Osteoarthritis is a form of arthritis where the cartilage within a joint that prevents bone rubbing on bone is worn away resulting in discomfort. This process can either be primary, where there is no previous injury and the process happens for unknown reasons, or secondary as the result of previous injury. Obesity in cats will exacerbate any arthritis.
Whilst we have long been aware that our canine friends can suffer from painful osteoarthritis causing them to be stiff upon rising, have difficulty jumping into the car and be slower at walks, cats remain under-diagnosed and tend instead to suffer in silence. It may shock you to know that a recent study (Hardie et al, 2002) demonstrated 90% of cats in their study over 12 years of age had evidence of degenerative joint disease. Whilst symptoms are quite obvious in dogs, cats are not taken for walks and will down regulate their own exercise to cope with the degree of discomfort. Cats will rarely vocalize pain.
Symptoms that cats may display:
* Reduced frequency going ouside
* No longer jumping up onto favourite places
* Sleeping in new, easier to reach locations
* Slower going up stairs
* Reduction in play time
* Struggling to use the cat flap
* Missing the litter tray/not using litter tray- often it is too painful to squat and fit in the tray
* Matted coat as grooming becomes too difficult
* Over grooming painful joints
* Less keen to interact with the family- cats with pain can start to resist being picked up or will react if a painful part of the body is petted
* Possibly lameness
There is help available. A clinical examination carried out by your vet may indicate a painful joint or joints. It may be helpful to take radiographs (xrays) in order to diagnose the condition. Treatment can then be discussed with your veterinary surgeon. With treatment we would expect to see an improvement in your cat’s quality of life.
Treatments include the use of non steroidal anti-inflammatories, such as cat Metacam. Metacam is an anti-inflammatory licensed for chronic pain in cats. (Please note that dog and cat strengths of Metacam are very different so only use Metacam as specifically prescribed by your vet for that pet). Often with older cats we may see multiple problems at once, such as concurrent kidney or liver disease. Your vet will be able to make a risk assessment based on discussions with yourself. Blood tests may be helpful to check kidney function etc.
Neutraceuticals in the form of chondroitin sulphate and glucosamine can also be very helpful. These components can help to improve the condition of the joint cartilage and fluid and so help with comfort levels. Combination therapy is often the most successful and can help reduce the reliance on non steroidal anti-inflammatories. There are various different joint supplements available and it is advisable to discuss the options available with your vet.
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Diet also needs to be carefully considered, being over weight will increase the load placed on the joints causing a more rapid deterioration. We can help compile a weight loss plan.
Acupuncture is also available as a treatment for osteoarthritis, either in addition to more traditional therapies when adequate pain relief has not been achieved, or when use of medications is difficult due to other medical conditions.