Arthritis from any cause; genetic, post-trauma, or aging, is becoming more recognized in the cat. There are studies that indicate the rate of arthritis in cats 12 years and older is 90%. Of those arthritic cats, 14% are overweight or obese. As the cats age, the rate of arthritis increases to almost 100% on x-ray. The problem is that only 4 out of 100 cats are actually reported as lame by their owners. Recently, at La Grange Park Cat Clinic, two cases of arthritis were identified when the cats were x-rayed for another reason and this is common in feline medicine.
The main risk factor for the development of arthritis in the cat is increasing age. Obesity is known to be a risk factor in other species (dogs and man), but studies have not confirmed obesity as a risk factor in the cat. Weight almost certainly affects the arthritis by increasing the stress on painful joints. Recent research seems to indicate that being overweight or obese can cause arthritis due to creation of chemical messengers by the fat cells leading to increased inflammation. This can result in more damage within the joints.
Many of the same behaviors are affected by both excess weight and arthritis. Cats become less graceful in their movements because it is harder to move their bodies. They become less active, sleeping more and playing less. Grooming habits change, not grooming at all or grooming only one area. Lastly, they become more solitary or “grumpier”; not wanting to be touched or to interact with the other cats in the household.
What can be done to treat the cat? In the US, nutraceuticals containing glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, polysulfated glycosaminoglycans, or combinations of these ingredients are the first line of treatment. If your vet recommends Cosequin, Dasequin, Adequan or another product called Glycoflex III, use them because the label guarantees are proven while the generic products on-line or over the counter frequently are not. For the cat, when these dietary supplements are insufficient to control pain, the next step is to start an opioid pain medication. This is necessary since there is no one drug to control both pain and inflammation labeled for use in the cat. There are other drugs that can be added to this regimen to control the pain for those owners/guardians who wish it and with consultation of your veterinarian.
As always the best treatment is prevention when possible. Throughout the cat’s life, notice when something is different. Healthy cats move and jump easily (unless they had a birth defect). Any change in movement or activity can indicate the beginnings of a problem. Also, monitor the cat’s weight. Even small increases in weight can mean much more to the cat. The goal is to keep healthy cats in healthy homes.