Painful Condition Often Overlooked
Pets, cats in particular, are good at hiding signs of aging and aching. Pet owners—even those who are more observant—may reasonably explain away a small change they see in their companions.
You may assume your cat has stopped jumping onto the counter because he’s older—and maybe he has put on a few pounds in his senior years—but by the time you notice this variation in behavior, your cat may be suffering from a very painful condition that is often overlooked: arthritis.
What is Cat Arthritis?
Cat arthritis is a painful degenerative disease that causes inflammation in the joints. It commonly affects the cat’s elbow joints or spine; however, other joints, including multiple joints, may be affected.
While most often associated with age, cats can also develop arthritis as a result of an injury or an autoimmune disorder. Arthritis can strike a cat of any breed.
Signs of Cat Arthritis
Symptoms of cat arthritis include:
- Limited movement
- Trouble getting up, lying down, walking, climbing, jumping
- Difficulty or a change in posturing when getting into a litter box or going to the bathroom
- Muscle loss
- Joint swelling
- A grating sound in a joint
Dr. Cori Gross, a Seattle-based veterinarian, has seen many symptoms of feline arthritis go unrecognized. “Owners typically report less jumping and more slowing down. They assume their cat is getting old and there is nothing they can do."
One common symptom that may puzzle cat owners, says Dr. Gross: “Often these cats have trouble holding an elimination posture in the litter box and so we might see inappropriate elimination around the home.
To make the diagnosis more complicated, says Dr. Gross, “Cats will often hide the pain at the vet's office due to the adrenaline and fear response.” She relies on an owner’s input on a cat’s behavioral changes to help pinpoint the issue. These sometimes subtle changes are important to note in your aging cat.
Diagnosis of Cat Arthritis
Diagnosis of arthritis in cats is often made by historical observation of signs by the pet owner, a thorough physical examination by your veterinarian, and radiographs.
Radiographs are necessary to rule out bone cancer that often presents as an extremely painful disorder cats experience.
Other tests may be recommended prior to treatment of your pet including blood work and checking a urine sample.
Treating Cat Arthritis with Medication
There are a variety of medicating options when it comes to relieving your cat’s acute pain from arthritis but few options are available for long-term treatment.
Medications such as corticosteroids, tramadol, gabapentin, and injectible glycosaminoglycans (Adequan) are commonly used to treat arthritis in cats. However, advised Dr. David Reinhard, a veterinary consultant to Nationwide pet insurance, these products are used off-label and not specifically approved for use in cats for arthritis.
NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as Onsior are sometimes used for short-term relief, says Reinhard, but you must discuss safety concerns and side-effects with your veterinarian.
Alert your veterinarian immediately if you notice vomiting, lack of appetite or a change in bowel movements—such as diarrhea. These could be signs of dehydration or a more serious reaction to medication.
Managing Weight for Cats with Arthritis
Besides medication, keeping your cat at a healthy weight can help relieve painful symptoms associated with arthritis. The heavier the cat, the more painful the condition. There are high-quality foods available specifically to help with weight control.
Ration your cat’s food according to your veterinarian’s recommendation. This will vary based on the age and size of your cat.
“The best way to get weight off and keep it off is by switching them to meals of canned food rather than meals of dry food,” says Dr. Gross. “And don't even think about having these overweight cats on free-choice dry food! I love puzzle feeders for those cats who are addicted to treats and dry kibble.” There are many food puzzles for cats that stimulate their curiosity and encourage exercise while they’re chasing kibble.
Interactive toys are a fun way to bond with your cat and get some exercise during playtime. Make sure you discuss exercise with your veterinarian to make sure your cat doesn’t have any health-related limitations. You don’t want to increase your cat’s pain during play time.
Alternative Treatment for Cat Arthritis
Alternative treatments for cats suffering from arthritis include stem cell therapy, acupuncture, daily massage, warm compresses, hydrotherapy, laser therapy and surgery.
Glucosamine and chondroitin nutritional supplements are often recommended for arthritic symptoms in cats.
Often, a combination of weight loss, medication, and alternative therapy can be an effective approach to treating cats with arthritis.
Cold Weather Warning
If your cat is suffering from arthritis, keep in mind that cold, damp climates can exacerbate the condition.
Also, older cats with lower body fat may also feel arthritic symptoms more during cool or cold temperatures because they have a harder time staying warm.
Keep a cozy padded bed or blanket available for your cat to curl into during colder days. If necessary, move the bed (and the cat) into a warmer area of the house.