Arthritis is a degenerate joint disease. In simple terms it means that the cartilage around the bones has worn away causing the bones to rub together; this causes inflammation, swelling and pain. Arthritis used to be thought to be uncommon in cats, but this is mainly because cats mask weakness or pain very well and therefore we may be unaware that they are suffering.
Why do cats get arthritis?
Arthritis can result from an old injury, such as a sprain or fracture or be caused from a bite into the joint which in turn causes infection. This type of arthritis may be seen in younger cats who have suffered a trauma. Older cats are more likely to be suffering from wear and tear to the joints – cruciate ligament damage or deterioration of the cartilage. Many of the arthritis drugs (such as aspirin and phenylbutazone) given to humans and dogs are poisonous to cats so don’t be tempted to give your cat any medication you might be taking yourself.
Osteoarthritis in older cats
This is a chronic condition resulting in the degeneration of the joint which causes erosion (wearing away) of the cartilage. New bone forms around the edges of the joint; the joint swells and becomes painful, the normal cartilage that cushions and protects the joints has degenerated.
Did you know?
A cat’s skeleton has about 10% more bones than a human body. The skeleton of a feline needs to be strong and flexible but also light.
The spine – spondylosis
Spondylosis can be due to an excess of vitamin A in the diet (an all liver diet can be a cause as liver is very high in Vitamin A). With more knowledge and a wide variety of quality cat foods this is now rarely seen.
Diagnosis of spondylosis
An x-ray can show if there are bony lesions visible; these lesions will be permanent and require treatment. Anti- inflammatory medication and pain relief can be prescribed by your vet.
How can I tell if my cat has arthritis?
Symptoms of arthritis in cats:
- Spending more time laying down and sleeping. Being less active.
- Not being able to jump or climb up stairs
- Lameness or limping after sleeping,
- Difficulty using a litter tray
- Stiffness or swollen joints
- Not playing as much
- Not interacting with the family as much
- Decreased flexibility
- Less agile
- Stiff or less active in colder and wetter weather
Arthritis is a progressive and painful condition and can seriously affect your cat’s quality of life.
If you think your cat may have arthritis you should seek advice from your vet.
Diagnosis of arthritis in cats
- Your vet can observe your cat’s movements and examine the cat for flexibility. By manipulating the joints, the vet can detect any stiffness or rigidity
- Analysis of samples taken from the affected joints
- Blood sampling
Treatment for arthritis in cats
- Pain relief
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Supplements – for example glucosamine
- Maintaining a healthy weight
Metacam (meloxicam) is a licenced treatment for pain relief in cats that your vet can prescribe for chronic pain.
Hydrotherapy and gentle massage may help to keep your cats’ joints more mobile.
Acupuncture is a complementary treatment that may be of help if your cat is amenable to handling and would tolerate the treatment.
This is a product that your vet can inject into the painful joints to help relieve arthritis.
Always seek advice from your vet as to the best way to treat your cat.
Gentle exercise can also help to keep the joints mobile.
- Glucosamine and chondroitin
- Essential fatty acids
The above is usually given in combination, for example, Seraquin is a supplement suitable for cats which can be crumbled into food or hidden in treats; it is chewable and has a chicken flavour.
How to make a cat with arthritis more comfortable
Simple steps can help to make life easier and more comfortable for your feline friend.
- Make sure that your cat has a comfortable bed or soft blanket in a position which is easily reachable to the cat. The cat also needs to feel safe so the ‘igloo’ style bed is ideal for a cat with painful joints as the cat can curl up inside and feel comfy and secure.
- Ensure that food and water are easy to access.
- If you provide a litter tray for your cat, make sure it has shallow sides or side so that the cat can use it without causing pain.
- Cold, damp weather can make the chronic pain worse so make sure your pet is kept nice and warm.
- Check that your cat can use the cat flap without difficulty – you may need to add a little step if it seems hard for your cat to manoeuvre.
- If your cat has a special place that it likes but cannot get to (due to not being able to jump) consider providing a ramp for the cat to walk up.
- Give your cat a gentle massage if he or she is happy to be handled.
- Groom your pet as a cat with painful joints may find this difficult to do for themselves.
- Keep your cat a healthy weight to prevent undue strain on the joints. Your vet can weigh your cat and advise if the cat needs to lose weight or if indeed your cat is a good, healthy weight to be maintained. Just as with people being overweight can make the symptoms worse.
Older cats (senior cats) with arthritis
More than 80% of elderly cats (over the age of 10 years) and 90% of cats over the age of 12 years old will have some level of osteoarthritis. If you think that your cat is just getting slower and sleeping more due to age, then it may be that your cat has chronic pain due to arthritis. Consider taking your cat to the vet to have him or her checked.
The hips, shoulders, spine and elbows are most likely to be affected by wear and tear and degeneration of the cartilage between the joints. This means that the bones rub together causing pain, swelling and stiffness.
Symptoms of arthritis in older cats
- More time sleeping, resting and less active
- Stiffness, lameness
- Inability to jump or climb
- Not grooming or overgrooming the affected joint
- Less interaction
- Irritable when petted or handled
With less activity, some cats may develop overgrown claws so do check your cat, especially if you have an indoor cat.
Keep your cat comfortable, at a healthy weight, adapt his surroundings to suit his mobility and seek medical help from your vet to alleviate the pain of arthritic joints and ease inflammation. Our cats are living longer and there is much we can do to ensure that they have a good quality of life in their senior years.
Which breeds of cat are more prone to get arthritis?
- Devon Rex
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Regular vet checks, a good diet and pain relief if needed can help your older cat live well and continue to enjoy a good quality of life.