What is it?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease where the cartilage of a joint is worn away. Normally cartilage cushions a joint so when it has been worn away there is inflammation, pain and ongoing damage. OA can have no underlying cause and is put down to normal ‘wear and tear’ or it can be caused by an injured or abnormal joint. 

Note that OA is different to rheumatoid arthritis, an immune related disease seen in humans. 

Does my cat have arthritis?
Cats are very good at hiding pain so it doesn’t get easily picked up. Recent studies have shown that up to 90% of cats over 12 years old have some form of arthritis that can be seen in x-rays. 

Unlike dogs, cats generally won’t limp or show that they are in pain. Instead they limit how much they do to reduce their discomfort. 

Main signs in cats are:

  • Reduced mobility
  • Reluctance or refusal to jump up or down.
  • Only jumping onto lower surfaces.
  • Using alternative ways to get up i.e going from a chair to a desk rather than straight onto the desk.
  • Difficulty using stairs.
  • Difficulty going through the cat flap.
  • Difficulty using the litter box.
  • Stiffness after sleeping.

Reduced Activity

  • Spending more time inside.
  • Spending more time sleeping/resting.
  • Not hunting.
  • Less interested in playing with people or other animals.

Altered Grooming

  • Not spending as much time grooming so may have a scruffy or matted coat.
  • Overgrown claws from reduced activity.
  • Maybe over grooming sore joints.

Change in Temperament

  • More grumpy when being stroked
  • More grumpy with other animals
  • Spending more time alone

Any of the above signs in combination with an exam by your vet can determine whether your cat has arthritis.

Are we sure?
Xrays can be used to confirm diagnosis (though sometimes it’s hard to see) but usually suspicions are confirmed with a treatment trial. Pain relief is given for a period of time, if your cat is better with it but the gets worse again once it’s finished, it is highly likely they have arthritis. 

How do we treat it?
Unfortunately arthritis cannot be cured however we can effectively manage the pain associated with it. This is done through a combination of medication, environmental changes and diet.

Medication
There are a few options for medicating your arthritic cat. The main focus being pain relief. 

Our first choice is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, this controls the pain and inflammation caused by arthritis. Recent studies have shown that being on a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug long term is safe when used properly. Your vet will discuss the best options for your cat with you.

Environmental Changes
Having a comfortable environment can significantly improve the quality of life for a cat with arthritis.

Things to consider include:

  • Having a soft, comfortable bed available. Ideally in an accessible, quiet, draft free location. Sleeping on hard surfaces can make sore joints more uncomfortable. 
  • Providing aids to help your cat get up to any favourite sites i.e windowsills, bed, cat flap. Consider giving them steps or a ramp.
  • Make sure the cat flap is very easy to open or tie it open so they don’t have to push against it. 
  • Always have a litter try inside that it’s easily accessible. It should have a low side to make getting in and out easy.
  • Make sure food and water are easily accessible. Either on the floor or have an aid to help your cat reach it.
  • Make sure your cat doesn’t have to climb up or down stairs to get to food, water or the litter box. 
  • Spend some time grooming and cleaning an arthritic cat, it can be difficult for them. 
  • Keep on eye on their claws and trim any overgrowth.

 

Diet and Supplements
Being overweight can make arthritis worse for your cat, keeping them at a healthy weight is an essential part of managing the pain. If they are overweight they will benefit from controlled weight loss, this will be discussed by your vet and there is specific cat food designed to help weight loss. 

There are also specially formulated joint diets available for cats. These foods are formulated with combinations of fatty acids, chondroitin and glucosamine to help improve joint health. Changing to a special diet is an easy way to help support your cat’s joints however we recommend that this is used alongside other treatments. 

There are numerous dietary supplements available. These usually have essential fatty acids to reduce inflammation and/or glycosaminoglycans (such as glucosamine and chondroiton) to improve cartilage quality. Products can vary a lot and the effects are usually mild so we recommend that they are only used alongside other recommended treatments. 

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