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Muscle atrophy in a cat.

Species: Cat
Breed: Black Shorthair
Age: 11-15 years
Its been two weeks since my 13 yr old cat, Sweety, has been unable to walk and the 4 vets that have seen her havent been able to help her sufficiently.

She started limping one day. The next day it progressed to severe pain and inability to walk, not paralysis as she would still attempt to move the leg and growl because of the pain.

The problem seems to be on her right hind leg.

The vets did a full blood work and xray and found an infection which has responded to antibiotics (no more fever), no broken bones or clots, one section of her spine they said was misaligned.

They gave her intravenous fluids, vitamins, domosol(spelling? a muscle relaxant i was told), steroid injections and after two days at the vets' she was able to walk albeit with a slight limp.

We took her home and started her on the antibiotic and steroid tablets and applied domoso to a shaved area on her back and are continuing to do so now. The medications were ineffective as her problems returned after a day.

We hoped she would get better with time but now although there is no pain in her leg, her thigh muscle on the affected leg seems to have all but disappeared.

She can still move the leg but cannot put weight on it. Often when she tries to move it, it tremors like someone with parkinsons disease might. Her few attempts at walking have all been with 3 legs.

Can you help with a diagnosis?

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Oh, it sounds like you and Sweety have been through a rough time. I won't be able to give you a diagnosis but I can give you some of my thoughts.

Have they mentioned the possibility of something called a saddle thrombus? (The medical term is aortoiliac thrombosis). Cats who have this problem can get a blood clot that interferes with the circulation to the hind legs. It is often both legs, but it is possible for just one leg to be affected. If this is the cause then you should find that the foot on the sore leg feels colder than on the other side. Sometimes you can see a difference in how pink the paw pads are (assuming that there is pink on the paw pads and not black pigment.)

If this is a saddle thrombus, unfortunately most cats do not do well. There usually is a significant problem with the heart (which is what causes the blood clot to form).

The next thought is that there is something serious going on with the nerves affecting the back leg. This can cause the severe muscle atrophy that you are describing. If this was a nerve problem I would be concerned about some type of tumor affecting the nerves to the back leg. If this was the case, the steroids would have helped temporarily but would not cure the problem. Unfortunately this type of problem is hard to diagnose. She would likely need to have a CT scan or an MRI, both of which are quite expensive.

The degree of muscle atrophy that you have described has me very concerned. I can't think of any simple conditions (i.e. easily treatable) that would cause this.

You could consider asking your vet for a referral to an internal medicine specialist if there is one in your area. These vets are used to seeing the strange cases that regular vets don't see regularly. You may be more likely to get a diagnosis that way.

I wish I had a more concrete answer for you.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

Customer reply:

The only vet that had a 'diagnosis' we ignored since she thought it was just a sprain. The others seemed to think it might be related to her nerves being pinched where the spinal column was misaligned as shown on the xray.

If it was a blood clot, would it atrophy a single muscle to this degree? All of her paws seem to be the same temperature and are not particularly cold.

In the case of a blood clot which might have been resolved as she has both warmth and function in her leg, what i'm concerned about is whether she'll ever be able to jump around like the active cat she used to be, or if at least she'll ever be able to simply walk again. How can we help her restore the lost muscle?

If it was a nerve issue, am I right in assuming that the problem has been resolved as the vets believed would be the case, where she has no more pain in the leg and is still able to move it to some degree. Would the prognosis be good in this case provided we can help rehabilitate her leg?

Unfortunately, we are currently living in Dubai, which does not have any veterinary clinics with MRI facilities. There is a vet hospital several hours away, but being one of the few with an mri machine, the cost will run into the thousands which we cannot afford.

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

A bold clot certainly could cause muscle atrophy. However, we really would expect to see that the foot is cold.

I am not completely convinced that there is no pain. If she is holding the leg up and trembling then this is often because of pain. However, if you feel that things are improving then we could continue to see a gradual improvement over the next few weeks.

I think all we can do now is keep following the vet's advice and see how things are going. If this is something serious affecting the nerves then she will get worse. Unfortunately if that is happening there is not much that. An be done. It may soon be time to make some hard decisions about her quality of life.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.