Arthritis is a common, progressive, and painful disease in cats, but there is some good news on the feline arthritis front. Treatments are now available that can relieve pain and maybe even slow the progression of arthritis, especially when a number of them are used simultaneously. Arthritic cats, with proper care, can still enjoy a happy and healthy life.
What is Arthritis in Cats?
“Arthritis” simply means joint inflammation. Osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease are more specific terms that describe not just joint inflammation but also the breakdown of the cartilage that lines joints, a decline in the quality of a pet’s joint fluid, and the eventual formation of bony growths around the joint in an attempt to limit its motion. For simplicity, we’ll use the term arthritis to refer to osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease in this article.
Injuries, developmental disorders, excessive weight, and age are all potential causes for arthritis in cats.
Symptoms of Cat Arthritis
The symptoms of arthritis are largely behavioral and come about gradually. Therefore, they are easily mistaken as being related to the aging process and disregarded. Also, cats are good at hiding the fact that they are pain, which may muddy the waters even further.
Over time, cats with arthritis commonly develop some combination of the following:
- Lack of normal grooming activities
- Becoming withdrawn or clingy
- Not wanting to be touched
- Avoidance of jumping up on furniture
- Becoming less active than normal
- Poor appetite
- Weight Loss
- Becoming grumpy
- Urinating or defecating outside the litter box
Diagnosing Arthritis in Cats
Veterinarians can usually diagnose arthritis in cats based on their health history, a physical exam, and x-rays. Initially, evidence of arthritis can be hard to see on x-rays, but as the disease progresses it becomes more obvious. Getting a veterinary diagnosis of arthritis is very important because many other disease can cause similar symptoms. Without an accurate diagnosis, it is impossible to know what form of treatment has the best chance of making a cat feel better.
How to Treat Arthritis in Cats
Treatment of arthritis is most effective when several different types of therapies are combined, which maximizes the positive effects on the body. The ideal treatment protocol often changes over time as the condition of a cat’s joints worsens.
1) Weight Management
If a cat is overweight, weight loss is of primary importance. Extra weight stresses already damaged joints and the hormones produced by body fat tend to promote joint inflammation, all of which makes arthritis worse. Veterinarians often recommend prescription weight loss diets for severely overweight cats, but over-the-counter diet cat foods work well when a pet only needs to lose a little weight.
2) Pain Management
Pain management is also an important part of arthritis management, but unfortunately cats are very sensitive to the adverse effects of the types of medications (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories or NSAIDs) that are typically used to treat arthritis in people and dogs. Veterinarians will sometimes prescribe an NSAID (e.g., meloxicam) to ease the pain associated with arthritis in cats, but it must be used sparingly. Veterinarians can recommend other pain management medications – like buprenorphine or prednisolone – when the benefits of using an NSAID don’t outweigh the risks.
3) Joint Protectants
Joint protectants are an important treatment option for arthritis in cats because they don’t simply treat pain, but may also be able to improve the health of affected joints – all while being extremely safe for cats. Joint protectants are dietary supplements made from nutraceuticals –ingredients in food that have positive health benefits and healing properties.
Joint protectants can ease joint inflammation and facilitate cartilage repair and joint fluid production. Look for products that contain the following active ingredients:
- Avocado/Soybean Unsaponifiables (ASU) – Dasuquin for Cats
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids – Nordic Naturals Omega 3 Pet
- Green-lipped mussels – Glycoflex
- Turmeric extract P54FP – DGP
- Polysulfated glycosaminoglycans –Adequan (an injectable joint protectant)
- A combination of chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine hydrochloride, and manganese ascorbate – Cosequin for Cats
4) Complementary Therapies
Physical therapy can help cats with arthritis become stronger and more mobile. Treatments like acupuncture, cold laser therapy, and massage can also work well, particularly when paired with other arthritis remedies. Additionally, surgery or experimental, regenerative therapies (e.g., stem cells or platelet rich plasma) may be options when less invasive treatments fail to bring adequate relief.
Your veterinarian can help you determine the best combination of arthritis treatments based on your cat’s unique situation.