Have you noticed that your cat is no longer jumping up on their favorite couch, is less interested in chasing their catnip mice, or has difficulty getting in or out of the litter box? You've unlocked a new badge of cat ownership – one earned when an observant cat owner notices these subtle, yet possibly very painful, signs. While many cat owners may attribute these signs to “slowing down” with age, they may be a sign of osteoarthritis (OA), which affects nearly 40% of all cats.
Osteoarthritis can be a result of poor joint structure from birth, a traumatic injury, or, most commonly in cats, normal wear and tear on their joints as they age. Surprisingly, one study showed that by the time cats reach the age of 12, more than 90% of them have bone changes visible on x-ray, yet few are diagnosed or treated before these irreversible changes have occurred.
Cats often hide painful conditions like OA from their owners and veterinarians alike. As a result, OA in cats is often underdiagnosed and undertreated until advanced stages of the disease begin – leaving them in pain and potentially damaging the bond they have with their owners.
Osteoarthritis pain can be a serious health problem for your cat. Without treatment, the pain will continue to get worse. Helping your cat begins by talking with your veterinarian and coming up with a medical treatment plan to relieve your cat’s discomfort. Your veterinarian will thoroughly examine your cat and can often make the diagnosis of arthritis on the exam alone, or with the help of x-rays (radiographs). Cats with OA may have varying signs and symptoms, and you and your veterinarian can work together to catch it in its earlier stages, to help get your cat ahead of the pain, rather than waiting to treat it.
OA is the most common cause of chronic pain in all species, not just cats. Luckily, there are treatment options for cats diagnosed with OA to help with pain management and to improve their quality of life. You and your veterinarian will determine which of these are appropriate based on your cat’s exact stage of the disease, their lifestyle, and overall health status.
These treatments can include:
Cats love the bird’s eye view, like jumping up to the windowsill for birdwatching or finding that perfect sunny spot. When those favorite spots seem out of reach for your cat, you may be seeing signs of osteoarthritis pain.
Remember that you are the best person to notice subtle signs and changes in your cat’s behavior that may signal arthritis. Be sure to mention these to your veterinarian and work together to develop a plan to keep your cat happy, healthy, and pain-free.