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Cats are known for their quirky, independent behaviour. There are times, however, when changes in an older cat’s behaviour signal discomfort and may be indicative of an underlying condition. Many pet owners chalk these signs up to old age. “Shadow doesn’t jump as much as she used to” or, “Fluffy doesn’t like me to pet her anymore”. Sound familiar? These and other subtle behavioural changes may be signs of a disease which has relatively recently been recognised as widespread: feline arthritis.
Being the elusive and secretive beings that they are, the signs of arthritis in cats are very subtle and these signs may go unnoticed unless the owner is looking for them. In fact, a 2002¹ studyshowed that 90% of cats over 12 years of age have radiographic evidence of arthritis. In a more recent study,² 61% of cats over 6 years old had arthritic changes in at least one joint, while 48% had two or more affected joints.
Why is arthritis so difficult to spot in cats?
There are probably several reasons, but foremost is, cats are adept at hiding any illness,especially pain, as this would be seen as a weakness in the wild, so it’s important to be able to recognise the signs:
- Changes in hygiene
- Reduced time spent grooming
- Matted and scruffy coat
- Inappropriate urination or not using the litter tray
- Changes in mood
- Irritable when handled
- Increased aggression or biting
- Avoiding contact with people or other animals
- Reduced activity
- Increased time sleeping
- Hesitant to play
- Unwilling to go out or explore
- Reduced mobility
- Hesitant to jump up or down
- Making smaller jumps
- Difficulty climbing the stairs, getting into the litter tray or using the cat flap
Unfortunately, there is no “magic bullet” and treating arthritis in cats doesn’t start and finish witha pill or potion. It is a complex disease that cannot be cured and the best results are achieved by combining multiple treatment modalities.
1. Weight Control & Exercise
This is the most important aspect in management. A reduction in body weight reduces localjoint inflammation and pain. Furthermore, fat is an endocrine organ producing cytokinesthat are pro- inflammatory.³
2. Environmental Support
- Provide a warm, comfortable, quiet, draft free place to sleep
- Provide ‘steps’ to higher sites where the cat likes to “hang out”, e.g. the couch
- The litter tray should be large, with low sides
- Place food, water and litter trays on one level so the cat can avoid stairs
- Provide extra grooming and trim nails regularly
- Where possible, provide non-skid floor surfaces
- Chondroprotective agents—these stabilise joint membranes, help joint cartilage repair and improve joint lubrication
- Anti-inflammatories and analgesics
- Supplements and nutraceuticals ⁴
Prescription diets: Hill’s Prescription Diet k/d Plus Mobility
5. Adjunct therapies:
The good news is that, with a little detective work and a multimodal therapeutic approach, many older cats will find some relief for their achy joints.
By Dr Penny Dobson BVSc MACVSc (Canine) Hill’s Helpline Manager
Penny is a graduate of the University of Queensland with a Bachelor of Veterinary Science (BVSc) and attained membership of the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists in Canine Medicine 1992 by examination. She was a Member of the Animal Experimentation Ethics Committee of the Microresearch Foundation 1991-1992.
Penny has worked as a clinician in small animal practice Sydney Metropolitan area for 30 yrs and is a Veterinary Practice owner with her husband, Paul Hansen of Woollahra Veterinary Hospital. Penny has been involved in the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) as Secretary Sydney Metropolitan Practitioners Branch for 12 years and recipient of the AVA Meritorious Service Award 2002. She is also an active member of the ASAVA.
Nutrition is a passion for Penny and she is the Hill’s HelpLine Manager with the Veterinary Nutritional Consultancy team with a focus on uroliths, kidney, obesity, immune diseases and their management.
1. Hardie EM et al. Radiographic evidence of degenerative joint disease in geriatric cats: 100 cases (1994–1997). J Am Vet Med Assoc 2002; 220: 628-632 2. Slingerland LI et al. Cross-sectional study of the prevalence and clinical features of osteoarthritis in 100 cats. Vet J 2011; 187:304-309 3. Laflamme DP. Obesity in dogs and cats: what is wrong with being fat? J Anim Sci 2012; 90:1653-1662. 4. Fritsch D et al. Improvement of Clinical Signs of Osteoarthritis in Cats by Dietary Intervention. J Vet Intern Med 2010; 24: 771-772
5. Frantz N et al. The effect of feeding Hill’s Prescription Diet j/d Feline to 32 arthritic cats. Data on file 2009, Hill’sPet Nutrition, Inc., Topeka, KS