by Nomi Berger
Arthritis, also known as osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease, causes pain and inflammation in a cat’s joints. Although fairly uncommon in felines, arthritis tends to affect the elbow joint when it does strike-but many joints can be afflicted.
Felines suffering from arthritis may show overall stiffness, swelling of the joints, lethargy, lameness, decreased flexibility and discomfort when you pet or handle them in certain positions. You may also notice subtle behavioral changes, including: lapsed litterbox habits (due to pain caused by getting in and out of the box), hesitancy to run, jump or climb stairs
Joints naturally degenerate as part of the aging process. Cartilage forms a cushion between the bones at a joint. As cats get older, the cartilage deteriorates and becomes less flexible.
Arthritis can develop due to injury, dislocation or infection in the joint. Extra weight can also put extra strain on a cat’s joints.
A veterinarian may conduct a physical exam, take radiographs and perform other diagnostic tests to help determine the cause of the pain and inflammation in your cat’s joints.
Arthritis most often affects older cats, as their joints degenerate naturally as part of the aging process-but can occur as result of trauma or infection in cats of all ages.
Treating arthritis in cats when it is mild can delay the need to use prescription painkillers, which can have harmful side effects.
Dietary supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, can be an effective option, Lund says. These over-the-counter products—available as treats, sprinkles, and liquids—can help protect and repair cartilage and improve the quality of joint fluid, effectively lubricating the joints and easing pain. Some prescription cat diets also include joint supplements. In general, be sure your cat is eating a quality food that is high in protein. You can also add fish oil, considered an anti-inflammatory, to your cat’s food, Lund says.
Cat parents also can ask their vet about injections with a substance called Adequan to treat joint inflammation, or noninvasive cold laser therapy, which also eases inflammation, Lund suggests. Anecdotal reports show benefits from acupuncture and massage.
Changes to your cat’s environment can help as well. For example, you can position pet stairs, stools, and other pieces of furniture in key places so your cat can use them to get where he wants to go. Regular movement also helps keep joints and bones healthy. Put food bowls in multiple places and make sure you place low-sided litterboxes in several easy to access spots around your house.
Heated cat beds also might get your cat purring contentedly
Once symptoms of arthritis set in, there is no cure-but you can work with your veterinarian to minimize your cat’s pain while keeping her healthy. Some general treatment options include:
Prescription veterinary pain medications
Possible use of nutritional supplements to help replenish cartilage
Weight loss if necessary, which has been shown to benefit overweight cats with arthritis.
Talk to your vet about an exercise program for your pet. Short, gentle play can be helpful in some cases, but you’ll need to introduce these sessions slowly and gradually. Vigorous play involving leaping, jumping and turning is to be avoided.
If your cat has arthritis, here are a few things you can do to make her feel better:
Give her a cozy blanket or cat bed.
When she’s relaxed and at ease, give her a gentle massage.
Groom the areas of her body that may be hard for her to reach.
Make sure she has easy, direct access to her litterbox and food and water bowls.
Whatever treatment you and your vet choose, pay attention to see if the method is working, and consider another course if it is not. When arthritis is well controlled, “the cat will likely be eating better, be happier, and moving around more,