Updated: Jul 31
You know that as humans get older they are more likely to suffer from joint pain caused by osteoarthritis. But did you know that the same is true for us cats?
Until recently arthritis in cats was not commonly diagnosed. We’re a stoic bunch, us felines, and part of our survival instinct is to hide any signs of pain or injury from our owners and especially from strangers like vets.
So, what exactly is osteoarthritis? The word comes from several Greek words: osteo meaning “bone”, arthro meaning “joint” and itis meaning “inflammation”, and describes a degenerative, progressive, and irreversible condition of the joints.
In cats, arthritis is characterized by a loss of cartilage in the joints and the formation of “osteophytes” – new pieces of bone that form to protect the joint surface. Inflammation then occurs as destructive enzymes within the joint begin to break down the cartilage.
Until recently, the prevalence of osteoarthritis in cats wasn’t really understood. However more studies are being done and much more information is being learnt. One study published in 2002 looked at radiographs of older cats and found that an astonishing 90% of cats over 12 years of age showed evidence of degenerative joint diseases. More recent studies have found between 60-90% of cats showed some signs of arthritic degeneration.
All this leads to the conclusion that arthritis in cats is much, much more common than has been previously thought.
It is a condition which can cause pain and discomfort as well as diminishing the quality of life for us cats. It can cause us trouble when we are jumping or climbing, toileting or trying to move quickly and can eventually lead to lameness and a very reduced quality of life.
But how do you tell if your cat has arthritis? Well the first tip is that we cats are not going to help you. We will do our absolute best to disguise and hide the signs of pain and discomfort we are feeling, so it’s up to you to do a bit of detective work to find out.
Look out for the signs that we are not moving as easily as we once were.
We might become hesitant when it comes to climbing stairs, and we will stop jumping as high or as often.
We might have trouble getting in and out of the litter tray, and we might not be able to contort our bodies into those strange configurations we get into to clean ourselves, meaning our grooming suffers.
We might have trouble walking, so look for changes in your cats’ gait, especially if they look like they are doing little “bunny hops” every so often. Chances are we are trying to find a comfortable way to move around without causing more stress on our arthritic body parts.
If you see any of these signs, or you are worried about your moggy’s health and want to make sure everything is all right, make an appointment with your vet for a full check-up – it will be the only way to be definitively sure.
If you’re reading this and worried that your cat might be suffering, the International Society of Feline Medicine has produced this handy check-list for owners to help them judge if their moggy has undergone any changes that might indicate arthritis or joint pain.
The good news though, is that as awareness of the prevalence of arthritis in cats has grown, so have the options for helping us cats continue to lead a comfortable and happy life.
My human veterinarians can offer options such as joint supplements, pain relief, physical therapy or dietary and nutritional changes, and can help guide you through some of the environmental changes that will help your arthritic cat continue as normal as much as possible; things like ramps, warm beds and rugs.
Unlike 20 years ago, if your moggy suffers from arthritis today there are things we can do to help. If your cat starts showing any of those signs that indicate arthritis, please make an appointment, and let us help you to help them.
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