What is Degenerative Joint Disease?
A cat with degenerative joint disease may show difficulty or reluctance to move. If your cat is older or has recently suffered an injury, appears to be limping, or becomes less active, contact your veterinarian for an examination.
Degenerative joint disease, or osteoarthritis, in cats is a chronic condition caused by loss of the smooth cartilage in a joint. As the cartilage cushion wears away, bones start to rub against one another. This leads to inflammation and pain. Osteoarthritis can be a normal part of the wear and tear of aging, or the result of an injury or joint abnormality.
Symptoms of Degenerative Joint Disease in Cats
Due to their relatively small size and light weight, cats usually tolerate degenerative joint disease better than dogs or humans. Their symptoms may be more subtle than other animals. If you suspect your cat is developing arthritis, watch for signs like:
- Reduced activity
- Difficulty going up or down stairs
- Stiffness, especially after sleeping or resting
- Refusal or reluctance to jump up or down
- Difficulty using the litter box
- Poor grooming
- Irritability when being handled or stroked
- Avoiding contact with people or other animals
Types of degenerative joint disease include:
- Primary Degenerative Joint Disease: With primary joint disease, there is no known underlying cause. This presents mostly in older animals due to age-related degeneration.
- Secondary Degenerative Joint Disease: Secondary joint disease occurs as the result of another condition such as an injury or a genetic or congenital (existing from birth) abnormality.
Causes of Degenerative Joint Disease in Cats
With primary degenerative joint disease, there is no underlying cause. The arthritis develops from the normal wear and tear of aging. Secondary degenerative joint disease can arise from various causes.
Genetic or congenital abnormalities: Some breeds are more prone to conditions such as hip dysplasia or patellar luxation that contribute to degenerative joint disease.
- Injuries: Fractures, dislocations and other trauma to the bones or joints can lead to joint disease
- Obesity: Increased weight on the joints can increase the effects of other causative factors.
Diagnosis of Degenerative Joint Disease in Cats
If you suspect that your kitty has degenerative joint disease, contact your veterinarian. Because cats can be generally resistant to being handled, it can be difficult to diagnose arthritis based on a physical examination alone. Your doctor will want a detailed account of your observations to help confirm the presence of degenerative joint disease. Let your veterinarian know if your feline pal has been going outside the litter box, isolating itself more from people and animals, or spending more time laying around or resting. Include details about whether your kitty has changed sleeping areas to avoid jumping or climbing, has seemed more temperamental, or appears to be stiff or slow when getting up
The examination will involve palpating and manipulating joints to check for signs of pain or discomfort. For a definitive diagnosis, your veterinarian may choose to x-ray affected limbs for signs of degenerative change. Although not required to diagnose arthritis, the doctor may also run blood tests to screen for any underlying causes and to make sure your cat can tolerate certain medications.
Treatment of Degenerative Joint Disease in Cats
There is currently no known cure for degenerative joint disease. However, there are ways you can control your cat's level of pain and help slow progression of the disease. With a combination of environmental changes, diet and dietary supplements, medications, and alternative treatments you can help improve your kitty's quality of life.
You can make some changes at home to keep your feline pal more comfortable. Be sure bedding is soft and placed in a warm dry location. Make sure food, water, and the litter box are in easily accessible areas. If your cat is having difficulty getting in and out of the litter box, invest in a box with at least one lower side. Provide carpeted pet stairs or a ramp to make favorite places easier to reach. You can also brush your cat if they are having difficulty grooming. Taking these steps can enhance your cat's life.
Diet and Dietary Supplements
If your cat is overweight, your veterinarian will recommend a controlled weight loss plan. Maintaining a healthy weight reduces the stress placed on the joints and helps minimize pain.
In addition to a good maintenance diet, there are a few joint supplements that can help manage the disease. The supplements glucosamine and chondroitin help provide the building blocks for the body to create, repair, or maintain cartilage in joints. In addition, chondroitin can prevent destructive enzymes from breaking down cartilage. Another dietary supplement that can help with pain management is omega-3 fatty acids. This class of fatty acids has some anti-inflammatory effects that can reduce pain and inflammation in the joint.
Your veterinarian may prescribe anti-inflammatories and pain relievers to help manage joint disease in your cat. Be sure to follow instructions carefully, as some medications are safe at limited doses but may have harmful side effects if overdosed. Cats are very sensitive to aspirin, and you should only give buffered aspirin if your doctor has prescribed it. Another non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as Meloxicam, may be helpful to reduce pain and inflammation from arthritis in cats, but there are risks of side-effects such as kidney or liver damage. Corticosteroids are not recommended to manage pain from arthritis in cats.
Surgical treatment is not a common practice in cats because their of their smaller size and weight. Some specially trained veterinarians may offer acupuncture as an alternative to traditional medications. The effectiveness of this approach has not been proven, but some cats seem to respond to the treatment.
Recovery of Degenerative Joint Disease in Cats
Degenerative Joint Disease is a progressive condition with no known cure. However, with appropriate adjustments at home and veterinarian-directed care, you can keep your cat comfortable. If your doctor prescribes drugs to help manage the pain, expect periodic check-ups and blood tests to monitor for possible side effects such as changes in kidney or liver functions.