Just as certain dog breeds are susceptible to developing arthritis as they age and grow, cats too can develop this unpleasant disorder. Middle-aged and older cats are more prone to developing arthritis as the cartilage that acts as cushions between their bones gradually deteriorates or otherwise becomes damaged in some way. Once damaged, the joint is in danger due to the added friction from bone-on-bone contact.
Also like dogs, the signs of arthritis in cats are often subtle and easily overlooked since common symptoms such as decreased activity and increased sleeping can be attributed to the animal’s aging. Felines can often display a host of symptoms and, true to their nature, many of the symptoms can be contradictory. For example, some cats may become antisocial and avoid family members while others become more social and seek out interaction where they would normally not.
Other common symptoms include difficulty finding a comfortable position and general restlessness. Some cats may develop a habit of using the bathroom outside of their litterbox if they can no longer access it comfortably, or they may stop grooming themselves altogether. Often, this is accompanied by a lack of appetite and weight loss. The best way to determine if your cat is having pain, from arthritis or otherwise, is to know what “normal” is for your pet. Once you have determined the normal behavior, take note of those changes to help make a plan of action with your veterinarian.
Because cat arthritis symptoms can range from mild inconveniences to extreme pain, it is vital that a veterinarian provide a professional evaluation on your pet’s condition. Once the baseline pain response is understood, then the proper treatment plan can be tailored to the cat’s needs.
There are a large number of treatment options to choose from and, depending on the severity of the animal’s condition, some may or may not be available to your pet. A few of the most common treatment options for cats who are suffering from arthritis include:
- Dietary Restrictions: Weight can place a particular strain on already compromised joint systems. In addition to putting extra stress on overworked joints, feline fat cells produce hormones that can cause pain Overweight cats are often placed on special diets or only fed at certain times of day to prohibit weight gain and promote a return to ideal weight. They are also encouraged to exercise by playing with toys.
- Pain Relief Medicine: Sometimes cats are in enough pain that they will require medicine in order to feel any relief. Some common medicines to treat arthritis in cats are: tramadol, Fentanyl, and buprenorphine. Metacam (meloxicam) is also used, but it is a controversial treatment due to the method of administration.
- Nutritional Supplements: Glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM are all popular over-the-counter joint-protection supplements for humans that are also effective in cats. Generally found together in a single pill, this combination supplement works to stimulate lubrication and reinforce cartilage.
- Alternative Therapy: For some animals, pain medication isn’t necessary (or isn’t enough) and owners may choose to utilize an alternative path to pain relief for their cats. These include acupuncture, hydrotherapy, massage, and laser therapy.
- Surgery: In some advanced cases, surgery may become necessary, but it is generally a last resort. Surgery can replace or fuse joints and typically requires an extended recovery period.
With any human or animal illness, prevention is key to stemming the effects of aging. Regular, moderate exercise and a healthy diet with quality food can increase the chances of your cat living into its teens and 20s and slow the development of many illnesses, especially arthritis.