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Feline Osteoarthritis

Clients enjoy watching their pets walking, jumping and playing with ease. Owners often participate with their pets in their physical activities (ex: walking, throwing a toy, operating a laser light…). But when clients notice their pet’s reluctance to maneuver steps or they get up very gingerly, owners are prone to think of themselves in pain. It is then that clients seek out veterinary attention.

So how do clients actually know when their pet is experiencing pain due to age related issues? We are all very familiar with the symptoms dogs display for chronic pain due to osteoarthritis; but what about our feline family members? In one retrospective study it was found that 90% of feline patients over the age of 12 years had difficulty with normal activities. Yet little is known about the etiology of feline degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis).

What causes osteoarthritis? Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis where the normal cartiledge that cushions a joint becomes worn away. As a result, the bone becomes exposed and results in discomfort. Additionally, there are some factors which can contribute to the formation of osteoarthritis including: genetics, injury, obesity and acromegaly.

So do we diagnose osteoarthritis in our feline patients? As in dogs, cats can show radiographic changes. In a retrospective study of 262 cats, it was found that 22% of asymptomatic cats showed radiographic evidence of appendicular joint osteoarthritis! Yet clients are missing their pet’s subtle changes that may be an indication of pain! So often veterinarians must closely question their clients about their feline companions and the suspicion of osteoarthritis.

osteoarthritis radiograph

Veterinarians often ask clients to answer a questionnaire or to describe potential behavioral changes in their pets that may be an indication that a problem exists. Cats and dogs do not typically display the same clinical signs of pain. This is due to cats’ survival instinct to hide signs of pain and therefore there is a lack of recognition. As a result, owners recognize osteoarthritis less in cats.

Owners may not consider difficulty in grooming; urinating or defecating outside the litter box (because it is either too high to step into or located in an area where stairs must be negotiated); not jumping on spaces where the cat once did; not interactive with toys; not wanting to be handled and seems “grumpy” when handled; an altered gait; personality changes; nervousness; aggression and mood changes as potential indicators.

Once it has been determined that osteoarthritis exists, management is similar to that in the dog. This can be accomplished by providing soft bedding in a draft-free warm accessible place; providing shallow steps to higher places (ex: litter box); placing food and water as well as litter boxes on one floor level to make them more accessible; trimming overgrown nails and assistance with grooming.

Additionally, weight management is always a key component by decreasing caloric intake and encouraging more exercise. Weight reduction reduces stress on joints and thereby decreases the risk of injury. Owners should consider getting their overweight cats a housemate to play with to increase their activity level.

Further, more feline joint diets are becoming available. In a four week clinical trial conducted in three countries for moderate to severe osteoarthritis in cats, those cats fed Hill’s Science Joint Diet were 70% improved in their behavior and activity levels within a 12 week period. The joint diets also contain essential fatty acids (EFA), that aid in decreasing inflammation.

Clients should note that only Omega-3 EFA are less potent inflammatory mediators, while Omega-6 EFA are pro-inflammatory mediators. Examples of Omega-3EFA include: 3-V liquid and Dermcaps.

Glycosaminoglycans are used to improve joint quality by inhibiting cartiledge degradation. This may modify the progression of osteoarthritis.

Additionally, antioxidants have been used because they are free-radical scavengers and anti-inflammatory. Some of these products are over the counter products while others are available through prescription.

Other neutraceuticals have been used either by themselves or with others to have an additive effect. Perhaps the most effective neutraceutical at this time is Dasuquin—an avocado/soybean unsaponifiable which is used to reduce pain by decreasing prostaglandins; decreasing the deterioration of subchondral bone and increasing range of motion.

There are several prescription medications available for pain control in our cats; but getting them in our cats always presents a challenge! There are currently no oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs available for long term use in cats with osteoarthritis.

Yet before going out to your nearest pharmacy to purchase neutraceuticals, a patient should be fully examined by a veterinarian, along with a full biochemistry bloodwork and urinalysis to access liver and kidney levels.

With close observation, along with the assistance of a client’s veterinarian, our feline patients can live the rest of their lives more comfortably and thereby improve their quality of life!