Arthritis in Cats
What is arthritis?
Arthritis in its simplest terms is damage to joints. This can be caused by many things- for example infection, trauma or the immune system. When we talk about arthritis in our pets we are mostly talking about osteoarthritis. This is generally caused by the wear and tear on the joints that comes with age, although in some circumstances (e.g. after a trauma or with abnormal anatomy) it can be present in young cats also. The cartilage that normally protects the joints wears away, leading to inflammation and pain.
How can I spot arthritis in my cat?
Arthritis is persistently underdiagnosed and undertreated in cats. This is because cats are masters at hiding their pain and discomfort, making it very difficult to pick up the early signs. In recent studies researchers have found evidence of arthritis in x-rays of 60-90% of cats, affecting not just the limbs but the spinal cord as well! We know it’s there, so we have to become arthritis detectives to spot the signs, make sure we treat it and reduce any pain our cats might feel
Clues for the arthritis detective!
- Reluctance to move- sadly arthritis in cats is not always as obvious as this. Often older cats will still have their ‘funny 5 minutes’ where they tear up and down the house, but their overall movements may be reduced. More significant lack of movement such as limping means the arthritis could be advanced already, and treatment may be necessary.
- Reduced jumping- young cats are great at jumping huge distances, but as they get older you may notice them reluctant to do this unless necessary. To complicate things, you will still find them scaling garden fences because they may prioritise checking their territory over any discomfort! We need to be aware that the ability to jump is often still present, but as pain increases they will opt not to unless necessary.
- Reduced grooming- have you noticed increased shedding of cat fur in the house? Or is their fur just not as sleek as it used to be? As their joints start to be uncomfortable we may notice that the incredible yoga-like positions our cats used to perform to groom no longer happen as frequently. This can lead to build up of fur and matting (especially in the longer haired breeds).
- Increased grooming- this is another complication in our detective work! Although we mostly see reduced grooming in cats starting to suffer, sometimes when they are painful they will over-groom particular areas that are causing them discomfort. This can lead to bald patches or sore skin in particular regions.
- Reduced activity- this isn’t just sleeping more but perhaps sleeping in different places that might be easier to access or where people are less likely to bother them.
- Reduced interaction- you might find their temperament changes and they start to avoid you and your family. Growling when touched can be another sign of concern.
- Changes in toilet behaviour- cats may start to struggle to get through the cat flap or climb into a high walled litter tray which may lead to increased accidents in the house.
What can we do to help?
Doing the detective work is all well and good but we also need to think about what we can do once we decide there is a problem. Bringing your furry friend to see us is always the first step and there are several options your vet might talk to you about for long term management of arthritis.
Your vet will examine the joints and feel if there are any specific points of concern. In serious cases we might suggest x-raying a joint to assess damage, but often we will start with more conservative management.
Anti-inflammatories and other pain relief
Unfortunately pain killers that we might take such as paracetamol or ibuprofen are extremely toxic to cats. Luckily we have other drugs of a similar type that are much safer. The most common one we use is called meloxicam, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID), which is designed as a palatable liquid that even the pickiest cat rarely turns its nose up at! It is licensed for long-term use in cats and side effects are rare. Often vets will recommend a blood or urine test before starting to ensure there are no other co-existing concerns that might affect the use of medication.
In rare cases we might add in further types of pain relief, perhaps if pain is uncontrolled on NSAIDs or if there are undesirable side effects. Your vet will discuss these options with you dependent on the individual case.
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Joint supplements and diet
In more mild cases we might discuss supplements. In all cases diet can play a role as weight management is extremely important. Even small weight gains can worsen signs of arthritis and increase any discomfort felt. Your vet may talk to you about diet foods designed to help the older cat shed the pounds when their activity levels are low! We offer 25% off all prescription foods and any other life stage food is cost price for all Pet Health Club members
Supplements are a very safe way to help your cat. They usually contain chondroitin and glucosamine (two components of cartilage in the joints) and essential fatty acids which help manage inflammation. Some also contain green lipped mussel, an ingredient which in many cases has seemed to increase their effectiveness. You can try joint supplements without seeing a vet but feel free to talk to us about our recommendations. We do stock our own joint supplement which contains all of the previously mentioned components; feedback from our own furry friends is that it’s very tasty!
Making small changes to your house may help your cat as they start to stiffen up. Buying shallower litter trays and increasing the number present can help them when toileting. Making sure their bed is deep and soft is also a good tactic for those sore joints! Making sure they don’t have to climb any steps to access important resources such as food and water is also vital.
Cats with arthritis often get overgrown claws so make sure these are cut regularly. If you want help with this feel free to come and see one of our nurses who can cut them or help you learn how to perform this safely at home.
If your cat likes to sit on a windowsill or raised area in particular try to leave a chair or table near by to help them get up in a series of smaller jumps rather than one large one. You can purchase ramps to help too!
We do offer acupuncture with Leslie Kenmuir, one of the vets at our Fishponds branch. This may not be beneficial in every case but is a useful adjunctive therapy. If you want to discuss this further feel free to call us for more information.
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