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Feline Osteoarthritis

Cats are amazing creatures, jumping and climbing across surfaces with flexibility and speed. Except… when they don’t any more. But your cat’s reluctance to “parkour” isn’t just them getting older. It’s one of the most telltale signs of osteoarthritis (OA), when the joints start breaking down and affecting surrounding bones. Arthritis is painful, but your cat’s meows aren’t translated into English. We cannot understand our cats, especially when they tend to hide their pain and symptoms more than dogs. Learn more about osteoarthritis in cats to determine if maybe your furry friend is struggling, too.

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a complex condition involving inflammation and degeneration of one or more joints. It is sometimes referred to as degenerative joint disease (DJD) and is the most common form of arthritis. Cats with OA experience pain and inflammation in various joints that interfere with daily activities.

Osteoarthritis is more than simply “getting old.”

The signs of arthritis can vary from cat to cat. Look out for these common signs, and complete this quick quiz to see if your cat could have arthritis. 

  • Difficulty getting up and down
  • Walking stiffly
  • Lameness in one of more legs
  • Reluctance to jump up or down
  • Reluctance to play, or simply staying in one spot while playing
  • Reluctance to be touched on some parts of the body
  • Hiding more often
  • House soiling, if the cat has difficulty getting in and out of the litter box
  • Constipation, sometimes it can become difficult or painful defecate
  • Poor coat condition, most often under-groomed 
  • Lack of appetite

OA is diagnosed through a thorough physical examination, palpation (feeling with the fingers to localize pain and determine its intensity), and additional diagnostics, including radiographs (X-rays) or other imaging technology. About 90% of cats over 12 years old and 61% of cats over 6 years old experience OA in at least one joint.

Osteoarthritis is caused by many factors, including body condition and weight, abnormal joint development, injury history, orthopedic surgery, and nutritional history. Most cats will experience a combination of these causes as their OA develops. Note that “getting old” is NOT a cause of osteoarthritis. 

Why does OA Pain Matter?

Most pet owners will agree that their companions do feel pain. They will whine or cry, or show other signs that something is wrong. But what exactly is “pain”? According to the International Association for the Study of Pain, it is “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage.” This means that pain can happen even when someone perceives that they will experience tissue damage. This is why so many OA cats hesitate before jumping up or down; they know it will hurt them. Because pain is a personal experience, it does not need to be verbally articulated to be real. This is true for humans and for our cats. 

Osteoarthritis needs to be recognized and treated as soon as possible to avoid this experience. When a cat experiences pain in the joint, it is called peripheral sensitization. But because OA pain is consistent, almost constant, the pain changes to central sensitization, pain beyond the joint. This is when we see changes in sleep, movement, cognitive abilities, social relationships, and overall function. It affects every aspect of a cat’s life. Because the joints are an organ, osteoarthritis is a form of organ failure. It is up to you, the pet owner, to stay aware of OA and seek treatment for your cat.

Treatment of OA

Unfortunately, there is not one magic treatment plan for osteoarthritis. It cannot be cured and is complex, thus requiring multiple forms of treatment. To normalize body weight and condition, your veterinarian may prescribe a specific diet or food for your cat. You may also ask about nutritional supplements that can help support the joints, such as omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine/chondroitin or green-lipped mussel. Depending on the cat, pain may be treated with Gabapentin, or Solensia. There may also the option of alternative treatments such as T-Relief or Dasuquin. 

Solensia is a new medication for cats with osteoarthritis. Also known as frunevetmab it is a Monoclonal Antibody injection therapy specifically for cats. It targets the nerve growth factor, called NGF. NGF is a key player in chronic pain, so Solensia works through the nerves to reduce inflammation. It allows your feline friend to move with ease and enjoy a better quality of life. Solensia is given as a quick monthly injection, and pet owners often see improvements in the first few days after the second injection. Our veterinary professionals supervise the correct dosages for your individual cat, and talk about comprehensive care to help your cat beyond the injections. 

Physical therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic therapy, and medical massage, may provide excellent pain relief for many cats with OA. At Harmony Vet, we can have you talk with Jamie, our rehabilitation specialist for more personalized care, such as physical rehabilitation. For extreme cases, surgical procedures can alleviate the pain. Talk with your veterinarian or veterinary technician to learn more about these options, and visit our website to learn more about treatment options at Harmony Vet Center. 

You can help your cat at home by providing soft and padded bedding, raising food and water dishes to your cat’s elbow height, and incorporating accessible features such as ramps or stools for your cat to get onto higher surfaces. Consider moving your cat’s litter box and eating areas to the same floor of the home, so they can avoid flights of stairs. Note that these areas should not be too close to each other for any cat for the same reasons that we humans don’t enjoy eating our dinner in the bathroom. 

When you manage pain and symptoms for your osteoarthritis kitty, they can live a normal life expectancy. Above all, stay attuned to their behavior to understand their needs, and contact a professional when concerns arise. Your cat will thank you.