Osteoarthritis (OA) is a chronic degenerative disease resulting in changes to the tissues that comprise a joint, such as cartilage, joint capsule, and surrounding bone. OA can develop due to a primary problem with the joint (excess force or abnormal shape) or may develop through wear-and-tear activities of daily life.
The joints most commonly affected in cats are the hip, knee, ankle, and elbow. Older cats are more likely to be clinically affected by OA. In general practice, OA in cats is an underdiagnosed disease; however, in recent years there is increasing awareness of this condition leading to more frequent diagnosis and better patient care.
Symptoms of Cats with Osteoarthritis
Cats hide symptoms of illnesses, so you may not notice anything specific but rather that your cat is slowing down or doesn’t come up onto the bed anymore.
Cats with osteoarthritis are unlikely to exhibit typical signs of joint pain, like lameness (limping, favouring one leg), here are some symptoms may appear:
- stiff-legged gait,
- decreased range of motion,
- increased irritability,
- have difficulty accessing the litter box,
- change activity level or a reluctance to jump up and down.
Osteoarthritis in cats does not have an immediate, severe impact. It is a slow deterioration; it may take a long time between the onset of OA and when you can start seeing clinical signs.
Diagnosis of OA in cats is made by a combination of physical examination and imaging modalities such as x-rays.
Your veterinarian can diagnose osteoarthritis in cats by assessing the historical symptoms, such as decreased activity or stiffness. They will also do a physical examination to look for a decreased range of motion, stiff-legged gait, deformity of the joints, and swelling or pain in the joints.
Not all cats are cooperative for an orthopaedic physical exam, so it is important to be able to describe the changes you have noticed. Your veterinarian may also recommend X-rays to confirm the extent of joint damage.
A multimodal approach is recommended to treat OA in cats. The basis of this approach is to use a combination of therapies that improve comfort and quality of life.
- Weight management: Overweight cats are more likely to show signs of lameness or pain associated with OA. Weight loss through controlled feedings or foods formulated for weight loss may improve your cat’s comfort.
- Medications: Depends on the patient’s condition, your vet may prescript anti-inflammatory drugs for use in treating chronic pain in cats. Your veterinarian will help you decide which medications could be helpful for your cat.
- Dietary supplements: Supplements such as omega-3-fatty acids, glucosamine and chondroitin are usually well tolerated by cats, but may or may not be helpful in reducing signs of OA.
- Environmental modifications: Using steps and ramps and providing soft bedding may improve your cat’s quality of life.
- Surgical treatment: Surgery for OA is less common in cats than dogs, but may be very helpful in certain cases, you should consult with the vet for the best possible treatment for your pet.
As a chronic condition, OA often cannot be cured, however, prompt treatment of OA is an important part of reducing the disease’s progression of symptoms.
Exercise and a healthy diet are essential for the prevention of obesity, which can add stress to the joints.
It’s recommended to discuss treatment options with your vet can help to ensure all options are considered for your cat.