Osteoarthritis is among the diseases of ageing that we share with our cats.
It occurs when the cartilage padding in our joints wears away causing the bones to rub against each other. For us, the resulting pain is enough to cause us to get attention but it is in the nature of cats to try to avoid displays of discomfort.
The disease should be looked for in any cat of seven years or older. It is estimated that over three-quarters of cats over 10 years will experience it.
It appears most commonly in the elbows and hips, and less commonly in shoulders and ankles and in the backbone and sternum.
Diagnosing osteoarthritis can be difficult in a single visit even for experienced vets aided by x-rays.
The clues to whether your older cats is affected by osteoarthritis are often in their general condition and behaviour:
- They may lose their appetite and lose weight.
- You may notice mood changes – formerly happy cats may become depressed and withdrawn and show poor grooming habits.
- You may notice stiffness in their legs, especially after sleeping or resting.
- They may start to appear lame or, more likely, you will notice that they will be be reluctant to jump or will make much shorter jumps.
- They start missing the litter tray.
- Their claws may become longer due to lack of use.
Taking careful note of these symptoms will help you help your vet reach a diagnosis.
Osteoarthritis in cats cannot be cured and the treatment options are limited. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as Metacam) can be used to manage the pain. Weight loss for overweight cats may reduce the stress on joints. Some dietary supplements and other treatments have been claimed to provide relief in some cases and your vet will advise you.
Beyond that, most responses involve making the cat’s environment more convenient and comfortable. You can help them live with osteoarthritis by:
- making sure they don’t have to go up or down stairs to access food, water, sleeping quarters or litter trays
- providing litter trays with one lower side to make entry and leaving easier
- raising food and water bowls
- providing softer bedding
- providing ramps to their resting places such as a favourite couch or bed.
Sadly, this disease is a progressive, lifelong process. However, working with your vet you can improve your cat’s quality of life greatly in her golden years.