Arthritis is a common problem in cats as well as humans. Aging and chronic wear on joints as well as injury and obesity contribute to the progression of arthritis. Occasionally immune mediated disease can trigger arthritis in cats. Arthritis can be seen by x-rays in cats as young as 8 years old, and sometimes younger if injury has occurred in the past.
The joints most commonly affected by arthritis in cats are the hips, knees, elbows and the vertebrae of the spine (spondylosis). Cats often have significant arthritis without showing what we think of as typical pain response as it is instinctual to hide pain.
Although arthritis cannot be cured, it can be treated. Some treatments relieve pain and improve mobility. Other treatments can help slow the progression of the arthritic changes. Often we start with one type of treatment and progress to others with time.
Early Arthritis Treatment
1. J/D food
This diet by the Hill’s Company has been proven to improve joint mobility and reduce discomfort. It is formulated with high levels of anti-inflammatory antioxidants and fatty acids and also helps promote a normal body weight.
2. Glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate supplements (Dasuquin, Cosequin).
These are chews or capsules that are opened and mixed into canned food daily. They help improve the joint fluid and cartilage surface of the joint. They do not directly work as pain killers but indirectly reduce pain by improving the joint health. Some supplements contain products designed to have anti-inflammatory effects as well.
3. Weight loss
Obesity puts extra stress on the joints. By achieving a normal weight your cat will be able to move around more comfortably. Measured portions of food are the key to weight loss for most cats. Sometimes giving a portion of their diet as canned food mixed with water helps the cat feel more full and less hungry.
Cats with painful joints are relatively inactive. The inactivity causes more joint stiffness and discomfort. Playing with toys, laser pointer and feeding kibble in dispensing toys that are batted around all encourage activity and exercise and improve mobility.
5. Antioxidant therapy
Vitamin E, Selenium and fatty acid supplements are all helpful at reducing pain and inflammation in moderate to severe arthritis. Because these can build up to toxic levels in the body, we need to carefully calculate doses of the supplements.
6. Adequan injections: polysulfated glycosaminoglycans
This is an injection that is given under the skin every four days for six doses, then as needed. It helps protect joint fluid, protects cartilage and it also helps reduce inflammation. These are injections you can be trained on how to give.
In addition to the steps above, pain management is needed to address more advanced arthritis. Some pain medications can cause sedation. Some are processed by the kidneys and can cause kidney problems if given to dehydrated cats or in too large doses or too frequently. Many of these medications are used off label in cats since most pain medications are not FDA approved for cats.
1. Gabapentin (Neurontin)
This pain medication targets nerve pain. Gabapentin reduces the nerve pain associated arthritis and controls “wind up” pain where the presence of pain amplifies the pain sensation pathways, leading to excessive perception of pain. Gabapentin is safe and can be used long term in cats with kidney disease.
This medication can be given by mouth or as a compounded transdermal ointment. It is available as a tablet but can be made into a liquid as well. Some sedation or excitement or pupil dilation may be seen with Tramadol. Long term use requires a blood panel every 6 months.
3. Meloxicam (Metacam)
This non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) offers good pain relief and is well tolerated by most cats. It is approved in Europe for oral use in cats and in the US for injectable use. It is used in very small quantities of a liquid given by mouth two to three times a week. It cannot be given to cats with severe kidney disease and cannot be given to cats that are vomiting or dehydrated. Kidney, blood and urine values need to be checked twice a year with this medication. Most cats like the taste of the meloxicam liquid.
This is a medication in the opiate family (related to morphine). It is used as a transdermal gel or a liquid given in the corner of the mouth (absorbed across the mucus membranes). Some sedation and pupil dilation can be seen. This is usually used for short term arthritis flare-ups or to evaluate the effectiveness of pain medicine initially when the diagnosis of arthritis is first made.
1. Therapeutic laser treatments
Treatments with the laser are usually given as a course of six treatments over several weeks then as needed thereafter. These laser treatments increase blood flow to affected joints and can reduce pain and inflammation. We offer this treatment at both hospitals and have seen significant improvement in most cats treated.
2. Physical therapy
Some cats will benefit from hydrotherapy (walking on a water treadmill) which helps with exercise but puts less stress on the joints. Gentle massage of the affected areas can also increase comfort by causing release of tension and endorphin release.
Can reduce pain and is tolerated well by most cats. We can refer you to an acupuncturist in Grand Rapids.
Many cats benefit from access to a heated pet bed and other warm areas. Cold temperature and weather pressure changes can cause increased pain and stiffness.
With good nutrition and medical help, most cats with arthritis can live healthy and happy lives. Please contact us if there are any questions at 616-241-6369 (Kentwood Cat Clinic) or 616-364-1211 (Cat Clinic North).