Cauda equina eyndrome is a condition where the spinal canal narrows and puts pressure on nerves in the lumbar (low back) and sacral (part of the spine that sits in the pelvis) areas. Cauda equina syndrome is also referred to as spinal stenosis or narrowing of the spinal canal.
Cauda equina syndrome is rarely found in cats. When it does occur it can be either the result of a birth defect, or can be acquired later in life. If it’s not the result of a birth defect it usually occurs because the vertebrae that sit right at the junction of the lumbar and sacral spine areas are unstable (move around too much).
- Trouble walking, inability to walk, or total lameness
- Pain in the low back near the hips and tail
- Weakness in the back legs and muscle wasting
- Weakness/paralysis of the tail or carrying the tail abnormally low
- Incontinence with urine, feces, or both (rare)
Proper diagnosis usually involves a physical exam and lab tests (blood and urine). If your cat doesn’t have any other conditions then the laboratory tests are likely to all be normal. X-rays can show some information about the condition of the spine, but for proper diagnosis you will likely need an MRI or CT (“CAT”) scan.
If your cat has urinary issues due to cauda equina they will likely be hospitalized with a urinary catheter until they can regain control of their bladder function.
Surgery to relieve the pressure on the nerves is necessary to relieve the pain an any associated weakness or paralysis. Even with surgery some weakness or paralysis may remain, but pain is often eliminated or greatly reduced.
Cauda equina is a progressive disease and symptoms will worsen over time if surgery is not done to correct the problem. Restricted movements and pain medicine can be used to help manage symptoms if surgery is not an option. If your cat has surgery you will need to restrict their movements for about a month, and they will be on pain medications while they recover from the surgery.
Whether your cat is able to have surgery or not, it is important to avoid any strenuous exercise. Do your best to limit running and jumping as both will increase the pressure on the nerves and make the symptoms worse. If your cat likes to be in high spaces you will need to add stairs, ramps, or other “levels” so that they can get where they want to be without having to jump up or down. If your cat is unsteady on their feet you may want to remove their access to high spaces so that they can’t get stuck somewhere and to reduce the risk of a fall and additional injury.
If your cat is overweight or obese then a controlled weight loss program can also help to relieve the symptoms and improve mobility. CatInfo.org has a really good breakdown of how to safely guide your cat through a weight loss program if one is needed.
Let your vet know immediately if there are any changes in your cat’s symptoms. Particularly if there’s an increase in pain, loss of mobility, or if they develop new (or worsening) problems with peeing or pooping.
Disease Information Sites
There don’t appear to be any websites devoted to this condition in cats.
I couldn’t find any groups devoted to cauda equina support, probably because this condition is so rare in cats.
Cat Health and Behavior on groups.io is an email-based support group that has members all over the world and may be able to help.
The Facebook group Cats With Multiple Medical Conditions may also be helpful in dealing with this condition.
If your cat has mobility issues or incontinence then you may also want to look for groups that deal with arthritis and/or paralysis in cats. Either type of group may be able to guide you in dealing with your cat’s symptoms.