Degenerative spinal disorders, including intervertebral disc disease and spondylosis, seldom occur in domestic cats. In contrast, a retrospective study of 13 lions (Panthera leo), 16 tigers (Panthera tigris), 4 leopards (Panthera pardis), 1 snow leopard (Panthera uncia), and 3 jaguars (Panthera onca) from the Knoxville Zoo that died or were euthanatized from 1976 to 1996 indicated that degenerative spinal disease is an important problem in large nondomestic felids. The medical record, radiographic data, and the necropsy report of each animal were examined for evidence of intervertebral disc disease or spondylosis. Eight (three lions, four tigers, and one leopard) animals were diagnosed with degenerative spinal disease. Clinical signs included progressively decreased activity, moderate to severe rear limb muscle atrophy, chronic intermittent rear limb paresis, and ataxia. The age at onset of clinical signs was 10–19 yr (median = 18 yr). Radiographic evaluation of the spinal column was useful in assessing the severity of spinal lesions, and results were correlated with necropsy findings. Lesions were frequently multifocal, included intervertebral disc mineralization or herniation with collapsed intervertebral disc spaces, and were most common in the lumbar area but also involved cervical and thoracic vertebrae. Marked spondylosis was present in the cats with intervertebral disc disease, presumably subsequent to vertebral instability. Six of the animals' spinal cords were examined histologically, and five had acute or chronic damage to the spinal cord secondary to disc protrusion. Spinal disease should be suspected in geriatric large felids with decreased appetite or activity. Radiographic evaluation of the spinal column is the most useful method to assess the type and severity of spinal lesions.
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Vol. 31 • No. 1