Yes, cats do get arthritis, and yes, it can become just as debilitating as it can be in people. Cats are just not as obvious about it. Most cats “suffer in silence”, and unlike dogs, they rarely limp until arthritis is fairly advanced or until they sustain an injury to the affected joint. Early signs usually involve decreased jumping ability, which can include both hesitancy before jumping or not jumping as high as they once could. As arthritis progresses, activity decreases. Once arthritis is advanced, cats will frequently stop grooming, lose muscle mass, spend most of their time sleeping, and may stop using the litter box. Arthritis can affect any joint but is most often associated with the hips, knees, elbows and shoulders. It often affects multiple joints at the same time. Arthritis is diagnosed based on history, palpating (feeling) the joints, and radiographs; although, arthritic changes are not always readily evident and can only be picked up on CT scan.

Can arthritis be prevented? In cats, not really.

Arthritis occurs due to the slow wear and tear of the joint cartilage over time. Keeping cats from excessive running and jumping is impossible: it’s what they do! But, we can try to keep the joints healthy for as long as possible. As always, keeping cats at a lean weight will help reduce stress on joints. Also, fat is pro-inflammatory; this means that any extra fat will directly contribute to joint inflammation and pain.

Two nutritional ways to help protect the joints are through Omega-3 fatty acids such as fish oil and chondroprotectants such as glucosamine and chondroitin. For cats (and dogs), fatty acid supplements must be derived from an animal source. Even though plant sources (such as flax oil) do contain high levels of fatty acids, cats and dogs are unable to utilize them in any effective way. Glucosamine supplements can be very helpful BEFORE obvious signs of arthritis are present. This is because it helps keep the cartilage healthy, and cats with obvious signs of arthritis usually don’t have much, if any, cartilage left in the affected joints. As supplements, fish oil and glucosamine are not regulated by the FDA. This means that what is listed on the product label is in no way guaranteed to be in the actual product; although, some companies are seeking out private certification of quality control for their products.

My personal favorite for cats is Cosequin – the company has very good quality control measures, and the product comes as a tuna-flavored powder, which most cats find very palatable when mixed in their food. In fact, my own cat will actually lick it off the floor if any of it spills!

Once the signs of arthritis are obvious, there are some steps that can be taken to make their lives easier and much more comfortable:

If they are having difficulty jumping up to favorite areas, placing steps or a series of low jumps can benefit many cats.

There are also a variety of pain medications that can be instituted. As a rule, however, over-the-counter pain medications (both human and veterinary) and prescription pain medications for dogs should NEVER be used in cats without first consulting a veterinarian. This is because many of them are toxic to cats, even at low doses. As with humans on long-term pain medication, periodic monitoring of bloodwork is required to check organ function.

A great alternative to medications is laser therapy. It is very cost-effective over time, non-invasive, and very effective at restoring quality of life in even severely debilitated cats. Laser therapy alleviates pain and inflammation, reduces swelling, and stimulates nerve regeneration and cells involved with tissue repair. It utilizes the body’s own healing powers by stimulating cellular activity. Most patients will show noticeable improvement in as little as 3 to 5 treatments–some even sooner. Laser therapy is not limited to cats, and we can also use it safely in dogs, rabbits, ferrets, and many other pets. Additionally, there are no known side-effects or drug interactions to treatment!

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call the clinic at 406-728-0022. Your feline friend will thank you! You can also check out the Companion Laser Therapy website for more in-depth information and videos at http://www.litecure.com/companion/. We do have affordable laser therapy packages available!

Until next time, enjoy the rest of winter, folks! =^_^=