Arthritis in Cats

Arthritis in cats is both staggeringly common and yet frequently under recognised. Some studies have found evidence of arthritis in up to 91% of older felines. Arthritis will cause reduced mobility, activity and chronic pain but it is often missed. The behavioural signs are often subtle in cats compared to dogs, with older cats that have become sedentary and quieter, often just thought of as slowing down with age. When examined, the physical changes of swollen joints, tenderness and reduced mobility are not obvious until the arthritis is well advanced.

A recent study looked at behaviour changes associated with non-specific pain in cats, these included; lameness, reluctance to move, withdrawing or hiding away, reduced grooming, less playing, less rubbing against people, a hunched up sitting position, licking a particular region, a lower head position and squinting.  Accurately identifying behavioural changes are very useful when assessing if treatments are effective.

Fortunately we have lots of options available to us and often combining different approaches can be more successful than just relying on one. Firstly think about your cat’s environment, if your cat can’t jump up easily, can you make elevated locations that your cat likes to visit more accessible. Make sure food, beds and hiding places are all easy to access and you can even get low-sided litter trays. Active interaction and playing to encourage exercise help maintain exercise and strength. Physical rehabilitation is possible in amenable patients with massage, laser/ultrasound therapy and even acupuncture possible. Increased omega-3 fatty acids in the diet and weight loss can both improve mobility. Finally we have a range of very effective anti-inflammatories and pain killers when required.

It is easy to miss the signs of pain and arthritis in cats and just because a cat isn’t crying out it doesn’t mean they are comfortable and happy. If you are concerned your cat is slowing down or showing those behavioural changes have a chat to your vet about whether it’s time to start ‘Felix’ on some arthritis treatment.