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Arthritis, a condition that affects as many as 1 in 3 adult humans, also affects cats. Feline arthritis is a degenerative joint disease. The cartilage within the joint is worn down, leading to inflammation, pain and decreased quality of life. As the condition progresses, the friction can wear down to the point where it damages the bones themselves. This kind of arthritis is most common and causes the most pain in the weight-bearing joints like the shoulders, hips, elbows, knees, and ankles.
Osteoarthritis is often not diagnosed in cats because it is difficult to recognize even for the most dedicated cat guardian. The signs can be subtle, and since cats are such masters at masking pain, it often remains untreated. As many as 3 in 10 cats suffer from this debilitating condition, but only 7% of cats with arthritis receive treatment.
Signs of arthritis
- Your cat may be more hesitant to jump, both up or down.
- Your cat may be reluctant to use stairs.
- Your cat may be less playful.
- Your cat may avoid the litter box (getting in and out of the litter box is painful).
- Your cat may be grumpier than usual.
- Your cat may change his eating habits.
If you notice any of these signs, a visit to your veterinarian is imperative so your cat can receive a proper diagnosis. Many of these signs can also be indicators of other illnesses.
How is arthritis diagnosed?
Your cat’s veterinarian will perform a thorough exam, during which he may detect swelling or pain. He may take radiographs to confirm the diagnosis.
How is arthritis treated?
A multi-modality approach is usually most effective in treating arthritis.
- Adjust your cat’s environment. Add steps or ramps to allow easier access to favorite sleeping areas. Use litter boxes with a low entry for easy access and high sides for cats that can no longer sqat. Use a fine consistency litter that’s easier on the paws.
- Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements such as Cosequin and omega-3-fatty acids can be useful in cats with mild to moderate disease.
- Manage obesity to reduce additional stress on your cat’s joints.
- Gently massage the large muscles around joints if your cat will tolerate it.
- Acupuncture can be an affective treatment if your cat tolerates the needles and repeated visits to the acupuncturists’s office.
- Reiki can help alleviate pain and stiffness.
- Homeopathy as prescribed by a veterinarian who is trained in the modality and can recommend remedies specifically for your cat. I do not recommend commercial homeopathic remedy blends as they often contain multiple remedies that have completely opposite actions.
- The Assisi Loop provides safe and effective pain control through targeted pulsed electromagnetic field therapy ((tPEMF™).
- Adequan (polysulfated glycosaminoglycan) is an injection that increases lubrication in joints and helps repair cartilage and inhibits cartilage destruction. Some cats seem to do very well on it, but little is known about potential side effects since its use for cats is currently off label.
- For severe cases, your veterinarian can prescribe anti-inflammatory or pain medications.
Each cat requires an individual treatment plan, especially since arthritis usually affects senior cats who may have other concurrent health issues.
Healthy Cat/Arthritic Cat graphic from a lecture presented at Facets Spring 2015 by the Hope Advanced Veterinary Center
This post was originally published in 2015 and has been updated.
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