As in dogs, there are many causes of arthritis and joint disease in cats. These include trauma, infections, immune system disorders and developmental disorders such as hip dysplasia (yes, cats can get hip dysplasia). Simple old age wear and tear is by far the most prominent cause.
Arthritis in cats is an under recognised condition amongst both pet owners and veterinary surgeons alike due to cats’ typical sedentary lifestyle masking the fact that they may be in serious discomfort. In actual fact, approximately 50% of cats over the age of 10 are affected by arthritis in the UK (study by Liverpool University, www.liv.ac.uk), with some studies claiming the incidence to be even higher than that.
In the following article we will discuss some of these causes or conditions which are more common or unique to cats. Before you read on, you may want to check out the articles Joint Anatomy and Veterinary Procedures Used to Diagnose Joint Disease for some background information. Information on how to manage cats with arthritis and other joint problems, including the use of Glucosamine and Chondroitin is discussed in Treatment of Osteoarthritis in Cats.
Signs of Arthritis in Cats
Early signs if arthritis are often missed, but this is actually the time when early intervention and environment adaptations may be appropriate to help reduce progression of this disease.
Early signs include:
- Reluctance or reduced jumping up/down onto surfaces or furniture
- Sleeping in different, easier to access areas
- Not hunting or exploring the outdoor environment as readily
- Greasy and scurfy coat condition, especially around the rump (due to reduced ability to turn and groom this area)
Later signs include:
- Difficulty using the cat flap
- Difficulty climbing fences (Either shown by increased time spent only in the garden as opposed to exploring, or increased time away from home as different routes with easier access need to be found)
- Unkempt, matted coat that needs continual grooming
- Litter tray accidents as unable to easily climb into high sided trays
- Overgrown claws due to lack of activity
- Lack of play
- Increased sleeping
- Lack of tolerance of handling/petting
- Short temper with companion pets/children
- Reduced interaction, distancing themselves from you
- Over-grooming of affected joints
- Lameness (uncommon until arthritis is severe)
- Cause of arthritis in Cats
Much like dogs, and even humans, there can be a range of factors that can cause arthritis in cats:
Age can obviously play a big part in the onset of arthritis in cats. As animals age their joints can begin to degenerate through simple wear and tear, especially if there has been considerable overuse over the years. Most cats will have some degeneration starting to happen in their joints by the age of 8 years old, with this form of arthritis being known as “Osteoarthritis”.
In Osteoarthritis, the normal cartilage that cushions joints starts to be gradually worn away. This is due to cartilage not being replaced as quickly as it used to be when the animal was a youngster. Eventually the ends of the bones become exposed which causes much discomfort and inflammation in the joint affected.
Following on from this, the bones do try to heal themselves in the only way they know how to – by forming a callous, just like when they are broken. Unfortunately this callous is not useful and is what you often see on x-rays of arthritic joints as the “white fluff” at the edges. Over time this callous can become quite significant, especially in joints that are not frequently mobilised. It may eventually limit the range of movement, even to the point where a joint is actually frozen in one position.
Like dogs, some breeds of cat may be more predisposed to develop arthritis. Pure breeds specifically are at risk, with Burmese cats having a high tendency to inherit this ailment.
Additional weight on a cat’s limbs will act to increase the wear and tear of the joints over a prolonged period. While a weight issue will not directly cause arthritis it will certainly play an important part in accelerating the degeneration of joints.
Weight loss will have a hugely beneficial effect on arthritic cats, prolonging the life expectancy of the joints and often delaying or reducing the need for strong medications.
Cat’s that have suffered an injury to a joint, for example a fracture or dislocation, are predisposed to developing arthritis in that particular joint. This is due to damage being caused to the cartilage, either directly through the injury or via altered use of the limb during recovery, leading to degeneration at an earlier age.
Similarly, cat’s joints can become infected, commonly a result of bite wounds. The joint becomes swollen, extremely painful and the cat will often not bear any weight on the affected leg or accommodate the area being touched. The cat often has a fever, will be lethargic, bad tempered and will not eat.
Treatment involves draining the infected fluid, with thorough flushing of the joint, and placing the cat on antibiotics.
Joint infections can cause severe, permanent damage to the joint and for this reason should be treated urgently. Even if the infection is cleared as soon as possible, damage to the cartilage may still be done, predisposing the animal to developing arthritis in the joint affected.
There are certain illnesses that may cause symptoms of arthritis.
For example a virus linked with respiratory disease, Calicivirus, may cause inflammation in multiple joints resulting in pain and lameness. There is no specific cure, just nursing care to help the animal through all the symptoms of this virus while the cats own body tackles the disease. Many cats recover after 30 days, however some may become permanently infected, with relapses happening during times of stress. Importantly, this is a virus that can be prevented through annual vaccinations, making it all important to keep up to date with boosters.
Feline progressive polyarthritis is a disease affecting young – middle aged male cats. It causes inflammation in multiple joints, especially the feet, wrists and ankles, which worsens over time. There is no cure and treatment is simply pain relief until the condition progresses to a point that it is intolerable. Thankfully this disease is extremely rare.
What Next for An Arthritic Cat?
Your vet can suggest a wide range of medication options for your cat, these will usually be non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs which will help relieve the pain and reduce inflammation of painful joints. These medications are suitable for long term use and are commonly available in the form of tablets or oral suspensions.
Your vet may also suggest nutraceuticals such as glucosamine supplements, which may help to provide building blocks for natural cartilage production and repair within the joints. These supplements often need an introductory period, where an increased dose is given for the first weeks of treatment before being reduced to a maintenance level. It is very important to follow these instructions to ensure you get the maximum benefit from these beneficial supplements.
Alternative therapies are available for your cat, and your vet will be able to advise what is available in your locality suitable for your cat.
For any cat suffering from arthritis, it is important to ensure maintaining a healthy weight is part of the treatment plan to help reduce the progression of this disease.
To keep joints supple in the face of arthritis and also to promote strength in muscles that support affected joints, frequent gentle exercise should always be encouraged. Physiotherapy techniques may also be used on tolerant cats.
Cold, damp and slippery conditions should be avoided as these may all antagonise existing arthritis. Your arthritic cat will always appreciate a warm comfortable bed to retreat to, as well as mats or rugs laid down on wooden or tiled floors to give a safe, sure-footed, walking surface. Lowering of food and water bowls as well as cat flaps to ground level will also aid access for older cats that may become unwilling to jump due to the strain it causes on their painful joints.
And remember, your lazy old cat may be cleverly disguising this condition so ensure you keep a keen eye on any out of character behaviour and signs of discomfort or pain.[note color=”#ffb7ad”]NoroQuin is available from Norbrook Laboratories® to assist with joint management in your arthritic pet. Containing Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulphate, along with 4 other key ingredients that form the building blocks for good joint care. NoroQuin is available to buy from your Veterinary Practice and is available in tasty tablets and a sprinkle powder for cats, as well as a range of tablets for all sizes of dog.[/note]