Structure: The Body


Vertebrae should be aligned evenly and symmetrically along the length of the spine, including the tail. The tail tapers. The spine is flexible, thus allowing cats to assume an arched position. A fixed spinal curve is not considered normal.

Fixed Deviation of the Tail (Kink) – Deviated or misshapened vertebrae felt anywhere from the base to the tip of the tail. Although a “kink” in the tail is not likely to affect the cat, it is possible that similar undetectable abnormalities occurring further up the spine could exert pressure on the nerves within the spinal column and thus cause discomfort.

Stiff Tail – Tail that is lacking in flexibility; it may be due to abnormally thick vertebrae.

Foreshortened Tail – A tail which is abnormally short, ending abruptly.


Rib cage should either be rounded or oval in cross-section. There should be a very gentle outward curve, running almost unnoticeable into the softer contour of the abdomen, with no protrusion or dip at the rear end of the sternum.

Abnormal Angulation of Rib Cage – A triangular tendency (if viewed in cross section) can be an expression of flat-chestedness or “swimmer’s” chest. It is also considered abnormal for the ribs to flare outward.

Illustration of Rib Cage

Fixed Deviation of the Sternum or Xiphoid Process – This is a distinct hook outward or a bend inwards at the rear end of the sternum, or the asymmetrical alignment of the entire sternum.

Illustration of Xyphoid


Patellar Luxation – The kneecap (patella) freely moves away from the front of the joint. In an adult cat only very slight movement should be possible. Recurrent luxation can cause lameness.

Illustration of Patella

Hip Dysplasia – Abnormal development of the hip joint affecting the close fit of the femur to the pelvis. Seen in larger breeds, it is an inherited disorder and diagnosed by x-ray. Painful, it affects gait and back leg mobility.

Illustration of Hip Displaysia

Bowed legs occur when the hocks are further apart than the feet
Cow-hocked legs – The hind hocks turn inward and cause the feet to point outwards rather than straight forward.

Illustration of Legs

Splayed Toes – Toes spread too far apart.
Polydactyly – abnormal number of toes. True polydactyly caused by a dominant gene does not occur in pedigreed cats; however, an unconnected condition of having “dew-claws” on the hind legs as well as the front is sometimes seen. Absence of Toes and other Toe Abnormalities – The cat has five toes in front and four behind, all separate digits. Abnormal fusion of two or more toes may impair balance/movement.


Umbilical Hernia – a bulge or soft swelling at the navel (umbilicus) caused by protrusion of abdominal contents through the navel.

Inguinal Hernia – a bulge or soft swelling in the groin area caused by protrusion of abdominal contents through the inguinal canal. (This is less common and more difficult to detect than an umbilical hernia.)


Adult whole males 8 months of age and older should have both testicles fully descended into the scrotum. Scrotal development may be delayed in some breeds.

Unilateral Cryptorchid – a male with two testicles; one descended into the scrotal sack, the other undescended.

Cryptorchid – a male with testicles which have not descended into the scrotal sack.

Monorchid – a male having only one testicle.

Related Links:

Text: Gayle Hand, Joan Miller, Betty White
Illustrations: Leslie Falteisek