Nine out of ten cats over 12 years of age have some degree of arthritis. X-rays are needed to confirm the diagnosis; however, we often can presume an older cat has some degree of arthritis if the symptoms are there. Also, radiographic evidence of arthritis can sometimes take a while to present itself – so a cat may still be arthritic without obvious signs of it on an x-ray. Limping is sometimes seen, but more often than not, it is behavior changes in our older feline companions that can let us know they are in pain from aching joints. Here’s a list of symptoms your older cat may have if he/she is suffering from arthritis:
- Decreased willingness to jump, or shorter jump distances
- Decreased playing/running, or decreased trips up and down stairs
- Sharpening claws less on the scratching post or outside
- Going outdoors less often overall
- Grooming less
- Grumpy when handled, or vocalization when touched in painful areas
- Seeking seclusion more often than previous years
- Aggression to humans or other pets
- Litter box avoidance/house soiling (difficulty getting in/out of box, or painful to posture for elimination)
Besides the physical pain that can cause these types of behavior changes, not being able to do these normal cat things can be tough for older cats’ mental health as well. Regular physical examinations by your veterinarian are important so problems like arthritis can be identified and remedied. The goal of treating/managing arthritis in cats is to see an improvement in the above list of possible behavioral changes. Here’s a list of things you can do at home to help with arthritic kitties:
- Weight loss if obese (less food, more exercise, with a goal of losing no faster than 2% of body weight a week). Less weight to carry on sore joints is often all a mildly arthritic cat needs to start moving better. See my previous blog on “Obesity in Cats” for more ways to help your cat lose weight.
- Get litter boxes with lower edges, or consider cutting out a lower walled “door” on one edge so your stiff cat has a way to get into it easily without having to lift his/her legs too high.
- Provide soft, warm, easily accessible beds. Cats like high perches, but arthritic cats have a hard time getting up to them- so make them lower, or consider makeshift “stairs” or ramps to help them get up there easily.
- Consider stool softeners (over-the-counter Miralax is my favorite, ¼ tsp on food daily) to keep the stools soft and passing quickly and easily (only consider if your cat is passing hard, dry, uncomfortable stools that could require prolonged posturing).
- Check out this website from Ohio State University for some good ideas on keeping your cat moving and mentally happy. Arthritic joints do better if the muscles are kept toned. Frequent, easy exercise is actually very good for arthritic cats, both mentally and physically.
Here’s a list of specific supplements and medications that can help manage arthritis:
- Adequan (polysulfated glycosaminoglycan, or PSGAG) – This is an injectable medication that is used in dogs, horses, and can be used off label also in cats. One vial will last for many months for a cat and we can show you how to give the injections yourself to your cat at home (they are given just under the skin, very simply). Adequan works by blocking molecules that cause degradation of arthritic joints, reducing inflammatory mediators that cause pain within joints, and by increasing lubrication within the joint. The injections are given about twice a week for the first month, then monthly or as needed thereafter. My own cat is old and arthritic and I am happy to report I have seen a difference with his playful nature returning since starting him on these injections.
- Dasuquin/Cosequin – These are dietary supplements that contain glucosamine, MSM, chondroitin, etc., and are similar to what people take to help lubricate the joints and ease arthritic pain.
- Fish oil (especially DHA) – Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, this dietary supplement is not only good for the skin, but also the joints!
- Prescription foods such as Royal Canin Mobility Support or Hills j/d – These diets are formulated with many of the above supplements already mixed in them.
- Prescription pain killers like buprenorphine, gabapentin, amantadine, or tramadol. Price, efficacy, ease of administration, and possible side effects may determine which one of these works for your cat and may or may not be continued long-term.
- Prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like meloxicam or robenocoxib. NSAIDs are the main treatment of choice for arthritis in dogs and in people. Unfortunately, meloxicam is no longer labeled for oral use in cats due to possible kidney damage if given at higher doses. Many older cats already have kidney disease present, so sadly this category of drugs is just not a good option for long term use in cats. Off label use of “micro” doses is still done occasionally, and can be considered if your cat’s lab work indicates no underlying kidney problems, and repeat testing indicates tolerance of the drug. Robenocoxib (Onsior) is labeled for oral use in cats, but only for 3 days, such as for pain control after a routine surgical procedure (spaying/neutering).
- Acupuncture and herbal/homeopathic remedies – I have not studied alternative medicine but like to keep an open mind. I have heard acupuncture can be very effective as pain control, and I encourage you to look into alternative veterinary options that may be available in your area.
So, bring your stiff old kitty on in so we can come up with a plan tailored to fit their needs. That way we can keep them moving more comfortably and be able to enjoy life to the fullest again. — Xenia Zawadzkas, D.V.M.