Arthritis in Cats

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Causes and risk factors of arthritis in cats
Arthritis is common in cats, particularly in older cats. However, the signs of feline arthritis can be subtle and difficult to spot. Arthritis results from damage to the cartilage within the joint, which occurs because of wear and tear on the joint from aging, congenital abnormalities, obesity and injuries.

In a normal joint, the cartilage acts as a "shock absorber" providing a cushion between the bones which form the joint. When the cartilage is no longer there or becomes damaged, the bones within the joint become damaged.

Although we can't control all of the factors that can lead to arthritis, we can do something to control our cat's weight and the amount of exercise they get. Avoiding obesity is one of the key ways to prevent arthritis in cats.

Signs of arthritis in a cat
A cat that is arthritic may show many different symptoms. The symptoms that result from arthritis are because of pain, since cats tend to hide the signs of pain quite effectively. Knowing the normal behaviour of your cat and monitoring for any changes will provide a good base for determining if your cat might be in pain. Any change in your cat's behaviour should be brought to your Veterinarian's attention. Your veterinarian will be able to determine if your cat has arthritis by doing a physical exam and x-rays. If it is determined that your cat does have arthritis, there are a number of treatment options that will help keep your cat comfortable and pain-free.

Each cat reacts to pain in a different manner, some examples are:

  • Less active and sleep more than normal, while others may become anxious and restless.
  • Difficulty finding a comfortable place to rest.
  • Become irritable and begin to avoid contact with family members, while others become more social, seeking out more interactive.
  • May be painful when handled.
  • May have difficulty accessing the litter box and may urinate or defecate elsewhere.
  • Stop grooming themselves, resulting in an unkempt fur.
  • May cause a decreased appetite.
  • Lameness may be present but is often difficult to notice.

Caring for a arthritic cat
Keeping your arthritic cat comfortable at home can help improve his quality of life. By changing your cat's environment, you'll make it easier for your cat to move around your home and to perform normal daily activities. Although these changes won't cure your cat's arthritis, they can make your cat more comfortable. Some of these changes are:

  • Provide a nice soft place for your cat to rest and sleep. Providing more than one such area is even better. A soft blanket or a cushioned bed will help make your cat's joints more comfortable.
  • Ramps can be used to make it easier for your cat to reach his favourite perches. Also, a series of smaller jumps leading up to the perch can make it easier.
  • Provide your cat with a litter box with lower sides so they will be more comfortable moving in and out of the box.
  • Stairways are often an obstacle to arthritic cats, so you should place at least one litter on each level of the house.
  • Make certain that your cat's food and water bowls are located in an easy to reach location. Elevated bowls sometimes help, depending on where your cat's arthritis is. Having food and water bowls on each level of the house makes it easier for your cat to eat and drink when needed.
  • Being overweight places additional strain on already painful joints. Controlling your cat's diet and encouraging regular exercise are vital in maintaining your cat's weight. If your cat is already overweight, speak to your veterinarian about a weight control program that will safely return him to his ideal body weight. Food rationing may be necessary. This is the single most important thing you can do to minimize the risk of arthritis.
  • Interactive play with your cat will encourage exercise. Try various toys to find out which ones your cat likes best.
  • Alternative therapy such as acupuncture, massage and laser therapy work quite well for some cats in reducing arthritis pain. These techniques when combined with medication can provide more effective pain relief.

Courtesy of Marilyn Murray ~ For The Love of Animals