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Osteoarthritis in Cats

Dumpling's Story

“Dumpling” was a lovely, ten-year-old Chocolate Burmese cat.  She had always been an affectionate pet, happy to be petted and stroked while sleeping on the comfy lap of a family member.   

Dumpling was brought into the clinic as she had recently been hiding away from her family, and she was reluctant to jump up onto her favourite "viewing" spots at the window. Also, she had been extremely grumpy lately, which was very unlike her.     

On her examinations, I remarked firstly, that Dumpling was now rather overweight. Also, she was immediately tender to examine particularly over her tail- head and spine. She quickly became quite fractious and would definitely not tolerate her hips and hindlimbs being examined.  

I advised that she had some bloods, to rule out any underlying health concerns, and X-rays done under a safely monitored anaesthetic.    

Dumpling’s Blood tests were normal for her age and stage. However, her X-rays revealed that she had quite progressive osteoarthritic changes of her lower Spine and Hips, which was certainly making her feel painful, grumpy, and really quite miserable. Also, her excess weight was putting an extra strain on her joints.  

Our pets are living much longer lives. However, with this sadly comes age-related chronic diseases, such as osteoarthritis. Thankfully, it is becoming increasingly recognised that cats can also suffer from this debilitating disease... which sadly will affect 80% of cats over the age of 10 years of age. 

Cats are masters of disguise when it comes to hiding the painful symptoms of osteoarthritis, and these signs may be quite subtle. 

They may become withdrawn, grumpy, and notably less agile. There may be a loss of appetite and a weight loss, or a weight gain due to inactivity. Often there are changes in their demeanour and depression. They can be lethargic and sleep a lot, have poor grooming habits and a matted coat. They may toilet outside the litter tray and be unable to jump on and off objects and not be present in their usual “viewing” places. They may be reluctant to venture outside, or to move from one comfortable spot. Also, they can be noisier, and aggressive or defensive when touched. Surprisingly, an obvious lameness is not commonly reported a clinical sign by cat owners.     

Osteoarthritis is a condition that leads to pain and progressive deterioration of joints. It is a degenerative condition in which the normal protective cartilage “cushion” within the joint breaks down and a joint thickening and bony “spurs” form. These changes within the joint cause a decreased movement and pain. In cats, often the Xray changes in affected joints are usually more subtle. A noted thickening of the tissues around and inside the joints is a common finding on X-rays.       

Cats, unlike most dogs, seem to quietly tolerate osteoarthritis due to their smaller size and natural agility. There is a point though, where it becomes obvious that there is some pain involved.  

Although osteoarthritis cannot be cured, it can be alleviated and managed on-going with a recommended treatment plan to ensure that your cat has a more pain free life.  

Anti-inflammatory and pain relief medications, and Joint supplements are generally prescribed. Your vet will advise on the best treatment options appropriate for your cat. These options may include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory treatments to help reduce both pain and inflammation, given as a daily oral medication. Or now, a monthly injection of a cat-specific monoclonal antibody, designed to recognize and attach to a protein called “nerve growth factor” involved in the regulation of pain, thereby preventing pain signals from reaching the brain. Other types of additional pain relief medications may be prescribed if your cat is still uncomfortable. Cat specific joint supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin, and Omega 3, can also be used at the same time as prescription medicines, to try and slow down the progression of osteoarthritis. There are also specialist prescription diets that can assist and these also contain joint supplement ingredients. Other additional therapies: Physiotherapy and Acupuncture can be used in conjunction to relieve the symptoms of osteoarthritis in cats. If you are interested in these, speak to your vet, who will be able to arrange a referral for you.    

Please NOTE *NEVER* give your cat any dog or human pain relief medications. Dog dosages will be different, and human pain killers can be extremely toxic to cats.    

In addition, there are plenty of ways that you can help your cat cope with osteoarthritis at home. Provide a soft, padded, comfortable, easily accessible bed. Orthopaedic memory foam beds, placed at ground level away from draughts, can be very comfortable for cats with arthritis. Also, a safe, pet heat-pad placed under their bed can naturally help sooth your cat’s stiff joints. Use easily accessible, slightly raised food bowls to make it easier for them to reach their food. Avoid obesity! 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. Encourage gentle exercise within the home environment. You may also need to use a variety of cat ramps and steps to help your lovely, ageing cat reach their favourite places,.. such as your armchair!    

Wee “Dumpling” was much more comfortable after her advised treatments, and she was put on an advised, strict, weight-management diet. She was monitored and managed long-term on the lowest effective dose of her daily non-steroidal treatment, along with additional joint supplements, and she was referred for regular acupuncture sessions.   

Osteoarthritis is often a hidden disease in cats. By having more the awareness of it, and in knowing what common signs to look for, hopefully, with appropriate medications, supplements, weight management and some small adjustments made at home, we now can more readily ease the silent suffering of many older pet cats.  

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

Alison Laurie-Chalmers
Senior Consultant
Crown Vets. 

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