Arthritis is a very common condition in older animals and is caused by inflammation within the joints, resulting in swelling, pain and reluctance to move around. This reduced activity can often be mistaken as a cat naturally slowing down due to old age. While arthritis cannot be cured, and will gradually worsen over time, there are various ways of managing the condition to keep your cat as comfortable and active as possible.
What is arthritis?
With arthritis, the cartilage lining a joint becomes damaged, causing the bone surfaces to rub together resulting in further damage to the cartilage and pain for the cat. As a response to this cartilage damage, new bone starts to form around the joint, restricting its movement resulting in stiffness. These changes lead to a spiral of pain, lameness, limb disuse and muscle wastage. As the cat starts to favour other limbs, this can cause them to become overloaded, causing further damage and pain elsewhere.
What are the signs of arthritis?
Signs of arthritis in cats can be subtle and difficult to spot – they are less prone to lameness than dogs, and the main symptoms can initially be limited to reduced activity and sleeping more. It is important to look out for the following signs, particularly as your cat gets older:
- Reduced activity and grooming (can lead to matted and unkempt fur particularly around the back end where the cat struggles to reach)
- Reluctance to jump or use the stairs
- Muscle wastage over the hips and back end
- Unusual or different behaviour - being grumpier or more subdued than usual (this is often just blamed on old age)
- Sleeping more and hiding away
- Overgrooming (this can cause saliva staining making the fur look pink)
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How is arthritis diagnosed?
We can be highly suspicious of arthritis from the history and clinical signs alone, but this is usually confirmed by performing full physical examination including testing the joints for stiffness and pain. Further investigations may be suggested including blood/urine tests and x-rays or CT imaging of the affected joint(s). Trial treatment is likely to be offered to monitor the response and this may be adapted depending on the response.
There are various treatment and management options available for feline arthritis, depending on the stage and severity, which we adapt for your individual cat. It is therefore important to have a thorough discussion with your vet to find which combination of the following would work best for your household and cat.
- Weight management is key:
- Carrying extra weight is known to negatively impact on joint health. A very important aspect of arthritis management is therefore getting your cat to their optimal weight. This will also reduce their risk of other weight-related conditions such as diabetes mellitus.
- Ensure you are feeding your cat according to the package guidelines, using their ideal target weight rather than their actual weight (if they are overweight). Be careful to not give too many treats and titbits, reducing their overall daily food intake accordingly if you are giving treats.
- Feed a life-stage diet to ensure your cat is receiving the correct nutrition for their age. Senior diets tend to contain fewer calories helping to maintain your cat’s optimal body condition as their activity level drops.
- Use body condition scoring to check if your cat is carrying excess weight. This is something that we can go over with you during a video call. We score cat from 1 to 9, and it is best to aim for 4-5/9.
- You can also measure your cat’s waistline! Again, this is something that we can show you how to do and it is great for tracking your cat’s weight loss, helping you to track progress and maintain motivation.
- Encourage exercise. Playing with toys can help to shed the weight and also improve your cat’s quality of life through increased activity.
- Joint supplements:
- These can help to reduce stiffness, promote better joint health and increase mobility, especially when used in the earlier stages of arthritis.
- However, there are lots of products available, and they vary in their ingredients and effectiveness so always consult your vet about which they would recommend.
- Check out our shop section, where you can buy Yumove Advance 360 – a fantastic product that is only available to buy from vets.
- Pain relief:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): these are the most common types of pain relief used for arthritis in cats and they can offer a dramatic improvement in mobility and quality of life. There are different formulations available so speak to your vet about what is best for your cat.
- Opioids: this is a different class of pain relief which works in a different way to NSAIDs but can be a helpful add on or alternative where NSAIDs are not well tolerated.
- Gabapentin: this is a human drug that can be useful in managing the pain associated with feline arthritis.
- Please note, paracetamol is EXTREMELY toxic to cats and should therefore never be given.
- Home modifications:
- Provide a thick, orthopaedic bed that your cat can easily get into and out of. Ensure it is placed at a height that is easily accessible for your cat as they may struggle to jump as high as they used to. You may choose to have a selection of comfortable beds around your home so that your cat can choose which they prefer and can access most easily. We have various beds available to order in our Shop.
- Use a litter tray with low sides to make it easy for them to access it.
- Cats like to watch the world from up high, especially if there are other animals or children in the household! Use ramps and steps around the home to allow your cat to still access high positions if they choose.
What is the prognosis for cats with osteoarthritis?
This varies greatly between individuals. However, with careful management and treatment it’s possible to greatly improve your cat’s comfort and quality of life.