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Why is my cat yowling in pain whenever he sits down?

Before we begin this week's column, we'd like to congratulate our fellow black cat, Joey, of Bismarck, North Dakota, for heroically saving the life of his human by warning her about a fire in her home. Congratulations, Joey, and we hope that your community honors you the way you deserve. We send our purrs and headbonks to you and commend you for a job well done!

Dear Sinéad, Siouxsie and Thomas:
My 13-year old cat has a problem that my veterinarian has been trying to treat for the last 6-8 months, and it doesn't seem to be getting any better. I don't know where else to turn.

Whenever my cat tries to sit down, or sometimes lay down, he lets out a short yowl, and then he seems to be fine -- until he moves somewhere else and tries to sit or lay down again.

My veterinarian has examined him a few times, and thinks the cat has arthritis. We have used Depomedrol for the last several months, and sometimes it seems to help for a month or so, and sometimes only a couple of weeks.

I must add that this same cat can come ripping through his cat door, turn the corner and go up the stairs at a high rate of speed, and has no problem jumping up on the bed or getting down off of the bed (or the roof of the house, for that matter). He then goes to sit at his food dish, and lets out this yowl.

I don't doubt that he could have some arthritis going, but I am now wondering if he has a nerve bothering him in his lower back or hip(s). Is this a possibility?

Please help!

Sinéad: It certainly is possible that a cat could develop a nerve problem such as sciatica (inflammation of the sciatic nerve, which leads from the base of the spine down the outside of the legs), but it's quite rare. Cats can also suffer from intervertebral disc problems such as "slipped" or herniated discs, but again this is extremely rare.

Siouxsie: Certain breeds of cats have an increased tendency to suffer from hip dysplasia, too. If your veterinarian has taken any X-rays of your cat's hips and spine, he or she should be able to see if your cat has any degree of hip dysplasia.

Thomas: As a side note, an X-ray can often determine the presence of arthritis, too. We think it would be worthwhile for your vet to take an X-ray of your cat's spine and hips to see if there is any organic problem that could be causing this.

Sinéad: You should also be aware that discomfort in other locations such as the neck, shoulders or ribs can cause pain when sitting or lying down, so your cat's problem may not necessarily be in his hips. The good news is that cats are small enough that only one X-ray should be required to scan your cat from shoulders to hips.

Siouxsie: Cats don't usually develop arthritis until later in their teen years, so we suspect your cat's problem may not be arthritis at all. As to what it could be -- we're not veterinarians, so we couldn't tell you for sure -- but there are a couple of possibilities you could investigate.

Thomas: We've heard of humans and dogs developing Lyme disease. This is a bacterial illness carried by deer ticks, and is very prevalent in the eastern United States. We don't know if cats can get Lyme disease, but one of the main symptoms of this disorder is a sudden lameness in one limb. Of course, your cat would have to have been bitten by a tick in order to be infected, so if your cat is an indoor-only cat, the odds that he has Lyme disease are virtually nonexistent.

Sinéad: Another possibility is that your cat was injured. Either he may have been hit a glancing blow by a car (if he was outside) or he may have fallen and landed wrong (it does happen, as much as we hate to admit), or (and we hope there's no possibility of this) he may have been deliberately hurt by a human being. If your cat was injured in one of these ways, it is possible that he fractured a bone in his hip or leg, and while he can still walk on it, certain activities can aggravate the ongoing pain.

Siouxsie: Cats can also suffer injuries to ligaments and tendons, and these injuries often take a very long time to heal.

Thomas: Malignancies in the bone can also lead to pain and sensitivity. We don't want to scare you, but this is a possibility -- although we would like to assure you that bone cancer is very rare!

Sinéad: The only way to know for sure what's going on with your cat is for your vet to do diagnostic tests such as an X-ray, and possibly a blood test to see if any of your cat's enzyme, hormone, red blood cell or white blood cell levels are outside the normal range. You didn't mention in your letter whether or not your vet has run any of these tests, but we certainly hope he or she has. If your cat has been in pain for six months, at the very least he should have been X-rayed by now.

Siouxsie: If your vet has run the appropriate diagnostic tests and hasn't been able to come up with a definitive diagnosis, you might consider getting a second opinion. As with human doctors, some vets know more about certain types of conditions and their treatment than others do. This doesn't mean your vet is bad or incompetent, it just means that no human can know everything (only cats have that privilege!) and it's worth going the extra mile to get the help your cat needs.

Thomas: Meanwhile, there are some things you can do to help your cat be more comfortable. First of all, make sure he has a bed that is soft and in a warm area. Consider placing a hot water bottle under a blanket in his bed. If he has arthritis, the heat will help ease his sore hips. Moist heat like this is also good for relaxing muscle spasms.

Sinéad: Some people recommend electric heating pads, but we find that those can get too hot for our liking, and a heating pad could be a fire hazard under the wrong circumstances. Also, there are humans who believe the electromagnetic field generated by heating pads or electric blankets are bad for us.

Siouxsie: The homeopathic remedy Arnica Montana is used to provide relief from bone pain and bruising-type pain. Mama has given us Arnica when we've had injuries of this nature and it works very well. Homeopathic remedies are totally nontoxic and have no harmful side effects. Mama says if you choose this remedy, give one pellet of 12C or 30C potency by mouth, twice a day, when your cat has pain flare-ups.

Thomas: If your cat has bouts of sudden violent and intense pain, very little thirst, increased anxiety and fear, a tottering gait, jerking limbs, spasm and limping, along with cold extremities, use the remedy Belladonna 12C or 30C. Give one pellet at one- to two-hour intervals for up to four doses during an acute flare-up, and then give one pellet twice a day until symptoms subside.

Sinéad: If your cat has a slipped disk and is suffering from muscle spasms, numb legs, if his feet drag while he walks, if he has to sit up to turn over, is irritable and resents touch, give the remedy Nux Vomica 12C or 30C, in the same dosage as indicated for Belladonna above.

Siouxsie: If your cat has an injury with tendon and ligament involvement, his legs give out easily, he has pain and stiffness of the paws and joints, and is very restless, give the remedy Ruta Graveolens, in the same dosage as indicated for Arnica.

Thomas: Whatever the cause of your cat's pain and lameness, we also think you would benefit from consulting a holistic veterinarian. We've known many cats (and humans!) who have found relief when using holistic therapies such as acupuncture, massage or other gentle physical manipulation, homeopathy and herbalism. The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association has a list of its members who practice in the United States and Canada, and we're certain that other nations have similar organizations that can help you find a holistic vet in your area.

Sinéad: Good luck to you both. Please do write us and let us know how things turn out!

Got a question? Need some advice? E-mail us at advice@paws-and-effect.com. None of the material in this column is meant to be a substitute for regular veterinary care.