How to Determine If Your Cat's Rear Quarters Are Healthy

Walking cat

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The profile of the rear quarters of a healthy cat should give the impression of strength and support. The body profile will taper down slightly toward the tail end, while remaining well-muscled, particularly around the haunches. A slight belly pouch is normal, although it is more prominent in heavier cats, or in obese cats who have lost weight. The haunches and back legs are sturdy, poised for running or jumping. The entire rear quarters are covered with fur, which is sparser in the very last part of the tummy. When walking or running, the rear limbs of younger cats should flow smoothly with no evidence of stiffness or pain.

Organs in the Rear Quarters

The organs of the rear quarters of the cat include the liver, stomach, spleen, kidney, bladder, small intestine, colon, and reproductive organs (testicles or uterus). Unlike the upper body of the cat, except for part of the liver, these organs are not protected by a bone structure (the rib cage). Because they are internal, these organs in themselves, reveal no direct signs of incipient disease to cat owners. Rather, physical symptoms will show, which are red flags that something is amiss:

  • Vomiting: Vomiting (sometimes accompanied by diarrhea) can be symptomatic of several diseases and conditions, including hyperthyroidism, acute kidney failure, pancreatitis, and ingestion of toxic human foods, plants, or other substances. Diarrhea and vomiting can indicate an intestinal problem, such as IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease).
  • Stiffness and declining mobility: In older cats, slowness or hesitation in walking can be symptomatic of arthritis, particularly if the cat has difficulty in jumping up on furniture. Excess weight contributes to arthritis, as well as other medical conditions and a program of slow weight loss, prescribed by your veterinarian is essential for obese cats. Your veterinarian can prescribe medications to help soothe sore joints; Glucosamine and Chondroitin are commonly prescribed and are combined in the product Cosequin.
  • Rapid weight loss: Sudden weight loss is always a red flag and combined with vomiting, can be symptomatic of several of the diseases and conditions mentioned above. In previously overweight cats, rapid weight loss in itself can cause a serious disease, called hepatic lipidosis (also known as fatty liver disease). While potentially fatal, hepatic lipidosis can be completely cured, if caught and treated soon enough.
  • Butt-scooting: When a cat scoots its butt across the floor, leaving behind an extremely stinky brownish substance, it is most likely caused by infected or impacted anal glands. Cats may also spontaneously express their anal glands when surprised or upset. Your veterinarian can express the anal glands manually in the latter case, but impacted or infected glands will require more complex treatment.

It should go without saying that in all the above cases, cats should be taken to their veterinary clinic without delay, for examination, diagnosis, and treatment.

Spinal Column

The spinal column runs the entire length of the body, from where it joins the head to the middle of the tail. Also called the spinal canal, it consists of the backbone (vertebral column), which encloses the spinal cord. This spinal cord is the "message center" of the body and operates through nerve endings to control the functions of all parts of the body. Nerve endings also convey sensations of feeling, such as heat, cold, and pain. The spinal cord is one of the most important organs of the body.

The spinal column in a healthy cat is extremely flexible, which allows for the agility for which cats are famous. A falling cat can right itself by twisting its spine to be able to land upright on its feet. The spine of a cat in a relaxed four-legs stance will be fairly straight and parallel to the ground, sloping down slightly from the front shoulders and again toward the base of the tail.

Ginger cat (Felis silvestris catus), sitting, with its tail stretched out
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The cat's tail is used for balancing and conveys the emotions of a cat at any given time. A rapidly lashing tail means trouble, and it's best to respect that signal.


Never pull a cat by its tail. You can cause serious injury to the cat, which may then turn into serious injury to you. Tail trauma to a cat should be considered a veterinary emergency. Often amputation may be indicated when a cat's tail is broken in an accident. Although some tail injuries can heal themselves, or be surgically repaired, a tail that hangs limp is often accompanied by paralysis, resulting in fecal-urinary incontinence.

The tailless Manx breed sometimes produces kittens born with "Manx Syndrome," which is a genetic defect that presents problems in the last few vertebrae, including at times, spina bifida.

Tortoiseshell Manx cat looking over its shoulder
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Back Legs and Feet

The rear haunches, back legs, feet, and claws complete the anatomy of the rear quarters. Flexible hips and the strong bones, joints, and powerful musculature of the cat's back legs give enormous strength for both running and jumping, which are essential for catching prey in the wild. Hip dysplasia, found in some breeds, including Birman, Persian, Siamese, and Maine Coon, can predispose cats to arthritis. Excess weight can also lead to arthritis.

The back legs, feet, and claws are as important as those in the front. Their strength enables the cat to push forward and quickly reach a high speed for pursuing prey or running from predators. The back claws are powerful for delivering painful "rabbit kicks," both in play and in self-protection. Although front claws should be clipped routinely, it is not recommended to clip the back claws, because of their necessity for protection.

Running kitten
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The body of a healthy cat is poetry in motion. It is the perfect balance of form and function, with the bonus of beauty and grace. Your charge when you take cats into your home is to make sure that they receive a wholesome, nutritious diet, an adequate exercise in the form of play, and a planned program of veterinary care, to help ensure that they stay healthy for as long as possible.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.