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by Aaron Lamoree, DVM
Most people are used to seeing or hearing about old dogs and arthritis. Cats, however, are another matter. Due either to their stoic nature or the fact that they sleep most of the day, many owners do not seem to feel that arthritis is a concern in their senior cats.
The truth is that older cats can and do suffer with arthritis. Early signs may be very subtle and are often behavioral. These may include increasing reclusiveness, poor grooming habits or a reluctance/inability to use the litterbox.
May is Arthritis Awareness Month so we'd like to take this time to let our clients know more about this very underdiagnosed problem in our feline friends.
What is Arthritis:
Arthritis (also called osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease) is a painful condition that results from inflammation and progressive deterioration of cartilage within the joint. As the protective cartilage breaks down, nerve endings and, eventually, bone is exposed within the affected joint.
What Causes Arthritis:
There are a variety of causes of arthritis. They include infection, immune-mediated disorders, injury affecting the ligaments and structures within a joint, trauma, genetic defects such as hip dysplasia, and natural “wear and tear” as a pet ages.
Signs of Arthritis in Cats:
While limping or appearing “stiff” are signs of arthritis commonly seen in dogs, these symptoms are often not noticed in cats due to their sedentary lifestyle and due to a cat’s unique gait. Other signs that are commonly attributed to arthritis in cats include: inappropriate elimination (outside the litter box), decreased grooming, reluctance to be combed, reluctance to jump up or down, sleeping more, moving less, withdrawing from interaction with the family, hiding, and unusual signs of aggression/behavior changes.
How Common is Arthritis in Cats:
Since signs of arthritis in cats are often vague, it is a common condition that is largely underdiagnosed in the species. One study revealed that 90% of cats over 12 years of age had symptoms of arthritis. Another study revealed that 22% of ALL cats have some evidence of arthritis seen on X-rays
How Do We Diagnose Arthritis:
We can get a suspicion of arthritis based on performing an orthopedic exam on a cat. That being said, in general, cats are less cooperative on examination than dogs. To confirm arthritis (and differentiate from other painful conditions), X-rays are typically necessary.
Treatments for Arthritis:
There are many treatments that not only alleviate the pain and suffering of arthritis, but can slow the progression. Beginning treatments for an arthritic pet or a pet that is at risk for developing arthritis on treatments before they show severe is the best way to help control the condition. Current therapies include:
If you suspect that your cat is dealing with arthritis, let us know and we can help tailor a treatment plan to help keep your little friend as comfortable as possible over the years.