Crookshanks the cat here. Today I’m writing, er, dictating—come on now, I don’t have the luxury of opposable thumbs—to spread awareness about an important and often overlooked issue facing my fellow felines. Nothing against our canine companions, but they tend to be a little more dramatic when they aren’t feeling well, and their owners and veterinarians more quickly identify and treat their injuries and health conditions than they do us stoic cats. For many years, veterinary professionals commonly believed that cats didn’t develop arthritis—likely because of our aloof nature and ability to compensate for compromised joints—but this conviction couldn’t be further from the truth. We now know that cats are affected by this disease, just like people and dogs—but, we tend to keep our pain to ourselves.
Veterinary professionals estimate that arthritis affects between 70% and 90% of cats older than 12 years of age. Cats all over the world are cheering now that we’re finally getting some recognition for enduring arthritis pain. Unfortunately, the identification of feline arthritis signs is still a challenge, but if you are a highly observant cat owner, you will likely notice these subtle, very painful feline arthritis signs. Through my All Creatures Animal Hospital friends’ typing skills, I’m sharing information you need to know to be able to recognize feline arthritis signs and treatment options.
Feline arthritis at a glance: Take a deeper look
Osteoarthritis (i.e., [OA] degenerative joint inflammation) is pets’ most common arthritis condition. Over time, the cartilage that lines and cushions a joint can break down, causing bones to rub together, leading to joint swelling, inflammation, and pain—usually our spine, hips, knees, and elbows. As in people, this condition is commonly associated with aging and normal joint wear and tear over time. However, arthritis can affect cats of all ages.
Feline arthritis signs: Look for subtle behavior changes
OA is a progressive disease that continues to worsen over time, which is why early identification of the signs and management of the condition is important. You may wonder why we hide painful conditions, such as OA, from our owners. Truthfully, we don’t have much say in the matter. Our natural instinct is to conceal discomfort—an evolutionary holdover from our days in the wild—where illness or injury signs put a target on our backs, making us more vulnerable to becoming someone’s lunch or being left behind by our group. Sure, house cats don’t have to worry about these kinds of things, but old habits die hard, making your observation abilities most important in the identification of our subtle feline arthritis signs.
To learn more about feline arthritis signs, North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine conducted an analysis of around 300 cats with OA. These veterinary experts have reported that six everyday behavior signs correlate with the presence of feline OA pain:
- How your cat jumps up onto a higher surface
- How your cat jumps down from a higher surface
- How your cat climbs up stairs
- How your cat climbs down stairs
- How your cat looks as they run
- How willing your cat is to chase moving objects
You know your cat best, and by monitoring these behavior signs closely over time, you can more quickly spot your cat’s changes. By the time we start showing obvious pain signs, our arthritis has usually progressed. Therefore, the sooner you can spot this condition’s signs, the better. The following behavior changes are common feline arthritis signs:
- Taking stairs one at a time, or differently than in the past
- No longer using favorite high perches
- Difficulty grooming, with unkempt fur
- Accidents outside the litter box
- Decreased movement and activity
- Decreased play
- Increased irritability or hiding
Feline arthritis treatment: Improve your cat’s quality of life
While OA isn’t something I would wish on any cat, effective treatment options are now available to help manage our pain and slow the condition’s progression. Back in the days when feline OA was not acknowledged, we had to suffer in silence. However, now our veterinarians can prescribe individualized treatments that enable us to enjoy high-quality, pain-free, and mobile lives. That is something to celebrate! Cats’ OA treatment options include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — While cats can be sensitive to some NSAIDs, these medications can help reduce inflammation around our arthritic joints and provide significant pain relief. Remember, only give us NSAIDs our veterinarians have prescribed, because human NSAIDs can be toxic.
- Pain medication — Pain medications, including gabapentin and some opioids, can help control pain when NSAIDs are not sufficient.
- Injectable joint protectants — These are monthly arthritis pain-reducing injections. If you do not want to administer our daily medications, this therapy is ideal.
- Supplements — Glucosamine and chondroitin spare further cartilage damage. Our veterinarians can also administer an injectable medicine (i.e., Adequan), which works similarly.
- Weight control — Cat arthritis medications can help to control pain levels, but they do little to stop the inflammation that causes arthritis progression. We definitely need your help to avoid gorging on excess food, and finding motivation to exercise.
- Alternative therapies — In addition to providing us with arthritis medications and cartilage-sparing supplements, we may benefit from supplemental alternative therapies such as acupuncture, physical therapy, or cold laser therapy.
I think I speak for all cats when I say how relieved we are that painful arthritic felines are finally getting the attention we deserve. Now you know how to identify early feline OA signs and seek prompt treatment to ensure we enjoy the highest possible quality of life. If your feline friend has arthritis signs, or to schedule their wellness examination, contact my All Creatures Animal Hospital friends. Crookshanks here—over and meow-t.
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