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The Munchkin cat and the Dachshund are similar in more ways than just being exceptionally cute and waddling around on their short legs. Dachshunds are known to be prone to IVDD, and not surprisingly, their feline counterparts are too!
Munchkin cats have short legs due to a genetic mutation causing chondrodysplasia, which causes the growth plates in the bones of the legs to grow at a much slower rate before growth plate closure when they reach adulthood. Chondrodysplasia is the exact reason why dachshunds and bassets have short legs and long bodies.
Do Munchkin’s Backs Hurt?
In general, the backs of healthy Munchkin cats do not hurt. There are, however, a few spinal conditions that Munchkins are prone to that may cause pain and discomfort. In addition, degenerative diseases such as IVDD, spondylosis, and arthritis can affect your cat’s spine and require veterinary intervention.
Pet Vet Tip: If you would like to read more about why Munchkins have short legs, have a look at this article.
In this article, we will explore the different reasons why Munchkins’ backs may be painful, how you can tell whether your cat is experiencing back pain, and how to prevent spinal conditions.
Intervertebral Disc Disease
Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is a degenerative spinal disease that causes the breakdown of the cushioning between the vertebrae of the spine. As a result, IVDD leads to decreased shock absorption and, ultimately, disc herniation and compression of the spinal cord.
IVDD is usually an age-related condition and is more prevalent in chondrodysplastic animals. The characteristic elongated spine and short limbs of Munchkins make them more prone to degenerative diseases such as IVDD.
Even though IVDD is relatively rare in cats, the Munchkin is overrepresented in the population of cats affected by this condition.
The video below explains IVDD in dogs. The condition is similar in felines, but since the Munchkin is still a relatively new breed and the world population of Munchkins is still relatively small, quality research on IVDD in Munchkins specifically is still lacking. For now, we can extrapolate what we know about chondrodystrophic dogs to Munchkins.
Spondylosis deformans is characterized by bony protrusions along the edges of the vertebrae. These protrusions, called ‘osteophytes,’ can develop in one location or throughout the spine. In cats, the osteophytes are often along the thoracic spine – at the top of the rib cage – but can also be found in the lumbar and sacral spinal areas (lower back).
Spondylosis is a chronic disease primarily associated with aging and usually develops secondary to intervertebral disc disease. Spondylosis is often found incidentally; however, if combined with IVDD or if the spondylosis is severe enough, it can cause pain.
Arthritis is also a degenerative disease of the joints and surrounding bone. It is a result of instability and wear and tear in the joints. Arthritis causes the breakdown of cartilage, and the synovial fluid loses its lubricating properties. Therefore, the movement of the bones is no longer smooth and causes stiffness, discomfort, and pain.
The most common cause of arthritis is age-related changes to bones and joints, but arthritis can also be caused by infection and auto-immune conditions.
Arthritis can affect the joints in any part of the body, but the hips, spine, and elbows are most commonly affected in the cat. Particular breed dispositions in cats include Munchkins, Scottish folds, Abyssinians, Burmese, and Maine Coons. In the spine, arthritis mainly affects the sacroiliac joint – the joint where the hip attaches to the spine.
In short, degenerative diseases can affect all cats and are not specific to the Munchkin breed, but their anatomy does increase the occurrence of these conditions within the Munchkin breed.
How Can I Tell If My Cat Has A Painful Back?
Injury and sickness are seen as a weakness and vulnerabilities in nature. For this reason, cats have an acute skill of hiding sickness and injury. So often, the subtle signs of slow onset chronic pain go unnoticed. There are, however, some signs that your cat might be afflicted with pain or discomfort due to a degenerative disease.
1. Change In Posture And Gait
Your cat might arch or hunch its back when standing or laying down to minimize discomfort or pain in the back. Your cat may also have a low-hanging head or weakened front limbs as a sign of neck pain.
2. Decreased Mobility And Uncoordinated Gait
Unwillingness to jump or move may be a sign of pain. You may also notice a difference in how your Munchkin places their feet, such as crossing the legs or buckling the legs.
3. Lack Of Bowel Or Bladder Control
If there is herniation of the intervertebral disc and spinal cord compression, as in IVDD, certain nerves can be affected. Depending on the location of compression, an IVDD injury can result in urinary and fecal retention or incontinence.
4. Reduced grooming
Matted, greasy, and dandruff may indicate that your cat is in pain as it cannot contort itself to groom certain areas of the body. This often means that your cat may be experiencing low-grade, chronic pain.
Your cat may cry out in pain or even act aggressively when touched. This symptom is more commonly seen in acute or sudden onset pain. Cats rarely vocalize in the case of chronic or slow onset pain – this is precisely why the signs of chronic pain can be so easy to miss.
How Can I Prevent Spinal Conditions?
1. Maintain A Healthy Body Weight
Male Munchkins usually weigh between 6-9 lbs (2.7- 4.1 kg), and females typically weigh between 4-8 lbs (1.8-3.6 kg). Keeping your cat at its optimal weight puts less strain on the joints of the skeletal system and can, therefore, lessen the risk of conditions affecting the spine and other joints in the body.
Obesity can also cause the weakening of the immune system, cause endocrine and metabolic disorders, and decreased mobility. It is, therefore, an excellent idea to keep your cat’s weight in check to support overall health and well-being.
2. Keep Your Cat Fit
With age, the muscle tone of your cat will start to wane. Decreased muscle tone causes the joints to be prone to injury due to the lack of stability. Keeping your cat fit through exercise is essential for maintaining muscle tone to ensure that your Munchkin cat has good mobility, range of motion, and joint stability.
Pet Vet Tip: Want to know how to keep your indoors-only Munchkin active? Read more here.
3. Avoid Excessive Impact On The Joints
Excessive jumping, especially on hard surfaces and from high to low areas, can cause orthopedic injury and may lead to degenerative joint disease.
You can avoid high impact on your Munchkin’s already compromised skeletal system by training your cat to use pet stairs to get to and from higher surfaces around the house. You can also use lower cat trees along with the pet stairs to eliminate the need to jump up and down often.
Pet Vet Tip: Want to know how high Munchkins can jump? Read all about it in this article.
4. Dietary Supplements
Pet joint supplements are a popular adjunctive treatment for dogs and cats suffering from degenerative joint disease.
Chondroprotectants and nutraceuticals are broad terms that describe a variety of compounds that support the health and function of chondrocytes (cartilage and precursor of bone) and synoviocytes (cells that produce synovial fluid facilitate absorption and the blood/synovial fluid exchange).
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are one of nature’s most potent anti-inflammatory compounds. Numerous studies have shown that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce pain and inflammation due to degenerative joint disease.
The Nordic Naturals Omega 3 Pet Liquid is an example of a high-quality omega 3 supplement.
Glucosamine supports the cartilage in joints by providing a substrate for chondrocyte metabolism and potentially suppressing inflammation.
Chondroitin decreases the production of inflammatory chemicals and stimulates the synthesis of collagen and glycosaminoglycans- the building blocks of cartilage and synovial fluid (joint fluid).
NaturVet Moderate Care Glucosamine DS is an example of a supplement containing glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM – all ingredients proven to be beneficial in managing degenerative joint conditions.
Green-Lipped Mussel Extract
Green Lipped Muscle Extract contains glycosaminoglycans, omega-3 FA, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals to support joint health.
There are many other compounds, such as; MSM, glutathione, polysulfated glycosaminoglycans, and DMSO, to name a few, which have all been shown to have an anti-inflammatory and mild pain-reducing effect.
Dr. Mercola Joint Support contains all the ingredients mentioned above and others. It will be an excellent daily supplement to add to the diet of a Munchkin suffering from a painful back condition.
Pet Vet Tip: To read more about the ideal diet and supplementation for Munchkins, have a look at this article.
Even though most of the supplements discussed above have anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing effects, these effects are only mild and may not be sufficient to treat severe pain. If you are concerned that your Munchkin is suffering from a painful back, please talk to your veterinarian to find the proper treatment for your Munchkin cat to keep them comfortable and happy.
- Beale, B., 2004. Use of nutraceuticals and chondroprotectants in osteoarthritic dogs and cats. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice, [online] 34(1), pp.271-289.
- Chandler, J. and Beale, B., 2002. Feline orthopedics. Clinical Techniques in Small Animal Practice, 17(4), pp.190-203.
- Fingeroth, J. and Thomas, W., 2015. Advances in Intervertebral Disc Disease in Dogs and Cats. John Wiley & Sons, pp.42-43.
- Jezyk, P., 1985. Constitutional Disorders of the Skeleton in Dogs and Cats. In: C. Newton and M. Nunamaker, ed., Textbook of Small Animal Orthopaedics, 1st ed. [online] New York: International Veterinary Information Service. Available at: <http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.463.1310&rep=rep1&type=pdf>
- Waynick, L., 2022. Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) in Cats. [Blog] The Spruce Vets