feline arthirtis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a progressive and painful inflammatory condition that can affect one or more of the joints. It is a well recognised disease process in both animals and people, often significantly impacting on an individual's quality of life. Despite this, numerous studies have suggested we under diagnose arthritis in our feline patients.

It is difficult to estimate the exact percentage of felines with arthritis, as they often have different inflammatory changes in the joint that are not visible on x-rays (our primary diagnostic tool). Multiple studies have been conducted on varying age groups for prevalence - with one finding evidence of OA in over 90% of randomly chosen cats! However, these percentages do vary amongst clinical studies, most likely due to the age group sampled. One fact that is consistent throughout all studies is that advancing age is the main risk factor for both prevalence and severity of OA.

So why aren’t we diagnosing such high percentages of feline arthritis in practice?

In dogs with OA, the most common sign first noticed by owners is lameness. However in cats, very few will have develop lameness. In fact, in the above study - only 4% of cats with OA were lame. The most common signs in our feline patients are inactivity, disability and behavioural changes. These are often slow and insidious in onset and so often missed or mistaken as part of the ‘normal’ ageing process. The following are just a few of the behavioural or physical changes often associated with OA:

  • Jumping up less frequently, less high or with less ‘grace’

  • Change in toileting habits or ‘missing’ the litter tray

  • Sleeping more, often in the same place for long periods of time

  • Reluctance to play or hunt

  • Matted or scurfy coat, overgrown claws

  • ‘Grumpy’ with other cats or owner, seeking solitude

  • Eating less

As well as the subtle changes occurring in the home, due to their nature it is difficult to evaluate movement in our feline patients during consultation. Therefore we often have to rely on a detailed history of their behaviour at home; and this is why identification of these subtle behaviour changes is so useful. OA is a painful condition, and our cats are often suffering in silence.

Treatment/Management of feline arthritis

There are various treatment options available for OA across all the species, and your vet will be able to tailor an individual treatment plan for your cat. It will be important to rule out other medical conditions as not only can they have similar clinical signs to OA, but they will undoubtedly affect our choice of treatment protocol. The following are all modalities we can use as part of OA management:

  • Environmental modification

  • Diet

  • Supplements

  • Medical treatment

  • Physiotherapy

  • Acupuncture

The most important message is ‘cats get arthritis too’ and it is a lot more common than we think. Make sure to observe your cat's behavioural patterns at home, especially the points noted above, and if you identify any change in activity or behaviour then consult your vet. The older your cat gets, the more likely they are to have underlying OA, and it is important we adapt and respond to our cats life stage.

Contact us for any aspect of advice if you are concerned your cat may be suffering with stiff, painful joints.

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