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Osteoarthritis in cats

Chloe’s Story, and Osteoarthritis in cats

“Chloe” was an eleven-year-old, Tortoiseshell and White cat. She had always been an affectionate, friendly, happy pet, and Chloe was always happy to find a comfy lap to sleep on. She had been brought in as she had recently been hiding away and was notably reluctant to jump up onto her favourite "viewing" spots, and she was becoming very grumpy lately, which was very unlike her.   

On her examination she was quite tender to examine over her back and she would not tolerate her hips and hindlimbs being examined. I advised that she had some bloods and X-rays done under a safely monitored anaesthetic.  

Her Blood tests were thankfully normal for her age and stage, however, her X-rays revealed that she had progressive osteoarthritic changes of her Hips, which was certainly making her feel painful and quite miserable.  

Our pets are living much longer lives. However, with this comes age-related chronic diseases, such as osteoarthritis. It is thankfully becoming increasingly recognised that cats also can suffer from osteoarthritis. The signs that cats exhibit can be much the same as dogs in that they become withdrawn, grumpy, and notably less agile. Some other signs to look out for in cats though are: Loss of appetite and weight loss; Changes in demeanour and depression; Sleeping a lot; Lethargy; Poor grooming habits and matted coat; Urination or defecation outside the litter tray; Inability to jump on and off objects and not present in their usual places; Reluctance to move; Abnormal vocalisation; Aggressive or defensive when touched; Surprisingly, lameness is not as commonly reported a clinical sign by cat owners.   

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition of the joints in which the normal protective cartilage “cushion” within the joints breaks down. Sometimes there is also a formation of bony spurs or other changes in and around the joints. Eventually, the bones in the joint and bony spurs can rub against each other, causing pain and decreased movement.  

Cats, unlike most dogs, seem to quietly tolerate joint problems due to their smaller size and natural agility, until there is a point where it becomes obvious that there is pain involved, and then they can become withdrawn and depressed or grumpy. In cats, often the changes in affected joints are usually more subtle. Thickening of the tissues around and inside of affected joints is a common finding on X-rays.   

For osteoarthritis in cats, anti-inflammatory and pain relief medications and Joint supplements are generally prescribed.  Your vet will help you to decide on the best treatment options appropriate for your cat. Options they may recommend include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory treatments to help reduce both pain and inflammation. This type of medication is often given every day. Other types of additional pain relief medications may be prescribed alongside the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain relief, if your cat is still not comfortable.  

Please NOTE* Never give your cat any human medication. Remember human pain killers can be extremely toxic to cats.  

Joint supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin, and Omega 3, can also be used at the same time as other medicines to try and help slow down the progression of arthritis.  

Other additional, adjunctive therapies can be offered now too: Physiotherapy and Acupuncture can be used to assist with and relieve the symptoms of arthritis in cats. If you are interested in these additional, alternative therapies for your cat, speak to your vet, who will be able to arrange a referral for you.  

In addition to the pain relief treatments. joint supplements and additional therapies, there are plenty of other ways you can help your cat with osteoarthritis at home. Provide a soft, padded, comfortable bed. Orthopaedic memory foam beds can be very comfortable for cats with arthritis. Cats can be incredibly fussy, so place a selection of comfy beds around your home for your cat to choose from. Remember to put these beds at ground level, as your cat may not be able to jump up now. Also make sure your cat’s beds are away from draughts as they won't like to feel the cold. A safe, pet heat-pad placed under their bed can naturally help sooth your cat’s stiff joints. Also, use easily accessible, slightly raised food bowls to make it easier for them to reach their food. There are also specialist prescription diets that can assist cats with arthritis, they contain joint supplement ingredients. Avoid obesity and keep your cat slim. Even a little bit of extra weight puts more strain on your cat’s sore joints. Change your cat’s type of litter tray. A litter tray with low sides can make it much easier for your cat. You may also need to use a variety of cat ramps and steps around the home as your cat gets older, to help your cat reach their favourite places, such as their favourite armchair!  

Osteoarthritis in cats is often difficult to diagnose in cats. But by having the awareness of it now, and by knowing what common signs to look for, along with a vet’s physical examination and with new methods of pain assessment and radiographic evidence. Hopefully, with appropriate medications, supplements, weight management and some other small adjustments made at home, we can more readily ease the silent suffering of many older cats with osteoarthritis.  

Wee Chloe was much more comfortable after her advised treatments, and she was then carefully monitored and managed long term on the lowest effective dose of her non-steroidal treatment, along with additional joint supplements and had regular acupuncture sessions. 

If your cat is showing any of these symptoms, please arrange an appointment for a check-up with your Vet. 


Alison Laurie-Chalmers,  

Senior Consultant,  

Crown Vets

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