‘Trousers’ was not enjoying winter any more. As a 14 year old senior citizen he had long ago earned the right to sleep on his favourite cushion on the couch, but now he just curled up on the carpet instead.
Come to think of it, it did appear more of an effort for him to jump up over the previous months and we noticed his nails were getting longer, too.
Can cats get arthritis?
Studies show that arthritis in cats is far more common than owners expect, with between 60% and more than 90% of cats showing radiographic evidence of arthritis in the limb joints. Many of us don’t recognise the symptoms in our feline companions as we just simply think they slow down and get tired as they get older.
Certainly, arthritis exists more commonly in older animals, as a part of normal ‘wear and tear’ on the joints, but it can occur at any age. Other factors involved include breed, weight, nutrition, amount and intensity of exercise, injury (e.g. slipped disc, joint dislocation, fracture), congenital malformation (e.g. hip dysplasia), chronic inflammatory diseases or other inflammatory arthropathies (immune mediated joint disease).
One of the very early signs is that the cat stops jumping up on benches, and sometimes not even onto beds anymore, and just ‘slows down’. Typically, as the disease progresses, the cat stops grooming along it’s back and base of the tail because it is uncomfortable to reach there. Eventually the cat becomes very grumpy and immobile. Other signs include:
- An inability to jump up and play as they used to
- Change of resting locations
- Difficulty going up or down stairs
- Difficulty using the litter tray
- Difficulty going in or out of the cat flap
- Becoming stiff after resting
- Difficulty grooming, poor coat condition
- Not accessing the food bowl as often, weight loss
- Less exercise, not using scratching post, overgrown nails
- Less interaction with other pets or owners
- Aggressive behaviour when being approached, touched or moved (due to pain).
A diagnosis of arthritis can be based on the presence of these signs, especially in cats over 7 years of age, along with a physical examination and x-rays if necessary. Blood and urine tests are usually performed in older cats to look for other medical conditions or prior to starting medication.
Management of arthritis in cats
Medications can be very effective at controlling the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis, especially the newer and safer medications registered for cats. Never give human painkillers, such as aspirin, nurofen and paracetemol as these kill cats very efficiently, so it is important to use only drugs designed for the cat’s very special type of metabolism.
Injections of pentosan polysulphate (cartrophen) may also be given under the skin, which improve the joint environment by restoring joint cartilage.
Dietary supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin, green lipped muscle and shark cartilage may also be useful. The purpose of these neutraceuticals is to improve the health of the fluid lubricating the joint.
Managing your cat’s environment is also important, including:
- soft, comfortable beds placed in easily accessible, quiet locations
- small steps or a ramp to allow cats to access higher sites (e.g. couch, windowsill, cat flap)
- easily accessible litter tray with low sides
- easily accessible food and water
- regular grooming sessions once pain medication allows
- provide a suitable ‘senior’ or weight loss diet as recommended by your vet
Surgery has a role to play in removing cartilage flaps, bone chips, and remodelling the joints where necessary to allow improved function.
So, if your cat is slowing down or thinking twice about going outside this winter, don’t delay – she could be jumping around like a kitten again in no time!
By Provet Resident Vet
Contributor: Dr Julia Adams BVSc