Osteoarthritis (OA) is sometimes called degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear” on the joint and as the name suggests involves the degeneration of one or more joints in the body. It is most frequently seen in older animals or after an injury in younger animals. Occasionally there are genetic factors such as hip dysplasia that predispose an animal to developing OA earlier in their life. The joint (most commonly the hip or the stifle/knee) becomes inflamed, the cartilage that protects the bone ends wears or breaks away, the fluid in the joint becomes less viscous and there is less lubrication. Bone starts rubbing on bone and this causes further degeneration, irritation, swelling and pain. The cycle of inflammation, pain and deterioration is ongoing and as yet there is no cure or reversal of the process, we can only manage the pain and slow the progression.
Osteoarthritis is reasonably commonly identified in dogs as they age and many owners recognise the signs and undertake management strategies and medication to alleviate their pets pain. But what about cats? Sadly, the incidence of OA in cats is significantly higher than is reported or diagnosed, as the signs of joint pain in cats can be subtle or misleading.
The signs seen in cats with degenerative joint disease include:
- A reluctance to jump – they may still do it but will hesitate more and their movements are less fluid.
- Thinness around their hind legs as the large thigh muscles start to waste due to lack of use. Having four legs and a wonderful sense of balance means that weight can be taken more on the forelegs, protecting the painful hindlegs but allowing the muscles to waste.
- Personality changes – unfriendly cats may become more clingy and attention seeking or previously friendly cats may become cranky and reluctant to be patted or picked up
- Toileting changes – squatting can sometimes be painful so inappropriate urination and defaecation (weeing and pooing in the wrong place) may occur.
- A decrease in grooming
- A decrease in playing and general activity levels
- Occasionally lameness or stiffness, particularly after over-exertion or long periods of rest
As mentioned previously there is no cure for OA, only management strategies. These include weight management, oral and injectable chondroprotective agents (medications that protect the cartilage and slow deterioration), dietary supplements, anti-inflammatory drugs and pain relieving drugs.
If you suspect that your cat may be suffering from arthritis please make an appointment to see your vet. Following a thorough check up (that may include blood tests or xrays) your vet can help your cat feel more comfortable and have a happier more active life.