Hip dysplasia occurs in cats as well as dogs, though cats tend to hide it and handle it better. Learn what you need to know about caring for a cat with hip dysplasia.

By Deb M. Eldredge, DVM
October 07, 2020
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We tend to think of hip dysplasia as a problem in large dog breeds. But unfortunately, cats can get hip dysplasia, too. Similar to dogs, it tends to show up in big-boned, large cats such as Maine Coons, but any cat can suffer from hip dysplasia.

What Is Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia refers to a malformation of the hip joint. This is a “ball and socket type joint” – with the head of the femur fitting smoothly and tightly into the hip joint in a normal cat. A cat might have one dysplastic joint, or both may be affected. Cats who suffer from hip dysplasia have joint laxity which will (sooner or later) contribute to the development of arthritis in the hip joint. Sadly, these conditions are painful for cats, and need to be properly cared for to ensure your kitty has a comfortable, happy lifestyle.

The cause of most cat hip dysplasia cases is genetics. This is a multi-gene disorder, so there is no simple DNA test for it. Cats can also have hip arthritis from trauma, such as being hit by a car. This is one of many reasons that it's important to supervise your kitty at all times if you choose to let them explore outdoors.

Signs and Symptoms of Cat Hip Dysplasia

As a cat owner, you might notice that your cat is no longer jumping up on kitchen counters or sunny windowsills. Sometimes, families will pick up on a “hitch” in their cat’s walk. Or occasionally, a cat will resort to using the most affected leg as little as possible.

Other common signs of hip dysplasia include:

  • Avoiding exercise or physical activity
  • Excessive licking or chewing of the affected area
  • Limping
  • Difficulty getting up and moving
  • Sudden reluctance to use the litter box (if it has high sides, it can be hard for cats with joint issues to get in and out of the litter box)

Because cats are sneaky at hiding their pain, some cats with hip dysplasia may not display any symptoms at all! That’s why it’s important for cats to get regular check ups with the veterinarian to be correctly diagnosed with the condition. Diagnosing hip dysplasia in felines usually involves an examination by your vet and X-rays of the problematic hip. Ideally, your vet would love to see your cat move normally, but at the clinic, most cats either hunker down or slink around—not ideal for judging movement! That's why it's so crucial that cat parents keep a watchful eye on any changes to your kitty's movement at home.

How to Treat Hip Dysplasia in Cats

Many cats handle mild cases of hip dysplasia with minimal intervention by their human. But one way to reduce discomfort from this joint disorder involves helping your cat maintain a healthy weight through a nutritious diet and comfortable exercises, as excess weight puts more stress on the joints. Regular exercise such as walks on a harness (if your cat likes them) and interactive play with toys is important.

Consider placing ramps or steps to help your cat get to the places she wants without having to do big leaps up or down. Think about where food, water, and litter boxes are located. You might need to move them to make it easier for your cat to access them.

Joint supplements can help to minimize the progression of bony arthritic changes in the hip joints. Most joint supplements will have glucosamine or chondroitin in them. These help to repair any cartilage damage from abnormal wear and tear and keep cartilage healthy. Acupuncture and physical therapy may also help some cats. There are even cats who enjoy working out on an underwater treadmill!

Surgical Treatment

For cats with severe dysplasia that is causing a lot of pain, there are some surgical options. Hip replacements are almost unheard of in cats due to the small size of their bones, and the weight of a replacement alone would hinder your cat’s movement.

More commonly, the diseased femoral head is simply removed. You may see this referred to as “femoral head and neck excision”. Via this method, cat hip dysplasia surgery costs tend to run about $1,500 to $3,000 versus $4,000 minimum for a hip replacement. Your cat will then form a “false joint” with the muscles providing support. Cats who have had this surgery may show a very slight limp but are pain-free and commonly return to full activity levels.

Postoperatively, you will need to provide care for your cat as she heals, but most cats are literally up and running in a few weeks!

Hip Dysplasia Prevention

While there aren’t any tried-and-true ways to totally prevent hip dysplasia in cats, there are some things you can do.

  • Limit the jumping your kittens do until they are fully grown (don’t encourage kamikaze leaps from the top of the cat tree to the floor, for example)
  • Keep your cat at a healthy weight
  • Encourage moderate exercise to keep hip muscles strong
  • Make regular visits to the vet to check on your cat's joint health

If you love the big-boned cat breeds, look for a breeder who does OFA hip screenings on their cats. You can search on the site to see the results for individual cats.