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Published: Jan 30, 2013

Much attention is given to arthritis and other joint problems in dogs, but cats can also suffer from these painful conditions. In fact, arthritis and other joint issues are some of the most common causes of pain in cats.

Older felines suffer the most from these conditions, and obesity in cats also increases the chance a feline will have joint pain. Here are some joint problems your cat could suffer from, and how to treat them so she can live a long, happy life.

Osteoarthritis in cats
According to VCA Animal Hospitals, osteoarthritis can be caused by genetics or another predisposition, but a traumatic injury can also increase the chances that the cartilage in a cat's joints will break down later, causing pain and inflammation. The organization reports that overweight and obese cats are more likely to develop osteoarthritis because the extra weight overloads the joints, leading to damage. Lameness and stiffness of the joints are common clinical signs of osteoarthritis in cats.

Weight reduction in cats can go a long way in improving arthritis pain, simply because it reduces the pressure placed on the joints. Talk to your veterinarian about a plan that incorporates nutrition and exercise to help your cat lose extra weight.

Other times, "nutraceuticals," or food products, can be given to treat arthritis. Some common nutraceuticals include omega-3 fatty acids, which help control inflammation and block the enzymes that break down cartilage in the cat's joints. Glucosamine and chondroitin are also commonly given as supplements to support cartilage, and avocado and soybean unsaponifiables appear to complement the effects of these supplements, VCA reports. Microlactin, a milk protein, has been proven to inhibit inflammation.

Degenerative joint disease
Not all joint problems are caused by arthritis. Degenerative joint disease in cats is likely to occur in felines who have had traumatic injuries to their joints, have gotten joint infections after a cat fight or needed joint surgery for some other reason. This joint disease is a result of gradual, irreversible deterioration of the cartilage inside the joints, called articular cartilage.

Treating pain in cats with this condition can be tricky, since the clinical signs are not what many owners might expect. Instead of lameness, cats will show more subtle signs like an unwillingness to jump from furniture or an increased irritability when being touched or handled. This can often be mistaken for cat behavior problems, while the general reluctance to move is often characterized by owners as lethargy, or the cat sleeping more.

Cats of all ages can develop degenerative joint disease, but the likelihood increases with age. The best way to treat the condition is to modify your feline's environment to make it easy to get around with as little pain as possible. Make sure your cat's litter box, and food and water dishes are all on one floor and easy to access, since climbing stairs or reaching high surfaces might cause pain.

VCA also recommends owners keep their cats active by playing gentle games, since exercise maintains joint mobility and muscle tone. Sometimes, veterinarians may recommend nutraceuticals to support cats with degenerative joint disease.