Muscle Atrophy in Cats

Key takeaways

Muscle atrophy is the degeneration or loss of muscle mass. In cats, muscle atrophy is primarily recognized when there is generalized muscle loss and owners are able to easily feel the spine, hips, and rib bones

  • Muscle atrophy occurs from metabolic alterations, leading to increased protein and muscle breakdown
  • Examples of underlying conditions that may lead to muscle atrophy in cats include kidney or heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism
  • Other coinciding symptoms include decreased appetite, vomiting, lethargy, excessive thirst and urination, and weight loss
  • Diagnostics to identify the underlying cause of muscle atrophy includes physical examination, bloodwork, diagnostic imaging, and urinalysis
  • Treatments depend on the underlying disease, but may include medications, dietary modification, and supportive care
  • The prognosis depends on the underlying cause
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A closer look: Muscle Atrophy in Cats

Muscle atrophy is a common clinical sign observed in cats and can be present secondary to several conditions. It is most commonly observed in older cats.

Muscle atrophy can develop due to progressing illness using up protein stores from muscle tissue, from lack of use of muscles (as in cases where walking or mobility is significantly compromised), or from generalized muscle-specific conditions leading to degeneration of the muscle.

Muscle mass is assessed using a muscle condition scoring system, varying from normal, mild, moderate, or severe. The severity of the muscle atrophy does not necessarily correlate to the severity of disease, but severe muscle atrophy can worsen the prognosis of the disease.

As muscle loss in cats is frequently a sign of a significant underlying disease, prompt veterinary attention is warranted.

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Possible causes

Risk factors

The severity of muscle atrophy varies based on the extent of muscle loss. Muscle atrophy may be localized to one specific muscle, as is the case when an injury, tumor, or other process prevents use of the muscle. Illnesses that impact the entire body like cancer lead to generalized loss of muscle tissue, also known as cachexia.

Since muscle atrophy is often seen in the final stages of progressive disease, most cats are at risk of developing atrophy eventually. Unvaccinated and outdoor cats are at the highest risk of injury and infectious disease, so these individuals may have higher rates of muscle atrophy as associated with other conditions.

Testing and diagnosis

Cats presenting with muscle atrophy may undergo the following diagnostics to identify the underlying disease

  • Medical history
  • Physical examination
  • Bloodwork
  • Urinalysis
  • Diagnostic imaging

Muscle-specific diseases may require muscle biopsies and/or specific genetic testing.

Treatment depends on the disease leading to muscle atrophy. Treatments may include medications, and supportive care. Hospitalization and/or referral to a specialist may be required in some cases.

In addition, a nutritional plan is expected to be an important part of therapy to prevent further muscle loss. This often includes dietary changes as well as additional supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids. Muscle wasting is easily mistaken for significant fat loss in cats.

Associated symptoms

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