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Arthritis in Cats
Last Updated: 10/15/2017

Arthritis in Cats

Arthritis (sometimes called osteoarthritis) is the inflammation within the joints and tissues surrounding them.

Which cats are at risk?

Arthritis is extremely common in cats, increasing in frequency with age. One study showed that 90% of cats over 12 years of age had evidence of arthritis. In another study, 22% of ALL cats have some changes on x-ray suggesting arthritis with 33% of those showing clinical signs! Some breeds are at greater risk for certain joint troubles: for example Maine coon cats are more prone to hip trouble and Abyssinian cats are more prone to knee trouble, but the breed disposition for arthritis hasn’t been studied and males and females are equally at risk.

How do I know if my cat has arthritis? What are the signs?

Since the hips and elbows are the most commonly affected joints, lameness is not typically a sign of arthritis in cats. Rather, the signs come on so slowly they are often missed or are incorrectly attributed to aging. Signs include: Inappropriate elimination (outside the litter box), decreased grooming, reluctance to be combed, reluctance to jump up/down, sleeping more, moving less, withdrawing from interaction with the owner, and hiding.

How is arthritis diagnosed?

Radiographs (x-rays) can hint at arthritis, but the degree of change on the x-ray doesn’t always correlate with the degree of pain. For instance, a cat may have very mild changes apparent on an x-ray, but may be very painful. The reverse is also true. Cats in general, are much less cooperative in the exam room to have their joints palpated and gait analyzed, so often we rely on the owner’s observation, x-rays, and blood work (to rule out any underlying medical issues).

How is arthritis treated?

There are many ways to slow the progression of arthritis and treat the associated pain:
  • Environmental control. There are many easy ways to alter your cat’s home to help reduce arthritis pain. Cut a low opening in the litter box so your cat doesn’t have to jump in/out. Make or buy a set of steps for your cat to get to their favorite spot. Some owners will simply move boxes or small pieces of furniture to create some steps to their favorite spots. Your cats may not use the steps every time, but if they’re having a bad day, they will. Provide soft well-padded beds in your cat’s favorite spots. In general, older arthritic cats LOVE heating pads, set on low with a blanket covering them (just don’t leave them on unattended and risk fire.) You can also buy disc-like "Snugglies" at a pet store, which can be put in the microwave and heated up to provide heat for 6–8 hours.(Cover them with a towel or soft blanket. )
  • Pain medication. There are now some safe pain medications available through your veterinarian, which can be given at low doses daily, which will make your cat more comfortable. These are available in pills, liquid, or can be formulated into a tasty liquid or treat. Some cats love their pills in little flavored "Pill Pockets" which are treats with a hole inside to hide the pill.
  • Joint supplements. These are believed to have a positive influence on cartilage health by altering cartilage repair and maintenance in the joints. While joint supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin are "nutraceuticals" and not yet approved by the FDA, many cats benefit from them.
  • Essential Fatty Acids (DHA and EPA), the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have been shown to have marked anti-inflammatory effects in dogs and cats. Antinol Joint Health Supplement For Cats
  • Weight loss. If your cat is overweight, it stresses the arthritic joints even more and contributes to the pain. Talk to us and together we can work with you to come up with a plan for weight loss for your cat.
  • Acupuncture has been shown to relieve arthritis in cats.
Veterinary Information Network

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