X-ray evidence of osteoarthritis has been found in 61% of cats over age 6 (Slingerland and others) and 90% of cats over age 12 (Hardie and others). Elbows, hips, knees, spine and shoulders seem to be affected the most. Unfortunately, OA remains one of the most under-diagnosed diseases in cats for a number of reasons:
  1. Cats modify their life style (i.e., move around less/sleep more)
  2. Because of their relatively small size, cats are able to re-distribute their body weight to other limbs
  3. Arthritic changes develop slowly and are bilaterally symmetric (e.g., both front limbs are equally affected), so there is not an obvious limp
  4. Cats show very different and more subtle signs than dogs and humans
  5. Owners think that their cat is merely "getting old".
What are the signs of arthritis in cats? The most common include:
  1. Weight loss
  2. Depression (seen as becoming withdrawn from owners and other companions)
  3. Decreased time spent playing
  4. Increased time spent sleeping or resting
  5. Inappropriate urination or defecation (not using the litterbox)
  6. Poor grooming and/or intolerance of being brushed (especially over the back and hind end)
  7. Aggressive behavior toward other cats, children, and when being picked up
  8.  Decreased ability or hesitance to jump up
  9. Changes in the toenails: overgrown nails, nails clicking on the floor, nails getting stuck in carpets
  10. Stiffness
What can we do to help our furry friends?
  1. Pain Management: Unfortunately, the medications that people use (aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, naprosin, and all the new drugs) are toxic to cats. There are only a handful of medications available for use in cats. Before using them, your vet needs to screen your cat for major metabolic disorders such as Diabetes, urinary tract infection, and kidney, liver or thyroid disease.
  2. Weight Loss: As in people, excess weight puts more stress on the joints.
  3. Environmental Changes:
    1. Cut down a portion of 1 side of the litter box to allow for easier access so your cat doesn’t have to jump into it or lift legs too high.
    2. Move litter boxes to the same area or level where your cat spends most of it’s time because going up and down stairs can be very painful.
    3. Raise the food and water bowels so your cat doesn’t have to bend down (important with elbow and spinal arthritis)
    4. Make sure that resting and hiding places are easily accessible
  4. Diet Modification: Hill’s j/d® and Royal Canin Mobility Support® are 2 prescription foods that combine the proper amount and proportion of specific ingredients including fatty acids, anti-oxidants, cartilage protectants, as well as carnitine and lysine (to help manage obesity and build lean muscle mass). In 1 randomized, double blind (no body knew what the food was until after the study) study of 172 cats, averaging 12 years of age, 61% improved, compared to 37% on the control (non j/d®) food. (Fritsch and others)
  5. Supplements containing chondroitin and glucosamine: It is best to use the name brands because what is on the label is what is in the medication. There is no regulation of "nutraceuticals" and quite often the generic "equivalents" contain impurities and vary from batch to batch. The key is to start these medications early in the course of your cat’s osteoarthritis.
  6. Other Treatments: Massage, physiotherapy, acupuncture, warming beds may help certain individuals, but there is very little published data relating to their use in cats.
At VCA Beacon Hill Cat Hospital we combine several of these management tools, tailored to your cat’s specific needs.