Arthritis in cats

Feline arthritis is the result of a degenerative joint disease that affects cats by wearing away the cartilage that protects the ends of bones. Cats are born with cartilage between the bones in their joints, which helps cushion the impact as they move around. Without this cushion, the bones are able to rub against each other which results in excruciating pain, and ultimately affects the quality of life for cats. Arthritis most commonly affects a cat’s spine, hip, knee, ankle, and elbow joints.

Arthritis in cats

Signs of Arthritis in Cats

Arthritis in cats often goes unnoticed, as most felines manage to conceal their symptoms well. In fact, 90% of all cats over the age of 12 are likely to suffer from some form of arthritis, although it’s not always easy to diagnose. Some factors which could increase your cat’s risk of developing arthritis include being overweight, having joint damage as a result of an earlier injury, hip dysplasia, patellar luxation or acromegaly.

Cat Genetics

Arthritis is a common ailment in cats, but some breeds are more at-risk than others. The Maine Coon, Persian, Scottish Fold, and Siamese cats are more prone to developing arthritis due to the abnormal development of their cartilage and hips.

Signs of arthritis

  • Seeming to be in pain, and becoming less active
  • Difficulty moving, no longer jumping on laps and furniture, or going up and down stairs
  • Limping
  • Grooming less frequently, and an unkempt coat
  • Excessive grooming over a painful area
  • Sleeping more and playing less
  • Toilet outside the litter tray
  • Behavioural changes and grumpiness
  • Diagnosis of Arthritis

If you think your cat may be affected by arthritis, it’s important to take them to the vet for a diagnosis and treatment plan.   The vet will ask you questions about your cat’s behaviour and examine for signs of pain, joint deformity and swelling, joint instability, and decreased motion range.  It may also be necessary to perform X-rays or blood tests.

Treatment of Arthritis

Arthritis can be a real pain, but thankfully there are ways to manage it. There are a number of treatments available that can help relieve your cat’s symptoms and improve its quality of life.  It is important to seek a vet’s advice before starting any treatment.

Arthritis conditions and spinal pain coexist with chronic kidney disease in 70% of cats.  Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are very effective anti-inflammatories and painkillers and are commonly used to treat arthritis in cats.  Recent studies have found that all cats, even those with advanced kidney failure can be treated safely and effectively using NSAIDs.

Meloxicam for cats is an NSAID medicine that vets commonly prescribe, and works by reducing the hormones that can bring about inflammation and pain.  Hyaloril is also a popular and effective joint care complementary food based on Hyaluronic Acid.

In severe cases, vets may prescribe painkillers from the opioids family, such as morphine, tramadol, fentanyl and gabapentin. These medications must be used carefully as they can have severe side effects.  Never attempt to use human medications, as these may be unsuitable and possibly toxic to cats.

Arthritis in cats

Non-medical Therapies

Vets often prescribe supplements containing CBD (cannabidiol), glucosamine, hyaluronic acid, and omega-3 fatty acids. Green-lipped mussel extract is a well-known effective natural arthritis supplement and is available in powder form to mix with food.

Cats can also respond well to other alternative treatments such as acupuncture, massage, hydrotherapy and laser therapy.

Reducing Obesity

Arthritis symptoms can also be relieved by helping overweight cats to lose excess kilos. Extra weight puts more pressure on the joints and makes the pain worse.  Rather than free-feeding, encourage two set meals a day, and cut-out treats. 

Vets can recommend a specialist weight-controlled diet, and a gentle exercise program to lubricate joints and reduce excess weight. Passive exercising, where you very gently bend and stretch the affected limb, can also help.

Managing the Environment

Simple changes to the environment make life easier for cats by helping them with access and avoiding unnecessary strain on painful joints.

Raised food and water bowls

  • Keep all necessary amenities on the ground floor
  • Litter trays and bowls within a short distance, possibly in two places
  • Platforms and ramps to help access favourite spots
  • Lowering one side of the litter box so they don’t have to climb
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