Cats are usually very stoic creatures but when it comes to feline arthritis, even the toughest tabby of them all will eventually give in and complain. Feline arthritis is a progressive, non-infectious disease characterized by joint swelling and pain. It can appear at any age but it usually affects middle-aged or geriatric cats.
What causes feline arthritis?
Certain factors contribute to the development of feline arthritis. These may include trauma, such as those caused by accidents or injuries to the joints, congenital disorders and developmental disorders. A commonly overlooked factor that usually leads to feline arthritis is obesity, which usually causes excessive weight to bear down on joints and cause too much pressure.
There are several types of cat arthritis - these include:
Progressive polyarthritis. This is characterized by arthritis affecting multiple joints and often worsens with age. Progressive polyarthritis usually affects the hock, wrist and feet. It can be severely painful, especially once the cartilage has eroded and bones are exposed.
Traumatic arthritis. This type is caused by injury to the joint from accidents, fights or even a fall. When left unchecked, the trauma can degenerate the joint and cause swelling and bone damage.
Osteoarthritis. Also referred to as degenerative arthritis, this is a chronic disease that often comes with age, characterized by the slow wear and tear of a joint. This usually occurs at the shoulder and elbow.
What are the symptoms?
When your cat shows symptoms of feline arthritis, it's usually when the disease has already progressed. These are some of the most common symptoms associated with feline arthritis:
Difficulty in moving or obvious expression of pain when moving.
Reluctance to engage in the usual physical activities.
Altered gait or limping.
Stiffness, difficulty in rising from a resting position.
Irritability, nervousness, aggression or depression.
Getting your cat diagnosed
Feline arthritis isn't arthritis until it's confirmed. If your cat shows signs of limping or inflammation, don't assume it is arthritis immediately and try to comfort your cat by giving him painkillers. Feline arthritis is best left for a veterinarian to diagnose and whatever medications you might need to administer should have the vet's approval.
During your visit to the vet, your cat will undergo a series of check ups in order to rule out any other diseases that may contribute to similar symptoms. It is also important that the vet examines your cat's medical history to find out if the problem is related to past injuries and diseases.
To check for the progress of the disease, an x-ray may be used which will show any deformed or damaged joints. An x-ray will often tell the veterinarian whether your cat needs to undergo surgery or will perform well with certain medications. Other forms of diagnosis may also be used by your veterinarian, including ultrasound, radiographs and blood tests.
Treatment for feline arthritis
A proper diagnosis from the veterinarian is important in order to determine the type and progress of the disease. This will help the vet prescribe the proper medication and therapies for your cat based on his age, the severity of his condition and medical history. The approach of treatment for feline arthritis is two-fold: one to treat the pain and inflammation and the other is to improve your cat's mobility.
If pain and swelling are present, medications may be prescribed, which can offer temporary relief. Common medications used include painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs. These drugs must be prescribed by your veterinarian and should not be administered without the doctor's advice. Some drugs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen and certain NSAIDs have adverse side effects that may not be well tolerated by cats.
Some supplements, such as chondroitin and glucosamine, are sometimes recommended to help in the healing of damaged joints. Glucosamine is one of the components that make up the cartilage while chondroitin inhibits damaging enzymes as it encourages cartilage formation. If the disease has progressed and joint malformation is already present, corrective and reconstructive surgery may be performed.
Your cat may have to deal with feline arthritis for the rest of his life, so it's important that he is provided a comfortable place to rest and sleep. A heating pad will greatly increase your cat's comfort although providing a warm place to sleep will usually suffice. Since it often requires extra effort for your cat to move, make sure he has easy access to his bed, food and water bowls. It may also be necessary to help your cat lose weight, as some forms of arthritis are caused and made worse by excess weight.