Anyone who loves a cat knows that they do things their own way and it is no different when it comes to arthritis. When I was in university we were taught all about arthritis in dogs but it was commonly believed that arthritis was a rare issue in our cats. But studies have shown that many more cats have arthritis than we have ever realized; 90% of cats over the age of 12 have been to shown to suffer from this painful condition and yet those same studies show that only about 20% of cats are ever treated. These studies also reveled that arthritis can start in cats as young as 3 years of age, and so this is not just an old cat disease.
So why are so few cats treated for this painful condition?
(1) Cats are masters of hiding pain and debilitating conditions. This is a survival instinct that protects them from being seen as weak to any would-be predators.
(2) Arthritis pain can be intermittent so cats can have a bad day followed by a good day.
(3) Arthritis is a condition that has a gradual onset and so there are gradual and subtle changes making it more difficult to notice the changes.
(4) Unlike dogs most cats are not lame when they suffer from arthritis.
(5) Unlike dogs arthritic joints in cats often appear normal on radiographs and yet are still painful.
How do we diagnose arthritis in our cats?
So if our cats do not limp, do not cry, and we cannot take radiographs in order to see if their joints are arthritic, how do we diagnose arthritis? Studies show that subtle changes in behaviour is the best way to diagnose arthritis in cats and so it is typically the pet’s parent that is going to be the best at diagnosing that their cat may be uncomfortable.
What is important to remember is that a cat may only show one of these signs and the changes can be gradual & subtle.
So what to watch for:
(1) Grumpy – A cat who does not like to be brushed or petted in any particular area. Or a cat who is grumpy when handled.
(2) Sleeping more or withdrawn – Many people chalk this up to age but often a cat who is sleeping more or interacting less with the family is a cat who is uncomfortable with arthritis and/or other internal issues. We all notice when our cat is running and playing one day and suddenly stops the next, but it is more difficult when a condition is gradual and “on again – off again”. So your cat may be sleeping just a little more than normal on one day because of sore joints but playing normally the next. Cats make our lives full but not always easy and trying to diagnose arthritis is one of those not always easy moments.
(3) Decrease movement – It hurts to move so cats with arthritis tend to hunt less and play less. Once again many chalk this up to aging rather than hurting.
(4) Attention Seeking – Yes cats being cats may do the opposite and rather than being withdrawn they start to be clingy or seeking more attention than normal.
(5) Change in jump height or do the cupboard slide – A cat should be able to easily jump from the floor to counter. If a cat walks up to the counter and does a few hesitant moves before jumping, or uses a chair to get to the counter this is a red flag that this cat has joint pain. As for jumping down some cats with sore joints will slide their front feet down the front of the cabinet as far as they can before jumping.
(6) House Soiling – Urinating and defecating outside of the litter box is a common sign when a cat hurts. Often the litter box is in a distant part of the house, such as in the basement, and climbing the stairs makes it difficult to get to the box. For other cats it can actually be stepping over the lip of the box. For my own cat she got into the box just fine but her arthritis prevented her from posturing normally and so she was unable to lower her back end properly, thus the urine tended to go over the edge of the box.
(7) Grooming changes – Once again cats being cats we can see both the over-grooming of sore joints or the lack of grooming resulting in a rough matted looking coat.
(8) Vocalization – Cats who normally like to talk a lot may become quiet and normally quiet cats may become vocal.
(9) Muscle wasting – As a cat ages and quietly lives with arthritis for years they move less and over time their muscles gradually atrophy and become thin and weak.
The more we learn about arthritis in cats the more we realize that our cats need to be helped in order to keep them comfortable and maintain muscle strength. There are many options available to us for the treatment of arthritis and research is always teaching us new information so if you are concerned that your cat has arthritis we recommend talking to your veterinarian.
Since 90% of cats at the age of 12 have arthritis and since it is a gradual disease process then it only makes sense that younger cats have arthritis in an early phase of the disease. So what do we do about those cats who are middle age and may slip through the proverbial cracks and hurt in silence because the condition is in its early phase and very subtle. Nobody wants to over medicate their cat nor do they want them silently hurting. So here are a few things to consider if your cat is a young adult….
Omega 3 * Almost all cat food has some Omega 3 but not enough for helping the joints. Besides the joints we know that Omega 3 fatty acids help keep the kidneys, heart and brain healthy. So this is a GREAT supplement to gradually add to all middle age and senior cats’ diets. If adding the oil to your cats’ diet does not work, consider using J/D diet which is the only diet that has the required amount of omega 3 fatty acid for the treatment of arthritis.
Therabites * Giving a glucosamine treat is a great and well known supplement that can really help the joints in the early stages of arthritis. Therabites are a chewable form of glucosamine that many of our patients take as a daily treat.
Green Lipped Muscle * This is a natural anti-inflammatory. One can add it as a supplement but as it comes as a powder some cats will not eat the powder sprinkled on their kibble. We do have success with the GLM capsules as many cats take them as a fishy treat. An easier option is to choose a diet that has GLM in the diet. We use Royal Canin mobility in our younger or middle age cats and once they are 9 we recommend going to Royal Canin Senior.
As always if you have more questions about arthritis we recommend that you speak to your veterinarian.