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Orthopedic Exams in Cats

Clinician's Brief (Capsule)


|July 2012

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When owners observe lameness in cats, clinically important disease is almost always present; other presenting signs (eg, decreased appetite, grooming/behavioral changes) may also be seen. Orthopedic examination should, therefore, be performed consistently. Observance of gait and jumping ability can be facilitated by allowing the cat to move in a room devoid of hiding places, with or without a laser pointer to chase. Asymmetry, head bob, short choppy steps, and plantigrade stance should be investigated. The limbs and spine should be palpated for symmetry; each portion of the limb and joint should be palpated with attention to flexion and extension of each joint. Palpation in lateral recumbency can facilitate the cranial drawer test, the Ortolani sign, and examination of claws and digits. Apparent painful areas should be examined last. Sedation may allow collection of valuable information in some cases. Having a scoring system for the record is helpful.


Unlike in dogs, lameness in cats is often overlooked by owners: in 2 studies of cats with radiographically documented osteoarthritis, only 4% to 16% were noted to be limping by the owners. A validated owner questionnaire for orthopedic disease remains elusive. Asymmetry of the limbs may be noted at a sit or walk. Palpation of joint range-of-motion, muscle mass, and bone sensitivity can be performed with the cat awake or sedated. Examination for patellar luxation, cranial drawer, and hip laxity is important for the hindlimbs.   

Use of a quiet room and an unhurried examination cannot be overemphasized. A towel or cat bag with limb access can be useful, but a sedated orthopedic examination is invaluable. Also, musculoskeletal tumors can often be palpated in cats.—Jonathan Miller, DVM, MS, DACVS


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