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Feline Arthritis

CATImage00013Osteoarthritis (OA) is a leading cause of chronic pain in pets. Recent data suggests that 100% of cats 10 older exhibit radiographic signs consistent with OA. For you and your veterinarian the most important challenge is that cats, as predators by nature, are generally reluctant to demonstrate any disability. Even though domest cats no longer rely on hunting skills, their nature is to behave as though they do. The best strategy for identifying chronic pain in cats is to be vigilant in observing your cat for changes in its everyday behaviors. Signs of OA:

  • Reluctance or refusal to jump onto surfaces or structures previously frequented, such as windowsills, furniture and cat trees.

  • Reluctance or refusal to move up and down stairs.

  • Inappropriate elimination or missing the litter pan-either difficulty getting over a high-sided pan or an inability to squat during urination, thus urinating over the edge.

  • Reluctance to be held, handled or petted, particularly if one area of the body appears to be off limits.


  • These behavioral changes may be indicators of chronic pain and additional diagnostics should be conducted, such as radiographs.

    The treatment plan for a cat with OA is similar to that for dogs. Multimodal management remains our best strategy.

    Indoor cats have the highest risk and incidence of obesity, so weight loss and management remains a corner stone of managing feline OA. For the obese pet suffering from OA, weight loss alone may significantly improve function and comfort. It is critical to utilize a nutritional product specifically formulated for weight loss. Over the counter diets typically cannot do the job. Talk to your veterinarian about a weight reduction feeding plan and diet.

    Uses of anti-inflammatory and analgesic medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) can be helpful. However for cats use of these drugs are sometimes limited due to the cats natural inability to tolerate a variety of NSAIDS. Please do not give any NSAID medications, such as aspirin, without consultation with your veterinarian.

    Non-drug (nutraceuticals) supplements are sometimes helpful. The scientific evidence guides us to incorporate high levels of omega 3 fatty acids(such as Cod liver oil) into OA cats diet. Research indicates that Omega 3 fatty acids can provide anti-inflammatory effects. Another dietary additive that has provided some benefit is Glycosaminoglycans (Glucosamine). Glucosamine is thought to provide OA relief as a result of it's effects on decreasing cartilage degradation. These two nutraceuticals could be recommended, even if you cannot visually recognize improvement in your cat. Pain should be thought of in terms of degrees. Example: if extreme pain was thought of as being a grade 5 and lesser pain as grade one, your cat (dogs, too), diet supplementation of these additives may change the degree of pain from a 5 to a 3. You may not be able to see it visually, but your cat may feel it, they just cannot express it verbally.

    Cold laser therapy has been shown to reduce inflammation and provide analgesia in patients with OA without the need for NSAIDS. Addtional non-medicating therapies could include acupuncture, massage, and physical therapy.

    Modifying the home environment can make a huge impact on a pet's comfort. Raised food and water dishes, non-skid floor coverings and carpeted pet steps for furniture and bed access are simple ways to give effective assistance. Larger litter boxes with lower sides may be helpful when inappropriate elimination behaviors are exhibited.

    If you suspect your cat is suffering from OA, please contact your veterinarian for information and help in helping your cat live with less pain.