A 6 month old kitten presented to me for a 1 month history of lethargy, not wanting to move, falling over, and acting painful.
Before even putting my hands on the kitten, I asked a relatively extensive history of what was going on.
The owner described about 1 month ago the kitten fell off a small table and things have become progressively, significantly worse since. They rescued the kitten when it was about 1 month old from a back ally and have had it since. Up until one month ago, it had never displayed any of these signs. The other pets in the house are acting just normal and the kitten is up to date on its vaccines. It is fed a homemade diet and gets some extra dried organs as treats. The kitten does not go outside and there is no chance it could have got into any chemicals, medication, or drugs. Sometimes, he perks up and acts like a kitten again but this is getting less and less frequent.
On my physical exam, the kitten definitely was acting odd. It was very hesitant to move and when it did it walked with its hind legs crunched and a curve in its back (kind of like an armadillo). It was quite painful with its lower (caudal) back was palpated and when I attempted to stretch its hind legs out. Its heart rate, temperature, respiratory rate, and lung sounds were all normal. It was hesitant to let me open its mouth and seemed painful but no abnormalities were noted when the mouth was examined. Its cranial nerves all appeared to function normally and, other than walking in a crouched position, its neurologic responses/reflexes were normal in its legs.
Top differential diagnosis: vitamin/mineral deficiency, trauma, congenital abnormality
Based on the clinical signs and my history, I was pretty suspicious that the kitten had a vitamin/mineral deficiency from being on a homemade diet. I recommended that we did radiographs and bloodwork.
Radiographs: decreased bone density especially in the hind limbs and vertebrae (see
Suspected diagnosis: nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism +/- rickets
This is a disorder that is caused by improperly balanced diets that do not have an adequate ratio of calcium to phosphorus and inadequate vitamin D.
Why does this happen (simplified)?? Vitamin D and phosphorus both contribute to calcium absorption/metabolism/storage. Calcium is a very important mineral that helps the body function properly. So, when we don’t have enough in the blood stream, the body releases hormones like parathyroid hormone (PTH) that act to pull calcium from the bones. If the animal is deficient long term, the bones lose a lot of destiny and become brittle. This can result in a lot of pain and bone fractures. The calcium deficiency can become so severe, the pet can develop seizures and die.
This is why it is SO IMPORTANT to feed your pet a BALANCED diet! If you want to feed your pet a homemade diet, look at meal options that are balanced for your pet like www.woofly.ca. You can also speak to your vet and they can get you in contact with a vet nutritionist to formulate a diet specific for your pet. Kibble and wet food are great too - as long as they have the AAFCO certification on the label.