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Growing Old Gracefully - Arthritis In Cats

Growing Old Gracefully - Arthritis In Cats
by Dr Grant Hampson

Read time: 3 min

As your cat ages, they may develop arthritis, also referred to as osteoarthritis. Arthritis is defined as inflammation within the joints, causing stiffness and pain. You might recognise this as ‘slowing down’, but it is important to recognise the signs of arthritis so we can provide pain relief and support.

Illustrations of a healthy joint next to one with osteoarthritis

In the healthy cat, bones are covered in a thin, smooth layer known as cartilage. The joints are also filled with a lubricating joint fluid. Together, these two components allow the joints to glide smoothly. As cats get older the cartilage layer can become damaged, disrupting the smooth motion of the joint and causing the bones to rub together. Over time this causes more damage, and results in new pieces of bone forming. All of this combined together causes a stiff, painful and inflamed joint.

What Causes Arthritis:

Arthritis is part and parcel of growing old. However, if your cat has ever had damage to their limbs before, such as fractures or ligament damage, they may develop arthritis a little bit earlier in their life or it may be a little bit worse if compared to a cat without any previous damage.

How can I tell if my cat is getting arthritis?

A few different things can start to be seen when cats begin developing arthritis. In the more serious cases, they may actually start limping or “hobbling” around the house. This might be more noticeable after they have finished having a long snooze, when they wake up they may be a bit stiff or lame which improves over time.

Cats can become more reluctant to jump up onto high surfaces, or sometimes completely miss after jumping! These are more subtle signs of joint disease.

As the joints become increasingly more painful, your cat may start to over groom the areas of discomfort. In cats with lighter coloured fur, the saliva might stain the fur a lighter colour of brown.

How can I help my cat if they have arthritis?

We all want to make sure our cats remain as comfortable as possible, if your cat starts to show any of the signs discussed above then have a chat with your vet about the many different ways you can help your cat.

Joint supplements:

These products contain Green lipped mussel, Glucosamine, manganese, vitamin E and hyaluronic acid. The combination of ingredients promotes mobility, aids stiff joints and supports joint function.

As soon as you see the initial signs of osteoarthritis it is recommended to start these supplements. You could consider adding in joint supplements once they reach a geriatric age, before the onset of clinical signs, to help support the joints sooner rather than later.

Weight control:

Cats that are overweight are more likely to suffer from arthritis as well as it being more severe. Part of the treatment for arthritis should be aimed at helping overweight cats lose weight. Helping them lose weight will reduce the load on the joint which aids in management. Cat’s with a better body condition are much more active and generally healthier. This increase in activity strengthens the muscles surrounding the joints, providing extra support to the joints. Managing your cats weight and exercise may in fact reduce the dependence on long term pain medications.

Pain Medications:

Near enough all cats suffering from long term arthritis are going to need medical intervention at some stage of their disease, some may need long term medications.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are a medication that is commonly prescribed to help reduce both the inflammation and pain associated with arthritis. They are often used intermittently for when the arthritis symptoms are flaring up. NSAIDs do have side effects, including vomiting and diarrhoea, and if you are worried about these you should contact your vet.

Research into arthritis is constantly going on and new products are always under development. Arthritis is not curable but can be managed extremely well with effective weight management and medications.

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