Focus on Arthritis by Dr Sarah Elliott, BVetMed MRCVS

It is common knowledge that as humans age, we can suffer from the effects of osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease.  Aches and pains in our joints are one such sign of this painful condition, as is a reduction in our mobility and flexibility.  That many dogs also suffer from the effects of arthritis is a long-held fact.  Yet it is only in the last 10 – 15 years that vets have come to recognise many cats also suffer from arthritis in their later years.  In fact, a 2002 study showed that as many as 90% of cats over the age of 12 years of age had evidence of ongoing arthritis on x-rays.

So why have we overlooked this condition in cats for so long?  The answer is that that the condition is hard for owners to spot, and this makes it difficult for the condition to be brought to the vet’s attention.

joint with arthritisOsteoarthritis is a painful condition caused by repeated wear and tear on joints.  It may also be secondary to previous injury such as a dislocation, bone fracture or torn ligament.  People with arthritis reportedly experience a dull ache or burning sensation in the affected joint, which may swell up leading to further pain and restriction of movement.  It is safe to presume that cats with arthritis also experience the same level of discomfort.  However, cats are adept at hiding pain and the signs of arthritis therefore can be very subtle.  So much so, that it may be difficult for even the most observant owner to detect the pain associated with arthritis.  Consequently, very few cats are presented to their vet because the owner is concerned that their cat is experiencing joint pain.

Another reason that arthritis in cats may not be diagnosed is that cats receive fewer vet visits than their canine counterparts.  Cats may outnumber dogs as pets, yet statistically vets see fewer cats in their practices than dogs.  Taking a cat to the vets is often a daunting task for a cat owner, with all the hassle and anxiety that goes with it.  Unfortunately, failure to have your cat examined by your vet may mean that health issues like arthritis go unnoticed.

Managing the condition

Treatments are readily available to manage arthritic pain and to improve the quality of life cats suffering from this condition.  Vets now have many different treatment options to choose from to suit a range of budgets and not all of them are medical.  So, getting your cat the treatment they need to live free from the pain of arthritis has never been easier.

First of all, owners should be able to recognise the subtle signs of arthritis in cats.  The top four signs include:

Reduced mobility

  • Does your cat hesitate before jumping up or down?
  • Do they prefer not to access higher vantage points that they have previously used?
  • Have you noticed any difficulties for them in using the litter tray or cat flap?

Does your cat spend more time sleeping than usualReduced activity

  • Does your cat spend more time resting or sleeping than they did previously?
  • Do they leave the house less frequently?
  • Are they less interested in playing or interacting with you?

Altered grooming

  • Have you noticed any changes in their coat that may indicate a reduction in grooming?  Cats with arthritis are often less flexible and this can mean they can’t quite reach every area when grooming, particularly the lower spine and base of the tail.

Temperament changes

  • Is your cat becoming grumpier when being handled or stroked?
  • Do they prefer to spend more time alone?

Aid to help a cat climb up onto a sofaIf you are concerned that your cat may be showing one or more of these signs, contact your vet for a discussion.  While arthritis cannot be cured, in many cases it can be managed successfully.   Owners and vets together can ensure that cats with arthritis are no longer overlooked.


My thanks to Francesca Watson, editor of The Cat magazine (which is the quarterly magazine supporting Cats Protection) who gave me permission to copy this article from their Spring 2018 issue.   





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