What You Need To Know About Arthritis In Cats
Here's how to help your cat's joint pain.
Cats can get arthritis just like people can, but how similar are the symptoms?
Arthritis in cats is a common health condition that affects the joints, making certain movements painful and uncomfortable.
If you’re concerned your cat might be developing arthritis, the best thing you can do is take her to the vet ASAP so you can treat the symptoms early.
The Dodo spoke to Dr. Catherine Lenox, a veterinarian and regulatory veterinary manager at Royal Canin, to learn about arthritis in cats — from what it is to how to treat it.
What causes arthritis in cats?
Similar to dogs and people, some of the most common causes of arthritis in cats are age and genetics.
Some cat parents might think that a lack of exercise might contribute to arthritis, but it doesn’t really play a huge role for cats. “Cats are not typically active, so activity and exercise don’t usually cause arthritis in our feline friends,” Dr. Lenox told The Dodo.
In older cats, 90 percent of cats over 12 years of age have some form of arthritis. “This means that almost all senior cats develop arthritis, and it can be in one joint or multiple joints,” Dr. Lenox said. “Genetics may play a role in addition to age.”
If a younger cat develops arthritis, it’s probably because of genetics. “This would include stature (e.g., larger cats like Maine coons and ragdolls may be more prone to developing joint problems) and genetic problems, like hip dysplasia, that may cause cats to develop arthritis earlier in life,” Dr. Lenox said.
When a cat does develop arthritis, she tends to get it in her spine, elbows and hips, although arthritis can affect any joint. “It is not uncommon for older cats to have arthritis in their spine and in one of their limbs,” Dr. Lenox said.
Signs of arthritis in cats
According to Dr. Lenox, cats are really good at hiding signs of pain, so sometimes it’s hard to realize yours is having issues. But there are still some signs to look out for that might indicate your cat is developing arthritis, no matter how subtle.
These signs of cat arthritis include:
- Difficulty jumping
- Trouble going up stairs
- Reluctance to get up
“Your cat may also seem more withdrawn and/or eat and drink less than normal if it’s in pain,” Dr. Lenox said.
How to treat arthritis in cats
While there’s no cure for cat arthritis, there are a variety of things your veterinarian may suggest to help her feel better and prevent the condition from getting worse.
According to Dr. Lenox, there are some medications that can be used to help your cat feel more comfortable if she’s been diagnosed with arthritis.
“However, pain medications must be obtained from your veterinarian as there are no human medications or over-the-counter medications available online or in pet stores that will help your cat feel less painful,” Dr. Lenox said.
Getting your cat's diet under control can be beneficial in two ways. “One, if your cat is overweight, getting them down to an ideal weight may help reduce the stress on the joints and help your cat feel more comfortable,” Dr. Lenox said. “Two, there are diets that include nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil, glucosamine and chondroitin, as well as New Zealand green mussels to help support healthy joints.”
Ask your veterinarian about what diet would be best for your cat.
Physical therapy, acupuncture and supplements
These methods are used less frequently than diet and medications, but still may be beneficial for cats with arthritis.
“Physical therapy and rehab are not for every cat, but these modalities might be beneficial depending on the location of your cat’s pain and your cat’s attitude about treatment,” Dr. Lenox said. “There are also certified veterinary acupuncturists, and acupuncture does help some cats with arthritis and muscle weakness.”
For supplements, Dr. Lenox suggested that omega-3 fatty acid or other joint supplements might be beneficial for your cat, especially if she can’t switch to a diet designed to support joint health.
“Ask your veterinarian about what might be helpful for your cat, and your vet may be able to recommend a specialist in sports medicine and rehabilitation or a certified veterinary acupuncturist if those services aren’t offered with your usual veterinary hospital,” Dr. Lenox said.
How to prevent arthritis in cats
Unfortunately, there isn’t a specific way to prevent arthritis, but staying on top of your cat’s health care can help you catch it earlier. “Cats are so good at hiding pain, but your veterinarian may find something on your cat’s physical exam to [catch] arthritis before it causes any big problems.” Dr. Lenox said.
Your veterinarian may do an orthopedic exam and/or X-rays depending on what they find.
The best way to catch arthritis early is to take your cat in for regular health checks. “This means your cat should visit the vet at least once a year, and sometimes more frequently if your cat is older. This is the best way to be proactive about your cat’s health,” Dr. Lenox suggested.
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