By VanEastVet, on Monday, August 31st, 2015
For us humans who suffer from arthritis, we know how (painfully) obvious the symptoms can be. Certainly it is nothing you would wish on somebody else, let alone your beloved family pet. Yet clinical studies indicate that up to 1 in 3 cats, and 90% of cats over the age of twelve suffer from feline arthritis. Given statistics such as these, it is important for cat owners to be able to recognize the signs of arthritis, and understand how it can be addressed, in order to ensure a healthy and comfortable life for your pet while it is under your care.
WHAT IS ARTHRITIS?
Arthritis is a degenerative bone disease that causes pain and inflammation in the joints. It can develop over years of wear and tear to the cartilage that normally cushions the bone, or can result from acute injury. With no cushioning to protect the joints, they swell and become hard to move. We recognize the pain as stiffness or dull aching in the joints, usually in our hands, knees, and elbows; cats suffer the same symptoms, but for them arthritis tends to affect the elbows most commonly, and can also affect the shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles.
SIGNS OF ARTHRITIS IN CATS
Arthritis can be particularly difficult to spot in cats because the primary symptom is evidence of pain, which cats instinctively disguise in their behaviour; as such, in order to detect evidence of arthritis, cat owners need to be particularly vigilant:
The most obvious changes will likely be in your cat’s physical behaviour: in advanced cases, your cat may walk with obvious stiffness in their stride, but less-advanced cases may not be so obvious. An arthritic cat may avoid using a staircase, or may avoid jumping up to or down from a table or bed. Similarly, an arthritic cat may need to make smaller jumps than they used to, and may need help reaching a higher plane, like jumping onto a chair in order to make it up to the table. Lastly, an arthritic cat may be less inclined to play and explore, and more inclined to sleep during the day.
In addition to evidence of pain, you may be able to detect arthritis by monitoring changes in your cat’s mood. An arthritic cat may find it painful or uncomfortable to be handled or picked up, and will resist by meowing in protest, or by struggling to escape. Similarly, an arthritic cat may grow increasingly withdrawn, avoiding contact with people or other animals altogether, and behaving more aggressively when approached. Arthritis may prevent your cat from grooming properly, possibly resulting in a dirty or matted coat, or may prevent your cat from using its litter box properly, or even at all.
If you suspect that your cat may have arthritis, take it to see your veterinarian for an exam. Your vet should be able to detect pain, discomfort, or swelling in the joints, and confirm the diagnosis of arthritis, or may possibly elect to take an x-ray or draw blood or urine samples, though this is not always necessary. If your vet diagnoses your cat with arthritis, they will likely prescribe NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to manage the pain. While NSAIDs will not cure the arthritis, it should drastically improve your cat’s quality of life, though your cat will likely have to take the medication permanently. In more extreme cases, your cat may be prescribed an analgesic, or pain-killer, to address the discomfort, and in other cases still, your cat may be prescribed a combination of these medications, and possibly other nutritional supplements to help promote cartilage growth. Every case is unique, and must be closely monitored by your veterinarian.
WHAT YOU CAN DO AT HOME
If your cat is diagnosed with arthritis, in addition to medication, there is still lots you can do to help alleviate the discomfort or arthritis, and help your cat enjoy a comfortable and pain-free life. Keep your cat’s food and water bowls and litter box easily accessible, and provide your cat with a soft and cozy bed. Encourage play time with your cat, but keep the play gentle – you may be able to gradually work up to more spirited exercise, but for an older, arthritic cat, vigorous exercise may no longer be an option. Depending on the level of discomfort your cat is in, you may need to help groom it, particularly in harder-to-reach spots, and clip its nails regularly. Consider rearranging some of the furniture in your home, or invest in some additions, such as ramps or steps, to help your cat to reach higher areas. Lastly, if your cat is overweight, then you may be advised to adopt a weight-loss routine through regular exercise and diet management, as obesity can exacerbate the symptoms of arthritis.
Through vigilant maintenance, and with your veterinarian’s ongoing care, you can ensure that your pet will live a long, happy life, free of pain and discomfort.