed head and neck of the femur. In time, the muscles rebuild and form a kind of false joint. After recovery, most cats will go on to live a happy, normal life.

In rare cases, a total hip replacement may be considered. This involves the replacement of the hip joint with a special synthetic hip. This is often called a micro-THR due to the small size of the implant.

How to Prevent Hip Dysplasia in Cats

You cannot necessarily prevent hip dysplasia in cats, but you may be able to catch it early and slow its progression. Contact your vet when you first notice ongoing lameness, pain, or stiffness.

Feline hip dysplasia can be prevented by cat breeders. A cat with hip dysplasia should be spayed or neutered. These cats should never be used for breeding.