the heck is wrong with my cat?!
May 4, 2017 9:03 AM   Subscribe

My cat (obligatory pic) has been struggling with some degree of ataxia in her hind legs for a few months now, and three entire vet practices are stumped about why. Maybe the wise MeFi hive mind can think of something that none of us have considered? What it isn't: diabetic neuropathy, kidney disease, injury, or (probably) lymphoma.

TL;DR summary: Middle-aged cat has shown a rapid decline in her use of her hind legs, but the usual causes have pretty much been ruled out. Cat is not in obvious distress, but hoomans are in obvious distress over cat and wondering how to proceed. Have you had a cat with hind leg ataxia that was neurological? Idiopathic? Had a really random cause? Should we watch and wait, or be even more aggressive in getting a diagnosis?

Long version: My sweetie cat is 10 or 11ish years old. (She was a rescue, so really, we don't know her exact age.) She is a healthy weight (9.5 lbs) for her size. She suffers from IBS but it's been well controlled via diet and probiotics for almost a year.

1) Over the winter, we noticed that she wasn't quite clearing her higher jumps; she would have to hoist herself up the last few inches with her hind paws. Given her age, we weren't super worried about this, and she herself did not seem bothered - no hiding, excessive licking, noises to suggest pain or anything.

2) About 3 months ago, though, she started *really* struggling with both up-jumps and down. And when she hit the ground she'd occasionally fail to get traction and skid around. We made a vet appointment but had to wait a couple of weeks - over the course of those weeks, she got even worse. She would occasionally land a jump and be unable to hold up her hind end at all. Again - never seemed to be in pain, just perplexed, like WHY BUTT NO MOVE?

The first time she lost total control of the hind legs I was terrified it was a saddle thrombus, so rushed her to Vet #1; nope, pulse strong in the legs, no cold paws, and she always regained use after 10 or 15 seconds.

3) Regular vet (Vet #2) came and did an exam and bloodwork. Her suspicions were diabetes or thyroid issues, an injury of some kind, or possibly just really bad arthritis (unusual in a cat this age but again, we don't really know her age). In her exam she noticed a wobbly (luxating) patella, but nothing remotely suggesting a serious injury.

Bloodwork came back negative for diabetes, negative for kidney problems, negative for signs of lymphoma (though that doesn't automatically rule it out, I know).

4) She referred us to Vet #3 for full x-rays, assuming they would find a subtle injury or massive arthritis and we would go ahead with treating that. Vet #3 found no injuries on the x-rays, and only very mild spinal arthritis. She did find an inner ear infection, which she noted could have been affecting kitty's balance - that is, maybe her legs weren't weak, maybe she just had trouble with her equilibrium.

So we're treating the infection, but to be honest, her legs have gotten only very slightly better. She hasn't lost total control of them (that we have seen), so that's fantastic, but they are still very stiff. She walks low sometimes, but not on her hocks. She is far more upset that we are forever giving her medicines, than she ever was about her legs.

So with all of this, what do we do? We still have some time left on her ear treatments, so we'll keep looking for improvement there. All that seems to be left are neurological issues, but the vets have been very vague about what that means. Vet #2 suggests we start with some joint supplements (for the mild arthritis) and watch and wait. Vet #3 suggests maybe a neuro workup. Neither seems to think that this is a crisis, which is great, but that also makes it challenging for us to pick a best plan of action.

Thoughts and anecdata and advice all welcome!
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese to Pets & Animals (6 answers total)
I don't have any special insight into the big picture here, but I can tell you that joint supplements (specifically Cosequin) helped my cat with similar arthritis-related problems in his front legs/shoulders. He still has good days and bad days, but overall he's been significantly less stiff/creaky since he started. It's relatively cheap (about $10 for a 30 day supply) and unlikely to do any harm. Best of luck to you and your adorable sweetie cat!
posted by ourobouros at 11:12 AM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Cute AF, for def. Our Krimpet had a hindleg limp that lasted and lasted and lasted. When it first showed up we took her to the vet and limped out again $300 and multiple Xrays later with no useful information and some painkillers Krimpet hated and that didn't improve anything (plus they only gave us three of them and the limp lasted months so what was the point IDK). Slowly slowly it got better. Now she's fine. In fact, just last night she murdered a mouse we've been trying and failing to catch for weeks. Thank you, Krimpet!

If yours is her sunny self despite frequent bouts of "WHY BUTT NO MOVE," I'd go with "watch and wait" over neuro workup, at least until they can tell you what the hell neuro workup would mean with a cat.
posted by Don Pepino at 11:22 AM on May 4, 2017

I recently adopted a 12 year old dog, and about a week after getting him, we had a scary incident in the middle of the night where he was yelping in pain, and his back legs were doing exactly what you are describing your cat's doing. At the ER vet, he was diagnosed with a slipped disc in his neck along with the hip arthritis you'd expect in a dog his age. We went the watch and wait route (which was painkillers, joint supplements, and crate rest). If he hadn't improved, a neuro workup was the next recommended step.

He is no longer in pain, but when he overdoes it on walks, (or jumps or climbs stairs before I can stop him and carry him) he has the hind leg symptoms still (Why Butt No Move? is EXACTLY the right description).

I know dogs are not cats, but it just sounds terribly similar to me. I'm not 100% on how they diagnosed the slipped disc without the workup (there was a lot of palpating I wasn't present for) but maybe a route to ask about?
posted by pixiecrinkle at 11:33 AM on May 4, 2017

I can tell you that joint supplements (specifically Cosequin) helped my cat with similar arthritis-related problems in his front legs/shoulders

We used glucosamine supplements (which is one of the main ingredients in Cosequin) for our elderly dog's arthritis, and he seemed to benefit from them. I'm not usually a big believer in supplements, but my grandfather (a rheumatologist) even used glucosamine for his human patients. So these may be worth a shot, if your vet thinks it could help.

How long has she been on the antibiotics? It sounds like she has improved somewhat, so that's a good sign. I'd be inclined to watch and wait, and maybe try to the joint supplements in the meantime. Maybe the mild spinal arthritis + ear infection contributed to the severity of the symptoms? Did Vet #3 give you a timeline for how soon this should clear up if it's mainly the ear infection? (Of course, possibly this isn't something that can really be predicted.)

It sounds like you've been very diligent about getting her checked out for the more obvious diagnoses. If I were in your shoes, I would wait a bit to see if it works itself out before I moved on to a neuro work up, unless she takes a turn for the worse or seems to be in distress.

In the meantime, it wouldn't hurt to start doing some inquiries into what a neuro work up entails and what you'd be looking for if you did a neuro work up. Also, once they tell you what the neuro work up is checking for, you might also want to ask how this would affect the treatment plan.

Of course, IANAV/IANYV. Oh, and your kitty is adorable! I hope she gets back to her healthy self soon.
posted by litera scripta manet at 12:54 PM on May 4, 2017

The symptoms you describe sound really similar to the beginning stages of my dog's degenerative myelopathy, which is similar to multiple sclerosis in humans. But I just googled it and apparently feline degenerative myelopathy is practically unheard of. The similarity does make me think that investigating neurological causes might be worthwhile, though.
posted by Kriesa at 1:37 PM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry your kitty is having trouble. :(

Ours was having similar symptoms, but rapidly deteriorated, unlike your kitty who is improving a bit. The vets were looking at similar things and ordered all the tests you list. As the tests came back normal, neuro issues looked more and more likely. They did find some arthritis in his knee and thought that might be the issue, but I felt it didn't explain what we saw happening. After an overnight observation at the neurologist's, they found out it was actually periodic dizziness caused by either an ear infection or, in our case, a brain tumor. One key indication for this was his eyes: they would dart side to side.

Mostly I guess I want to say that it sounds like your vets are on the right track. I would personally follow up with a neurologist if there's not much more improvement.

Best wishes.
posted by moira at 4:45 PM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

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