By definition, arthritis is inflammation of the bone joints. Many people don’t realize that cats can even get arthritis because they are so small and agile.
Signs of pain in cats can be very subtle and not as easily noticed as they are in dogs.
Arthritis in cats can present as stiffness, decreased willingness to run, jump, walk up stairs, or play.
Sometimes cats can appear lethargic, painful to the touch, or even aggressive towards their owners or other pets in the household. In this article I am going to discuss arthritis in cats ( how to identify it and how to help your cat manage it).
Contrary to popular belief, arthritis is not just due to old age. There are many compounding causes of arthritis, including obesity, joint deformities, developmental abnormalities, previous bone injuries, orthopedic surgery, and others.
Unfortunately, arthritis is a progressive disease without a cure. The good news is that it can be managed, and your cat can feel more comfortable with proper treatment.
Due to the complex nature of arthritis, a multimodal approach is usually needed for successful pain management. The pain pathway has many different points at which medications can interfere to stop it.
A multimodal pain approach acts to stop the pain pathway at multiple different points for the best effect. It is important to keep in mind that every cat is different, and what works for one cat doesn’t work for others.
Weight loss is commonly recommended for all arthritic cats that are overweight in order to reduce the amount of stress that is put on the joints.
Depending on the severity of the arthritis and the overall health of the patient, pain medications and anti-inflammatory medications are commonly prescribed.
There are also multiple alternative/complementary interventions that can be beneficial, such as nutraceuticals, acupuncture, laser therapy, physical therapy, etc.
What is acupuncture, and how can it be beneficial to my pet?
See my article on feline acupuncture for more information.
What are nutraceuticals?
A nutraceutical is a nutritional supplement that has medicinal effects. They are not regulated by the FDA. These supplements are commonly used in veterinary medicine.
There are many nutraceuticals that are available for pain management. Fish oil, glucosamine, and chondroitin supplements are the most common and most well-studied supplements that are very efficacious in managing arthritis.
There are many more novel supplements that seem to be helpful. Please talk to your veterinarian for specific recommendations.
What other accommodations can I make to help my cat be more comfortable?
Provide access to soft, padded bedding. Place food and water dishes in an easily accessible area at a height your cat can reach and comfortably eat/drink from.
Slightly raised dish holders placed on the floor can be helpful, so your cat doesn’t have to bend his/her neck or jump off the floor.
Additionally, litter boxes with low walls provide easy access. Ramps or pet stairs can be provided for easier access to couches or bedding.
Cats can develop arthritis just as commonly and for the same reasons that dogs do, however, it is less commonly noticed and diagnosed. The signs of arthritis pain in cats are very subtle and easy to miss.
While there is no “magic cure” for arthritis, the pain can be managed and cats can go back to having a relatively normal life. A multi-modal approach is typically required for adequate pain relief. A specific treatment plan can be developed by your veterinarian.
Article by Dr. Kimberly Couch 👩⚕️