What is Osteoarthritis?
As your cat runs, leaps, and plays, there is wear and tear on the joints, particularly in the elbows. Cartilage acts as a ‘shock absorber,’ cushioning the ends of the bones and protecting them from damage. As cats age, the joints begin to degenerate, and the cartilage between the joints deteriorates. This leads to pain and inflammation.
What are the Risk Factors?
It takes time for the cartilage to deteriorate, so age is a major factor. Middle-aged and older cats will be more susceptible to arthritis than, say, a kitten or young adult. A 2002 study showed that 90% of cats over 12 years of age showed evidence of arthritis on their x-rays.
If your cat has suffered an injury like a broken bone, that joint is more likely to become arthritic. As you might expect, obese cats are also more likely to develop arthritis, since a heavy cat will be stressing his joints more with every leap and bound than a leaner cat might.
What are the Symptoms?
Cats are very good at hiding their pain, and so arthritis can be difficult to detect. Is your cat sleeping more and moving less? Does she tire easily? These may just be part of getting older – or they could be symptoms of arthritis.
Sometimes, cats will lick or bite at the inflamed, irritated areas. They may limp slightly, particularly when first waking up. She might abandon former favorite spots (like the kitchen table or a windowsill) in favor of more easy-to-reach areas. Another symptom is irritability. Cats, like anyone, feel cranky when they’re in pain. Take note of any behavioral changes in your cat. It may be time to see your veterinarian. He or she will perform a physical examination and take x-rays to help diagnose your cat.
How is it Treated?
Osteoarthritis isn’t curable, but the pain can be managed. It is critical to keep your cat at a healthy weight. If your cat is obese, that extra weight is worsening the arthritis. If your cat is willing to swim, hydrotherapy can be very therapeutic, as she will be able exercise without putting pressure on the joints. A lower calorie diet may be necessary, as well.
Cold, damp spaces exacerbate arthritis, so make sure your cat has a cozy place to sleep at night. Try a gentle massage when she is feeling relaxed. Provide stairs so she doesn’t have to make as much of an effort to get to her favorite hidey-holes. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are commonly recommended as nutritional supplements to help maintain and repair the cartilage and prevent further damage. Extreme cases may require pain medications or corticosteroids.
Arthritis is part of the aging process for some cats (and humans), but by keeping a watchful eye out for it, you can make sure that your cat feels comfortable well into old age.