Dealing with Feline Arthritis
If your cat is reluctant to run or play, to jump up or down, or if he develops a stiff gait, limps, has limited range of motion, shows signs of pain when being moved, or has swollen joints, he may be suffering from arthritis. Arthritis in cats can take several forms, including progressive polyarthritis, bacterial arthritis, and osetoarthritis.
Progressive polyarthritis most often affects young and middle-aged cats, especially males. It affects many joints, but most commonly the joints of the wrists, hocks, and feet. The joint cartilage deteriorates and bone spurs develop around the joints; in some cases the bone beneath the cartilage is exposed, which is very painful. The joint may be swollen, and fever may be present. The condition worsens with time. Unfortunately, there is no cure, although pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, and immune suppressants may help.
Some bite wounds from cat fights can lead to joint infection and to a condition called bacterial arthritis. Fever is often present, and the joint is swollen, warm and painful. Your veterinarian can diagnose the condition, drain the infected fluid from the joint, and prescribe antibiotics. Without prompt treatment, the joint can be permanently damaged.
Osteoarthritis is usually associated with old age or prior joint injury. It seems far less common in cats than it is in dogs, but it does occur. In fact, a recent study showed over 90 percent of cats had signs of osteoarthritis seen on radiographs; however, very few showed outward signs of pain.
Very commonly, an injury to a joint will lead to early onset of arthritis in that joint. Hip dysplasia (which cats as well as dogs can get) often leads to arthritis. Abnormal stresses or trauma to the joint can cause degeneration of the joint cartilage and underlying bone. The synovial membrane surrounding the joint becomes inflamed and the bone develops small bony outgrowths called osteophytes. These changes cause the joint to stiffen, become painful, and have decreased range of motion. In cases in which an existing condition is exacerbating the arthritis, surgery to remedy the condition is warranted.
When considering surgery for a joint problem, keep in mind that the more the joint is used in its damaged state, the more arthritis will occur. Even though the surgery may fix the initial problem, if too much damage has occurred the cat will still be plagued with incurable arthritic changes. Prevention of arthritis is the key.
Conservative treatment entails keeping the cat’s weight down, attending to injuries, and maintaining a program of low impact exercise. Massage can also be helpful. Provide a soft warm bed placed where the cat doesn't have to jump to get to or from it. Also place the litter box, food bowls and water bowls where the cat need not jump to get to them. Be aware that litter boxes with high sides can be difficult for the cat to get in and out of, and stairs can be uncomfortable to go up or down.
Ask your veterinarian about drugs that can alleviate some of the signs of arthritis. Remember, when it comes to pain relief, cats are not little dogs. Nor are they little humans. The drugs that are safe for pain relief in people or dogs can be deadly for cats, even when the dose is reduced to fit their weight. Many non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs that are safe for use in dogs and people are unsafe in cats; however, a few are safe for use in cats. These drugs reduce inflammation which in turn reduces pain.
Supplements, such as polysulfated glycosaminoglycan, may increase the compressive resilience of cartilage and improve the joint condition. Glucosamine stimulates the synthesis of collagen, and also may help rejuvenate cartilage to some extent. Chondroitin sulfate helps to shield cartilage from destructive enzymes. Other popular supplements include perna caniculus, Omega 3 (fish oil), and sometimes creatine. While the effects of these supplements are somewhat controversial, they do no harm and many owners and veterinarians have had good results with them. As with prescription medication, over the counter remedies and supplements should be administered only under the advice of your veterinarian.
Finally, many owners have found their cats show fewer signs and seem to feel better when treated with acupuncture.
Watch your cat for signs of arthritis, and don't ignore them. The sooner you can address them, the better you can control them. Your cat will be more comfortable, more active, and happier if his joints don't hurt.