What comes to mind when you think of arthritis? Pain? Throbbing joints? Arthritis in cats involves those things and so much more! Many cats are suffering from it and their owners don’t even know. Here are 5 facts that you may not have known about arthritis in cats.
Title Photo Credit: Lihoman…via Flickr
#1: Almost all cats will have arthritis in their lifetime.
Arthritis is much more common in cats than you think! According to the Winn Feline Foundation, 20% of cats over the age of 1 year, 60% of cats over the age of 6, and 90% of cats over the age of 12 have signs of arthritis. That means that 9 out of 10 cats that live to be 12 years old or more have at least some signs of arthritis!
Often, arthritis in cats goes undiagnosed. Why? Cats are masters at concealing their pain. Unlike dogs and humans, cats will continue to behave normally without complaint (or expression of pain) until it is physically impossible to do so. This is one of the reasons it is so important to take your cats to the veterinarian for wellness checkups regularly.
As with many illnesses in cats, the symptoms of arthritis can be easily mistaken for symptoms of other problems. Some symptoms you might see if your cat develops arthritis include:
- Altered gait (walking in a strange way)
- Favoring one limb over another
- Swollen joints
- Not using the litter box (difficulty getting in or out)
- Difficulty with stairs
- Discomfort when being held or touched in certain ways
Your veterinarian can spot the subtle symptoms of arthritis in cats. Diagnosing arthritis will require a physical exam and x-rays. In some cases, other lab tests will be required as well.
#2: There is more than one type of arthritis in cats.
The term arthritis actually covers a range of diseases that are characterized by the deterioration of the cartilage between a cat’s joints. Pain and inflammation of the joints are a common result of that deterioration. Arthritis can be either a primary disease (a stand alone disease) or a secondary disease (caused by another disease). As a primary disease, the cause of arthritis in cats is generally unknown. Secondary causes can range from trauma and abnormal wear and tear on the joints to birth defects and infections.
Osteoarthritis is the type of arthritis people most often think of when they use the term arthritis. It is also known as Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD). This is the most common kind of arthritis in cats. Osteoarthritis occurs when over time, the cartilage between the cat’s joints deteriorates and becomes rigid. The older a cat gets, the higher the cat’s likelihood of developing Osteoarthritis. A cat’s elbow and hip joints are most likely to be affected.
Immune Mediated Polyarthritis is an autoimmune disease (similar to Rheumatoid Arthritis in humans). The cat’s own immune system is attacking the cartilage between the cat’s joints. Young to middle-aged male cats are most often affected by Immune Mediated Polyarthritis. This type of arthritis can be very difficult to manage even with prescription medications.
#3: Obesity and declawing are major contributors to arthritis in cats.
Many of the things that cause arthritis in cats are beyond our control as cat owners, but there are 2 things that we can do to help. First of all, help your cat to maintain a healthy weight. Second, let your kitty keep their claws, don’t declaw your cat.
When your cat is overweight, there is more pressure on your cat’s joints than is necessary. That extra pressure can cause faster deterioration of the cartilage and thus more pain. Helping your overweight or obese cat to lose weight can help to relieve the pressure on your cat’s joints. This can help to delay the development of arthritis or slow its progression.
Your cat’s claws don’t just affect your furniture, they affect the way your cat walks. Cats naturally walk on their toes. When you declaw a cat, you amputate not only the claws but also the last bones in the cat’s foot – the bone they stand on when they walk. Removing this bone changes the way the cat must walk and causes unusual wear and tear the cat’s joints.
#4: Combining treatments gives the most effective relief.
There is no cure for arthritis in cats. However, there are many types of effective treatment available. Your veterinarian will be able to help you decide which are the best for your cat’s specific situation. The options may include:
- Pharmaceutical medications
These medications help to reduce pain and inflammation. DO NOT give your cat over the counter pain relievers like acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen. These are highly toxic to cats!
- Nutritional supplements
Some nutritional supplements can help to relieve inflammation and rebuild cartilage. Commonly used supplements include Omega 3 vitamins (like Krill Oil) and Glucosamine.
- Alternative therapies
Acupuncture, laser therapy, massage, and chiropractic care have all been proven to be beneficial to cats with arthritis.
- Physical therapy and exercise
Talk to your veterinarian about appropriate exercises for your cat. They may need to be low-impact. Walking on a treadmill or swimming may be recommended.
The most effective treatment will include 2 or more of the options above. As your cat ages, the treatments will have to be adjusted.
#5: Inexpensive changes to your home can help.
If your cat develops arthritis, you can make a few changes in your home to help your cat cope. You will want to reduce the amount of jumping and climbing your cat must do to perform everyday activities. The changes are simple and inexpensive.
- Find a litter box with a lower opening so your cat doesn’t have to step so high to get in and out of it.
- Create or purchase some pet stairs to help your cat to more easily climb on to furniture or raised surfaces.
- Use raised pet dishes so that your cat doesn’t have to bend down.
- Make sure your cat has a soft, comfortable place to rest.
Does your cat have arthritis? If so, how do you help your cat?
Sources & Digging Deeper
- Arthritis (Osteoarthritis or Degenerative Joint Disease) in Cats – Winn Feline Foundation
- Arthritis in Cats: Symptoms and Pain Relief – ASPCA via WebMD
- Dealing With Your Cat’s Arthritis – Drs. Foster & Smith
- Types of Arthritis in Cats – Drs. Foster & Smith
- A Third of Cats Have This by Age 6, but You Likely Don’t Know – Dr. Karen Becker, DVM