How to Help a Cat With Osteoarthritis

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This is a sponsored post by veterinarian Elizabeth Arguelles, owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza. She writes weekly on Reston Now.

Do you know somebody who suffers from arthritis? Chances are that you have a friend or relative with joint problems. But what about your cat? Senior cats are at risk for developing arthritis and it is relatively common. Luckily there are a wide variety of treatment options that can help alleviate your cat’s discomfort from laser therapy to supplements.

Just like us, cats often suffer from progressive and degenerative joint ailments like osteoarthritis (OA) as they age. The disorder is marked by a deterioration of the cartilage that cushions the cat’s joints. This results in inflammation, pain, worsening damage, and changes in and around the affected joint.

There are two types of OA: primary and secondary. Primary means that the cause is typically normal wear and tear on the joints as a result of the aging process. Secondary means that the OA is the result of injuries or abnormalities such tumors.

Unfortunately, many cat parents and vets are not aware that kitties can come down with OA, making the disorder one of the most underdiagnosed feline diseases. Cats older than 10 years of age are at increased risk.

What causes osteoarthritis?

It is not entirely clear what causes primary OA in cats. Some breeds just seem to be more genetically predisposed to having joint problems. For example, Maine Coons, Persians and Siamese are more likely to suffer from abnormal development of the hip joints (also known as hip dysplasia). Similarly, Abyssinians and Devon Rexes are at greater risk of having patella luxation or dislocation of the kneecap.

When it comes to OA, Scottish Folds are particularly vulnerable. This is possibly because of genetic abnormalities in this breed’s cartilage.

The causes of secondary OA are more straightforward. Injuries or trauma to the joint, such as fractures or dislocations, may result in abnormal joint formation. In other cases, the pituitary gland secretes too much growth hormone, resulting in a tumor in one of the joints. Though cats with these sorts of conditions usually develop diabetes, diagnoses of secondary arthritis are not uncommon.

What are the signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis?

 Because our feline friends are so good at concealing pain and discomfort, it can be hard to tell when your kitty is suffering from OA. Look for any of these symptoms that may indicate your senior cat is suffering from joint pain:

Reduced mobility. Cats with OA are often reluctant or hesitant to jump up onto or down from elevated surfaces. Difficulty climbing stairs, stiffness in legs after a longer period of rest, difficulty climbing in and out of the litter box, or even having accidents outside the litter box can also indicate that your cat has joint pain.

Reduced activity and sleeping in different places. If your cat is having trouble moving, it may spend more time in a stationary position or sleep in spots that are closer to the ground.

Aggressive behavior when being handled or petted. A cat with joint pain will obviously not like it when those areas of its body are touched. If your kitty gets unexpectedly angry when you touch its hip that may be a sign that it has OA.

Too much or too little grooming. When something is wrong with your kitty, it will often either clean itself excessively or stop cleaning itself altogether. This is not a symptom that is specific to OA, though, so be sure to look for the other signs as well.

Spending more time alone. Cats tend to hide when they are not feeling well, so this can also be a sign of OA. Like grooming issues, however, this symptom is not specific to joint disorders.

How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?

If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, you should visit your vet to have your cat evaluated. Your vet will conduct a physical exam to check mobility, access any swelling in the joints, and access pain. Based on the physical exam findings, radiographs is a likely next step to show any deterioration of the cartilage.

How is osteoarthritis treated?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for OA, but there are several environmental changes you can make to help your cat and an array of supplements and treatments to ease any discomfort and slow the progression of the disease.

  • Acupuncture
  • Laser Therapy – works extremely well for arthritis by calming down the inflammation of the joints
  • Prescription diets like Hill’s J/D for joint disease
  • Prescription pain mediations
  • Nutritional supplements to help replenish the cartilage like fish oils
  • Weight loss, if your cat is overweight

There are also some very simple things that you can do at home to reduce your kitty’s discomfort:

  • Giving your cat a cozy blanket or a warm cat bed. Heat eases the pain associated with OA.
  • Gently massaging your cat’s joints when it is relaxed
  • Helping groom areas that are hard to reach
  • Making sure that your kitty’s litter box is in an easily accessible place
  • Keeping your cats needs on the main level of your home so no stairs are necessary

For more information, please visit our Feline Health Library.


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