What are Arthritis?
According to a study published by the Journal of American Vet Medical Association, in 2002, upwards of 90 percent of felines over the age of 12 showed signs of joint degenerative disease and arthritis. However, as researchers have pointed out in articles published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, it can be difficult for veterinary professionals and cat owners alike to identify the symptoms of feline arthritis because cats are adept at masking their symptoms as part of their survival instincts.
Feline arthritis is estimated to affect as many as one in three cats. It is a degenerative disease that affects their joints, causing the cartilage inside the joint to wear away. This leaves the feline with inflammation, pain, and a reduced quality of life.
Symptoms of Arthritis in Cats
Since felines are masters of hiding their pain, it is not common for them to exhibit obvious signs of arthritis such as limping. Instead, they minimize their daily activity in response to sore joints. Symptoms to look for include:
- A Reduction in Mobility: You may notice that your cat is reluctant to jump up and down on furniture, or they may jump or move slower than they did before. You may also notice difficulty traveling up and down stairs, difficulty using the litter box, difficulty coming in through a cat door, and increased stiffness in their legs, especially when they have been in a static position for a while.
- A Reduction in Activity: You may notice that your cat is not hunting, exploring, or playing like it did before. It may spend an increased amount of time sleeping.
- Altered Grooming Pattern: Arthritic pain may lead to your cat spending less time grooming, causing them to have a matted coat. They may over-groom areas around sore joints, and their claws might have grown longer as a result of reduced activity and reduced sharpening of their claws.
- Changes in Temperament: Increased irritability when handled or stroked as well as an increased avoidance of interaction with people.
Causes of Arthritis in Cats
Feline arthritis can develop with no underlying cause and simply in response to the mechanical wear and tear on the feline’s joint that accompanies aging. Or it can be a secondary disease that develops in the cat as a result of the following:
- Genetics: Main Coon, Siamese, and Scottish Folds have a genetic predisposition to arthritis.
- Injury or Trauma: Fractures, dislocated joints, and other joint injuries can lead to the condition.
- Infection or Inflammation: These conditions can lead to an abnormal conformation of the joints and cartilage damage.
- Obesity: While obesity in and of itself does not cause arthritis, obesity can exacerbate the problem by causing the body to release inflammatory mediators and worsening the joint inflammation.
- Acromegaly: This is a rare condition that develops in cats when a tumor that affects the pituitary gland makes too much growth hormone. This, in turn, leads to arthritis in the joints.
Diagnosis of Arthritis in Cats
Because of its prevalence in older cats, veterinarians will examine any cat over the age of seven for the disease. During the examination, the veterinarian will look for some of the symptoms of feline arthritis discussed earlier in this article. During the examination, the veterinarian may detect pain, swelling, or other changes in the joint. When these are noted, x-rays of the joints are taken to confirm the diagnosis. If the veterinarian has doubts as to whether or not the cat has arthritis, they may prescribe a trial dose of anti-inflammatory medicine and then monitor the feline’s performance. If it is determined that your older feline requires a particular medicine, your veterinarian may recommend a blood and urine test to guarantee that these medications will not negatively impact your pet’s health. You can do your part to help your veterinarian by monitoring the activity of your feline and bringing them in for a checkup if the symptoms of arthritis are present.
Treatment of Arthritis in Cats
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all cure for arthritis in felines. Multiple factors need to be considered to provide optimal help.
- Modifying the Feline's Environment: This would include providing your feline with a soft, comfortable bed to lay in. It’s to be located in a quiet location that is free of drafts. Constructing ramps or stairs to allow your cat to reach their favorite higher locations in the house could be beneficial. Food and water should be easily accessible, and arthritic cats may require more grooming from their owners.
- Diet and Dietary Supplements: Your veterinarian will work with you to create a diet that is in line with your cat's age, breed, size, and activity level. Reduced weight has been shown to minimize the clinical symptoms of arthritis in cats. Your veterinarian may recommend dietary supplements, including those that have essential fatty acids, which can reduce inflammation.
- Pharmaceuticals: Your veterinarian may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Administering these drugs should only be done with the approval and under the supervision of a veterinarian. In some cats, additional painkilling medicine may be needed when NSAIDs do not adequately address the pain.
Recovery of Arthritis in Cats
Since arthritis in cats is a long-term disease, it will require constant monitoring on your part. If symptoms of the disease worsen, or if it is clear that the course of medication provided by your veteran is not functioning, follow-up visits may be necessary.
Arthritis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Hey, my 16-year-old Siamese, Mocha, has been periodically limping the last few weeks. At first, I thought it was just a light sprain that would heal in a day or two (as this is my first feline friend to make it past the age of 10) and that her age was making jumps more difficult for her. But as time has gone on, she's been limping more and more, and with more research, I've discovered that it's very likely she has arthritis in her back right knee and front left ankle. Tonight, for the first time in her life, she's been limping so bad she refuses to put any weight on her front left ankle, which has brought me back to researching online. She won't let me examine too thoroughly, but she doesn't appear to have any external damages that I can see. I'm wondering if there is any cause for new concern, or if it's just a rough night?
Thank you, Michele. Are there any over-the-counter drugs or herbs that are safe for her to take for the pain? I've seen that NSAIDS are common with a vet's prescription but come with some hazardous side effects. I've also seen over-the-counter options to help prevent further damage to her joints, such as Joint MAX and Cosequin--do these help with the pain as well?
Hello, I just thought I'd update you this morning. Mocha is still limping like last night, and sleeping a ton (and hard!) as well. She's moving and still being friendly and sweet to the family, but definitely appears to be in pain, primarily in the same front ankle. Thank you for you time.
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