As Dr. Sundahl’s recent blog on ways to recognize arthritis pointed out, this is a poorly understood condition in cats that often goes unnoticed. But as I often tell clients, the best reason to notice osteoarthritis is how effectively it can be treated. And everyone agrees that pain is a symptom that no living being should continue to endure. I will discuss some treatment options that might prompt a discussion with your feline veterinarian. And amongst pet cats, fewer exceptions exist than most think. By the age of 12, 80% to even 94% of cats have at least one arthritic joint.
The most basic description of osteoarthritis is destruction of cartilage and a more abrasive articulation of the joints. This can ultimately result in complete loss of healthy cartilage and a “bone on bone” grinding that limits range of motion and creates pain. Therefore, the most basic element of treatment is a cartilage health optimizing and cartilage regenerating supplement. I prefer veterinary specific products for several reasons. The individual products to consider include glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM more recently. These items started as untested nutritional supplements that now have had studies to confirm efficacy in both humans and cats. The goal is to have as much healthy cartilage as possible to result in maximum range of motion and pain free articulation of joints.
As many of us know, cats often shun supplements and anything else put in their food. We have a solution in the form of injectable PGAGs (if you saw the whole word, you would certainly be OK with the abbreviation!). These products are delivered by injection, so cooperation is not essential to success. All of these supplements will be given more frequently, or in higher doses, during the “loading” phase, and then taper to maintenance levels within a month or two. Please discuss the possibility of arthritis if your kitty is over 10, or has had a history of limping not related to trauma. You can also find more cat specific questionnaires on mobility at catvets.com.
Another area of consideration is acupuncture and even cold laser, or therapeutic laser, treatments. We offer acupuncture here at the Cat Clinic of Roswell, and several facilities have a cold laser for pain management. We try to maximize these non-pharmacologic therapies because cats have a different tolerance of more traditional osteoarthritis medicine like NSAIDs. Many of our clients nowadays will also consider more traditional rehabilitation such as range of motion exercises, wheel barrowing (normal and reverse), and yes even swimming. Swimming allows full range of motion with minimal weight bearing. So teach your kitten to get used to water and it will serve them well in their geriatric years! The bottom line is kitty cannot be a couch potato and let the joints stiffen due to poor range of motion. Or maybe we should just threaten them with swimming!
But fortunately, things continue to progress and we do have a better understanding of NSAIDs in cats nowadays. And newer products are in the market that allow regular use in even older cats that would not have been considered candidates in the past. No kitty should be stiff and uncomfortable with all the options we have to help them. If you have any doubt, please ask your vet to evaluate range of motion in your cat’s joints. Cats are more graceful and subtle in everything they do, including showing arthritis, but a trained cat illness detective can track it down for you and your kitty!
I will close by pointing out something very interesting to me now that I am back in Georgia. I must talk about osteoarthritis 10 times in the winter for every 1 time it is discussed in the summertime. And yes I know my northern friends are chuckling at what we call winter! In spite of the far majority of my patients being indoor only, the cold seems to have a dramatic effect in making this condition clinical. Subsequently, I build kitties “hot spots” to rest in with reptile heat lamps. They are a desert animal, so some of these winters are completely unacceptable. And when given a choice, cats choose temperatures between 86 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit! So no cold kitties this winter please, and it is a good time to evaluate mobility in your feline friend.