Arthritis (or osteoarthritis) is a chronic degenerative disease of the joint, in which the cartilage in the joint is damaged. Cartilage reduces the impact on the ends of the bones in joints. When cartilage is damaged, a series of inflammatory changes occurs, eventually leading to destruction of the cartilage, and subsequent damage to the underlying bone. As cartilage contains no nerves, if your pet is showing any signs of pain, the source of it is the underlying bone, which is being affected.
Arthritis is a very common condition in cats. One study showed that 90% of cats over 12 years of age suffer from some degree of arthritis. Yet another study concluded that 22% of all cats have radiographic changes suggestive of arthritis, with 33% of those showing clinic signs. The most commonly affected joints are the elbows and the hips, and are often times not correlated with limping. Instead, the affected kitties may show signs that are misinterpreted as ageing. Some of these signs may be: reduced jumping (up or down), more matting over the back, resistance to being brushed, irritability, inappropriate elimination, sleeping more.
As the occurrence of these symptoms is gradual, and it usually happens in senior cats, clients naturally think that their kitty is simply getting old. Many times it is not until advanced symptoms, such as limping, or other signs of debilitation occur, for owners to seek help from their veterinarian.
Your veterinarian will examine your cat, and will probably take x-rays of the suspected joints. Although x-rays can be very helpful, the changes seen don’t always correlate with the severity of clinical signs. Some cats with severe pain from arthritis may have minimal radiographic changes. The reverse is also true. Most times, an exam and radiographs will be sufficient for your veterinarian to diagnose (or the rule out) arthritis.
Arthritis is almost always painful, and once established, it does not go away, on the contrary, it usually gets worse over time. Chronic pain, even mild, will affect your cat’s disposition and quality of life. Fortunately, with the advances in the medical and pharmaceutical fields, there are many options for treatment, and with each individual patient some may work better than others. In more advanced cases a combination of therapies will be employed.
Environmental changes can be very helpful, and here are some that are easily done: low profile litterboxes, placement of steps to ease the cat’s access to his favourite spots, moving the litter box from the basement to the floor where the cat spends most of her time, heating disks or pads (when supervised).
Weight control is extremely important. Overweight cats are predisposed to arthritic changes and simply getting them to a good weight may greatly reduced the severity of their clinical signs. Weight loss has become easy and comfortable with new, balanced prescription diets. Your veterinarian will direct you to the diet that is right for your cat.
There are many options for medications when weight loss is not enough. Nutraceuticals such as Glucosamine, fatty acids, injectable glycosaminoglycan (Adequan) are safe and very helpful, as are acupuncture and rehabilitation therapy.
In addition to this, your veterinarian may prescribe safe non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, Gabapentin (a medication for chronic pain) , or opiods to alleviate the pain caused by arthritis.
Despite the progressive nature of arthritis, many things can be done to ensure that you kitty will live a long and comfortable life!