Q. Do cats get arthritis? My cat doesn’t seem to get around as well as she used to. What can be done for a cat with arthritis?
A. Yes, cats do get osteoarthritis (OA). For years, veterinarians thought that cats did not get this disease. Why? Well, for one, cats don’t show the same signs that arthritic dogs do. Dogs with arthritis tend to limp, or show stiffness when they first get up.
Cats with OA do different things. They might be unwilling to jump up on furniture and counters, or just not able to jump as high as they used to. They might start eliminating outside of the litter box, because it hurts to climb over the rim. Other signs of pain in cats can include a decreased appetite, weight loss, decreased grooming behaviour, and a grumpy attitude.
Secondly, it can be difficult to diagnose arthritis in cats. Cats tend to hide signs of pain. Also, they’re small and well coordinated, so they can cope for longer than dogs and humans can. At the vet’s, if a cat is growling or flinching during an exam, it’s hard to tell if they’re reacting that way because something hurts, or because they just don’t want to be touched.
We can often feel a crunching or clicking sensation, called crepitus, when examining an arthritic joint in a dog; this clue is usually missing in cats.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition of the joints in which cartilage, a material meant to act as a cushion, breaks down. Eventually, neighbouring bone surfaces rub against each other, causing pain.
Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease and there is no cure; however, treatment can slow the course of the disease and help pets maintain their mobility.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many safe treatments for OA in cats. As you hopefully already know, aspirin, ibuprofen and Tylenol are poisonous in cats. Please never try to treat your cat without proper professional supervision. Your veterinarian can offer a few prescription medication options shown to be safer in the feline species. Some of these include meloxicam, glucosamine, buprenorphine, and gabapentin. Using these medications is considered “off-label” in cats (they are meant for use in dogs or humans), however, and they can have side effects. It’s really important that medications for OA be used with caution in pets, and only under the direct guidance of a veterinarian.
Non-drug options include weight loss if your kitty is overweight, moderate exercise to maintain mobility and flexibility, and changes to kitty’s home layout (ramps so they don’t have to jump up anymore, beds on the floor rather than up high, etc). There are even special “joint diets” for cats that contain supplements to optimize joint health. These prescription diets are available from veterinarians.
If your cat isn’t using the litter box as regularly any more, try a new pan with lower sides. You can also provide a more cushy bed, and elevate your cat’s water and food bowls.
Readers, now that you’re aware that cats, not just dogs, can get arthritis, I hope you’ll recognize signs of this very subtle condition sooner in your precious kitty.
Also, and I can’t stress this enough, it’s really important that all cats get a regular check-up, at least once a year. Geriatric cats (and dogs) should see their veterinarian every 3 to 6 months. Don’t forget that dogs and cats age 6 to 7 years for every human year. Seeing one’s doctor every 6 years wouldn’t be ideal for a senior person, so why should it be okay for a dog or cat?
Early diagnosis and treatment of a variety of ailments will hopefully help your cat enjoy a longer and happier life.