Cat Joint Health

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A cat's joints undergo a lot of wear and tear over the course of her life. Injuries, obesity, anatomical abnormalities, and advancing age can all contribute to the damage. Whether your cat has been diagnosed with joint disease or you are simply looking for a way to maximize her mobility, learning about feline joint health only makes sense.

What Is Feline Arthritis?

The word "arthritis" means inflammation of a joint. Arthritis can have many causes, but the most common form in cats occurs when cartilage within the joint breaks down under stress, the protective nature of joint fluid declines, and bony growths develop around the joint in an attempt to stabilize it. This is called degenerative joint disease (DJD) or osteoarthritis. Cats that have DJD often:

  • Are stiff and sore
  • May stop grooming themselves, particularly around the lower back
  • Have difficulty rising, climbing and jumping
  • Lose muscle mass
  • Limp if one leg is affected to a greater extent than others
  • Become grumpy and less sociable

Veterinary Care for Arthritis

Veterinarians can usually diagnose degenerative joint disease based on a cat's age, history of any musculoskeletal injuries or developmental diseases, a physical exam, and x-rays of the joints in question. Getting an accurate diagnosis is important because other diseases that require different forms of treatment can have symptoms that are very similar to those seen with osteoarthritis.

"Many pets suffering from degenerative joint disease benefit from weight loss, physical therapy and massage (if the cat is cooperative), cold laser treatments, and acupuncture."

Several treatment options for feline DJD are available, and your vet can help you determine which is best for your cat. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the mainstay of treatment for canine degenerative joint disease, but cats are very sensitive to their side-effects. The injectable form of the drug Metacam has been approved for short-term postoperative pain relief in cats, but some veterinarians will prescribe the oral liquid to help with feline DJD.

Other pain relievers (e.g., buprenorphine) or anti-inflammatories (e.g., prednisolone) may be used if an individual reacts poorly to Metacam or has another condition that makes it too risky to try.

Joint supplements have a widely recognized role in the treatment of arthritis in cats. Several substances have been shown to help pets with DJD including:

  • Glucosamine
  • Chondroitin
  • Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)
  • Avocado Soybean Unsaponifiables (ASU)
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Antioxidants

Some cat foods now even contain one or more of the ingredients listed above.

Many pets suffering from degenerative joint disease benefit from weight loss, physical therapy and massage (if the cat is cooperative), cold laser treatments and acupuncture. Combination therapy, for example using a nutritional supplement and cold laser together, often does a better job than any one therapy alone. DJD is a progressive disease and as such, treatment plans that work initially may need to be "tweaked" as a cat's condition worsens over time. If all else fails, surgery to remove or replace a severely damaged joint may be the best option.

Arthritis Prevention

Dasuquin for Cats

Completely preventing DJD is usually not possible if a cat has enough risk factors, but owners can do a lot to delay its onset and slow its progression.

Keep your cat slim and in good shape. Excess body fat puts extra stress on joints and may contribute to the development of DJD in other ways as well. Strong muscles, tendons and ligaments all help to support joints.

Nutritional supplements are very safe and can be given to cats over long periods of time without worry. Therefore, you do not have to wait until your cat is showing symptoms of arthritis to start her on one of these formulations. Many products combine several active ingredients. For example, Dasuquin for Cats contains glucosamine, chondroitin, and ASU. If after a month or so, you are not pleased with your cat's response to one brand of joint supplement, try a different manufacturer's product.

The above is provided for information purposes only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any condition. This information does not cover all possible variables, conditions, reactions, or risks relating to any topic, medication, or product and should not be considered complete. Certain products or medications may have risks and you should always consult your local veterinarian concerning the treatment of your pet. Any trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

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