As your cat gets older, you will start to notice her body and behavior change. The body works 24/7/365 to maintain life and at some point, it has to slow down. No matter how well taken care of the body is, the time has to come when it just doesn’t function the same.
It can be difficult watching your cat getting old and this may cause some owners to euthanize their cats prematurely. If you are lucky, your cat may simply slow down and continue to live a relatively healthy life until she passes. However, in many cases, your cat may catch some diseases that do not come from poor hygiene or a bad diet but simply from old age.
One of the diseases your cat may encounter is known as arthritis. Studies have shown that over ninety percent of felines over twelve years of age show signs of arthritis. Arthritis can inflict even younger kitties, with fifty percent of cats over the age of six suffering from arthritic pain.
What is Arthritis in Cats?
In simple terms, arthritis is inflammation of the joints. The condition is characterized by tenderness at the joints sometimes accompanied by swelling. Arthritis is a chronic disease and very rarely can a cat recover from it completely.
The pain in the joints can be caused by different factors the most common of which being joint cartilage degeneration. In a healthy joint, the bone is surrounded by cartilage to minimize friction as the body makes movements around the joints.
In old age, if you pair this cartilage degeneration with the reduction in synovial fluid, you get a result of very painful joints. Synovial fluid is a liquid that lubricates joints.
You can imagine how painful it would be to experience friction in your joints every time you move. To make matters worse, arthritis usually affects more than one joint. Forty-eight percent of arthritic cats have arthritis in more than one joint.
What Causes Cat Arthritis (Degenerative Joint Disease)?
Unfortunately, the cause of arthritis is nearly impossible to pinpoint in a cat. The disease takes such a long time to develop that you will find it very difficult to definitely determine the cause. In older cats, the joint disease can be attributed to aging.
However, the disease can also spontaneously occur in younger cats who are otherwise healthy. If arthritis is triggered by a one-time event like inflammatory medication, then the cause can be identified. Otherwise, you may never know what caused this disease in your cat.
Even though it is very difficult to get to the actual cause of arthritis in a cat, there are some factors that increase your cat’s chances of catching the disease.
Risk Factors of Arthritis
- Old age. Older cats are at a much higher risk of getting arthritis. However, younger cats can also acquire the disease.
- Breed of the cat. Purebred kitties are more likely to suffer from arthritis than their mixed bred counterparts.
- Overweight or obesity. Kitties whose body weight is higher than the recommended weight are very prone to joint disease. The extra weight put on the joints increases the wear and tear applied to them resulting in an increased risk of arthritis.
- Overmedication. A lot of medications that are prescribed especially in chronic diseases can trigger inflammation in the body.
- Previous joint injury. A tear in joint cartilage can cause faster degeneration at that particular joint.
- Physical trauma. The cat being in an accident would be an example for physical trauma.
- Genetics. Cats whose parents had arthritis are at a higher risk of developing the disease.
- Poor diet. A bad diet tends to be high in pro-inflammatory substances which can cause chronic diseases like arthritis.
Signs of Arthritis
- Sluggish movement. Additional effort for jumping or standing
- Limping or stiffness. As the pain increases, it becomes increasingly difficult to apply pressure on the affected leg resulting in a limp.
- Increased sleep or rest. Your cat may start to prefer to spend her time rested as walking and movement in general becomes more difficult.
- Loss of muscle mass. Muscles are only able to grow if they are used. If a cat spends most of her time sleeping or resting, she will start to lose some of her muscle mass.
- Neglectful grooming habits. Like in any disease, the discomfort will cause the cat to lose interest in grooming herself.
- Altered behavior. Including unusual irritability or aggression.
- Urinating accidents. In the home or beside the litter box due to discomfort when entering or using the box.
Diagnosis of Arthritis
Before diagnosis, your vet will ask you for any signs and symptoms you may have noticed in your cat. If the signs are indicative of arthritis, your vet will go on to inspect your cat. During the physical examination, your vet will check for swelling and tenderness at the joints. The vet will inspect the knees, ‘elbows’, hips, jaw, upper and lower back.
To eliminate other conditions that may be causing similar signs and symptoms, your vet may order blood tests. Some of the other illnesses that may trigger joint pain in a cat include Valley Fever, Feline Calicivirus (FCV), diabetes, and simple physical injuries.
X-rays may be taken to determine the severity of the issue. There is no definite test to confirm arthritis but through examination and elimination of other similar diseases, your vet should be able to tell if your kitty has the disease.
Treatment Options for Cat Arthritis
Unfortunately, there is no medication on the market that is targeted at the treatment of arthritis as a condition. The best you can do for your cat is ease her signs and symptoms in addition to providing a conducive environment for her to live with the disease.
Medication (Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS))
Your vet will most likely recommend you start your cat on NSAIDs to help with pain relief. Since arthritis management is about managing signs and symptoms, mitigating pain and inflammation is a key element.
Meloxicam is a popular NSAID prescribed by vets that is great for pain. Do not under any circumstances start your cat on any pain killers without consulting your vet first. Cats are very sensitive to many over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and carprofen.
Beware of some of the side effects that can arise from NSAID use like vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. If the side effects become too severe, speak to your vet about switching the medication.
Just like humans, dogs and cats have an endocannabinoid system (ECS) with endocannabinoid receptors. The endocannabinoid system has an effect on certain bodily functions such as pain, inflammation, mood, sleep, appetite, and immunity.
Therefore, when you or your furry companion consume a cannabis product, such as CBD oil, it can positively influence one or more of these processes.
The use of CBD is a holistic way to help your kitty. It possesses properties that may help support joint health in your cat. For cats with mobility issues, the use of CBD can have desirable effects and bring relief to discomfort from sore and stiff joints.
A study found that CBD increased comfort, activity and reduced pain in pets. Pure CBD products for cats are non-toxic and all-natural, have minimal side effects, and can support the entire body functions.
It’s very important to make sure the CBD oil you choose for your feline friend is organic, hemp-derived, full-spectrum, and third-party lab tested.
Seeing your vet should always be your first response to any health condition in your cat. In an ideal world, your vet should be able to diagnose and treat your cat to full recovery. However, this is not always the case, especially in chronic diseases.
Even if modern medication is working for your cat, there are several alternative therapies that can help your cat further. Remember to consult your vet before you try anything on your cat.
While some of these therapies may not be viewed as conventional, they have worked for many pet owners. Some are even backed by science for example acupuncture. Other therapies that may help your cat include physical therapy, hydrotherapy, laser therapy, and remedial massage therapy.
Natural supplements or herbs like turmeric and ginger can be added to a cat’s diet to help with arthritis symptoms.
Treatment for chronic conditions can be quite costly. In some cases, your cat may have to stay on medication for life. Investing in a good pet insurance plan can save you some of the financial burden.
Always keep in mind that no other form of treatment can act as a replacement for medical treatment. Alternative therapies are meant to work with, not in place of medication.
At Home Arthritis Prevention
As a cat owner, you must know that life at home cannot stay the same after a diagnosis. When your vet confirms that indeed your cat is sick, changes have to be made at home to make her life as easy as possible. Some of these changes may even aid in your cat’s recovery though this may not be the case in arthritis as it is very unlikely to cure.
You may need to make some changes to your cat’s diet after an arthritis diagnosis. Depending on how your cat was feeding prior to the diagnosis, the changes can range from a complete shift to minor changes. You have to make sure your cat feeds on the highest quality nutritious food to maintain optimum body health.
In obese cats, managing their weight is a very important part of managing arthritis. This is especially important if the excess weight is contributing to the disease. Cats with a healthy weight should also maintain their weight.
The two best ways to maintain a healthy weight are diet and exercise. A low-calorie diet may be necessary to help your cat lose some extra weight. Allowing your cat some physical activity every day will help her get to and maintain a healthy weight as well.
You should allow your cat to get some physical exercise. It may be challenging to get a cat with arthritis to love moving about. The key is to find a physical activity that your cat loves to make the time as enjoyable as possible.
Some supplements may be able to delay the progression of arthritis in cats. Such supplements include glucosamine and chondroitin which help to reduce the rate at which the joint cartilage degenerates. Another class of supplements that can be very helpful in arthritis is anti-inflammatories. Anti-inflammatory supplements include Essential Fatty Acids like Omega-3 and vitamin C. Glucosamine and chondroitin also possess some anti-inflammatory properties.
To further support your cat, you will need to make some adjustments to your living space. These changes may not improve your cat’s health but make a big difference in her quality of life. Some of the changes you will have to make include:
- Adding ramps to your cat’s favorite places for easy access
- Get a larger litter box that is easy to enter to minimize chances of injury
- The litter box should easily be accessible
- Cushion your cat’s resting places so she does not apply too much pressure on her bones
Our Final Thoughts
Arthritis is a complicated disease without specific treatment. The experiences of cats with arthritis differ greatly. Some can live a fairly normal life while some may live in excruciating pain from the disease.
The key to success in arthritis is proper management to make your cat’s life as easy as possible. A treatment regimen that combines modern medicine, alternative treatment, a good diet, and environmental support should enable your cat to live a happy fulfilling life after diagnosis.
Always consult your vet before adding any form of treatment to your cat’s regimen.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best treatment for arthritis in cats?
There is no treatment for arthritis. Treatment is provided to reduce the burden of symptoms for example pain medication and anti-inflammatories.
How can I help my cat with arthritis pain?
You can help your cat by always giving her medication, providing a good diet, improving the cat’s living environment, and supplementing her diet.
How long can cats live with arthritis?
Cats can live a full life with arthritis if it is properly managed and treated.
At what age do cats develop arthritis?
Cats can develop arthritis at any age but older cats have a higher risk of developing the disease.