Orthopedic examination in the cat: clinical tips for ruling in/out common musculoskeletal disease.
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PATIENT GROUP: The majority of cats will develop radiographic evidence of degenerative joint disease by the time they are 12 years of age, and many will suffer from a decline in quality of life associated with undiagnosed and untreated orthopedic disease. PRACTICAL RELEVANCE: A focused, efficient orthopedic examination, including gait observation and palpation (awake and under sedation), supplemented with appropriate history, is key in ruling in, or out, clinically important musculoskeletal disease. Identifying problems assists in both developing a diagnostic plan and monitoring response to treatment. CLINICAL CHALLENGES: Many clinicians feel uncomfortable in their ability to reliably perform an orthopedic examination in the cat, and diagnosis and evaluation of response to treatment in cats with orthopedic disease can be challenging. Hands-on training in feline orthopedic examination is limited in many veterinary curricula. Additional constraints may include failure to obtain important information in the history that indicates feline orthopedic disease, lack of appropriate facilities in which to conduct a complete orthopedic examination, and inability to obtain the most important information during the time available to conduct the examination. These problems can create gaps in the practitioner's ability to provide excellent care for a large proportion of the feline population. GOALS: The above challenges can mostly be overcome with advanced planning and with consideration of the unique behavioral aspects related to feline handling. As discussed in this review, the aim of the initial orthopedic examination is to localize the problem to a specific limb, ideally to a region or joint of the limb, which can further direct diagnostics such as radiography or arthrocentesis. This should provide a basis for follow-up and assessment of whether treatment strategies are effective.
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