In a word, yes… however, that is not very helpful! We need to know what arthritis is, what issues it can cause for cats, and how we can help. There are different types of arthritis, such as the immune-mediated rheumatoid arthritis, and the degenerative osteoarthritis. This article will focus on degenerative osteoarthritis (arthritis).
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a degenerative, inflammatory disease of the synovial joints, characterised by deterioration of the articular cartilage and osteophytes (new bone) forming at joint margins… Okay, but what does this mean for us and our pets?! It means that…
- Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease; it occurs with damage and ageing to bone surfaces, or secondary to congenital (from birth/early development) issues with joints, such as hip dysplasia.
- It affects synovial joints; these are points in the skeleton where two bones meet, forming a joint.
- The articular cartilage is affected; articular cartilage is the coating over bones where one bone meets another at a joint; they provide a smooth surface where bones can glide over each other, allowing for easy movement of bones at joints.
- There is new bone formation; new bones, known as bone spurs or “osteophytes”, form at the joint surfaces.
- Putting all of this together, an example of osteoarthritis may be hip arthritis, where the femoral head cartilage, which lines the top of the leg bone which forms the hip joint, becomes worn away, and new bits of bone begin to grow. This will result in the smooth, articular surface becoming roughened, affecting the ability of the femur and hip socket (the ball and socket joint of the hip), to glide over one another.
What causes arthritis in cats?
Arthritis may be a degenerative change where we cannot identify an initial cause. Arthritis may also be congenital, e.g. seen in animals with dwarfism, developmental, e.g. secondary to hip and elbow dysplasia, or acquired, e.g. after damage to the bone, such as after a fracture or cranial cruciate ligament rupture.
There are certain risk factors in cats:
- Obesity; being overweight puts more pressure on the joints, and results in more wear and tear on the articular cartilage of joints. This is one reason why keeping pets at a healthy, slim weight is important.
- Congenital issues; being born with conditions such as dwarfism, as mentioned, will predispose cats to developing arthritis.
- Following a break; fractures at points on bones which are close to the joint will make them more likely to develop secondary arthritis.
- Developmental disease; animals can develop abnormalities in how the bones meet at joints (the articulation), which cause abnormal wear-and-tear in the bones, because the joints don’t meet at the angles they are meant to. The most common examples of these are hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia.
Arthritis may be seen less in cats than in dogs because certain breeds of dogs are more prone to elbow or hip dysplasia, such as Labrador retrievers, than cats are. Dogs are also more at risk of cranial cruciate rupture than cats are. However, as cats are living longer and longer thanks to conscientious owners (well done!) and advancements in veterinary medicine, they are more likely to develop diseases of ageing, such as arthritis.
Why is arthritis in cats important?
Arthritis is important because it can affect a cat’s quality of life.
- Pain: as the new bone is forming, it can be very painful for cats, especially when they are trying to be active. Pain can manifest as Felix being lethargic, or Garfield being less cuddly and more grumpy when being picked up. The signs can be subtle, so keep your eye out for behavioural changes.
- Decreased range of motion; movement is so important for cats – from hunting, to grooming, to rolling around playing with their favourite toys, our nimble friends can suffer when their bodies don’t let them do all of the things which they usually enjoy doing. As the new bone forms, it can reduce the joint’s natural range of motion.
How can we help cats with arthritis?
We first need to diagnose your cat with arthritis. This can be done on X-ray, as the erosion of cartilage and formation of new bone can be seen. However, we don’t know to do this unless there is an indication that your cat has arthritis. Signs can be subtle but may include:
- Decreased activity levels and lethargy.
- Unkempt coats; arthritis can affect a cat’s ability to groom itself, if they are in pain from their spine, for example.
- Soft tissue swelling and joint effusions; you may notice a puffiness and swelling around your cat’s joints.
- Behavioural changes; often cats are sore and being picked up and put into certain positions can elicit an uncharacteristic lashing out, for example.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis. However, there are a number of steps we can take to ensure your cat is as happy and healthy as can be:
- Controlling pain. We can use pain-medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, to make sure your four-legged friend is comfortable. Regular vet checks to adjust pain medications, too, will help.
- Supplements for joint health. Many vets recommend supplements, known as “nutraceuticals”, which aim to support the health of joints, such as glucosamine or green-lipped mussel extract. Our vets will be able to advise on what they would recommend for your cat as an individual.
- Diet. Keeping your cat slim and giving them foods with a good balance of omega oils and essential fatty acids will also help to keep them in tip-top condition.
- Exercise. In dogs with arthritis, controlled exercise and hydrotherapy are often recommended – this can, of course, be difficult with cats! Physiotherapy based upon passive range of motion exercises aim to maintain or restore normal range of movements.
- Surgical options. In very severe cases, options such as total hip replacements exist, however, these are not as commonly done in cats as they are in dogs, and tend to be done to fix an inciting cause, such as a hip dysplasia, rather than a degenerative age-related arthritis.
From all of us, we wish you and your cats a mobile, healthy and happy future together!
“What greater gift than the love of a cat?” —Charles Dickens