Arthritis in Cats – Sadly Under-diagnosed

Arthritis in Cats – Sadly Under-diagnosed

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Most people would be surprised to learn that dogs aren’t the only ones that have to endure arthritic conditions. When most people hear the word “arthritis” (or osteoarthritis) or related degenerative joint disease, they immediately think of a senior dog with trouble getting up, using the stairs, or walking. Many people believe these orthopedic issues to be predominantly a canine disease, but research has proven (through imaging studies) that 90% of cats over the age of 12 years old will suffer some degree of joint deterioration. Osteoarthritis is a type of painful, degenerative disease of the joints, where normal cartilage breaks down, causing bones to rub against each other. Ouch! How do these conditions happen? Traumatic injuries, genetic predispositions, obesity (even minor weight gain), and just plain old wear and tear are among the main causes of this disease. Although cats are very agile and don’t present the same mental image as the senior dog with walking issues, many cats are living in some degree of arthritic discomfort. As a bi-product of their survival instincts, cats hide their pain and illnesses exceptionally well… often too well. As a result, a vast number of medical conditions (even severely painful ones) go completely undetected by even the most prudent feline owners.

Arthritis in Cats

Because the signs of osteoarthritis in cats is often extremely subtle, even veterinarians may struggle to diagnose these types of conditions! Here is a good case example: Lulu, a 14-year-old sassy cat, is undergoing her annual physical examination. Lulu does not particularly like these visits. Lulu is given a complete orthopedic examination, which involves manipulating certain joints in certain ways. Lulu has never enjoyed having her paws touched, so when she pulls away and instinctively hisses, is Lulu in pain and suffering from a form of osteoarthritis or is Lulu just being Lulu? So how do we diagnose these issues if even veterinarians struggle? It is often the sum of some very small clues that will help veterinarians diagnose these painful conditions. Changes in general attitude, grooming, and litterbox habits, weight loss, inappetence, and hesitation upon jumping up on furniture are among the main signs we may see. Sometimes we may see no changes at all! Unbelievably, the least common signs of osteoarthritis in cats are the ones we would think would be the most obvious – walking and gait issues. Most cats that suffer some degree of degenerative joint disease do not have any issues walking.

Jumping Cats At Play Look Like Ninjas

Can osteoarthritic issues be prevented? Although we cannot completely eliminate the risk of developing degenerative joint disease, there are things you can do to help your feline family member. Firstly, addressing obesity and maintaining a healthy weight will go a long way to avoiding premature wear and tear on your cat’s joints. Also, regularly stimulating your cat with exercise will maintain the surrounding muscle mass, which helps to protect the bones and joints. Finally, a good quality diet will help ensure your cat is getting all the macro and micro nutrients that support healthy joints. Unfortunately, osteoarthritic conditions progress over time, so any therapies are meant to alleviate discomfort and slow the course of the disease. Fortunately, natural therapies (supplements, cold laser therapy, and medical diets) along with modern medicine approaches (medication), can go a long way to make your cat more comfortable. If you feel your furry family member may be suffering from osteoarthritis, please contact us! We can help!

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