Our earlier blog discussed the scary reality that many of our older feline companions will be suffering from arthritis, perhaps without us even knowing it. There is increasing awareness that cats, just like dogs and people, often develop joint problems as they age. This blog discusses what we can do about it, and how we can help our feline friends. 

Can we treat arthritis in cats?

Arthritis is a progressive and degenerative condition, and the aims of treatment are sadly not to ‘cure’ it, but to slow progression and manage symptoms so that the affected cat can enjoy a comfortable and mobile life. 

There are multiple strings to the ‘managing arthritis’ bow, and it may take some trial and error to find the combination of methods and medications that work best for each individual cat. It is also fairly common, due to the progression of the disease, to need some tweaking of the regime in the months and years following diagnosis, such as adding in more medication. 

How do we treat it?

There are many bases to cover in managing arthritis, and they often work best in combination. Medication alone may not be wholly effective, or environmental change, but utilising many tools together can make huge differences. 

1) Changes to the environment

Often overlooked, making small changes to your cat’s home environment can make a world of difference. 

Jumping up, stairs and high barriers can all be difficult to manage for an arthritic cat. Make sure their litter tray is low-sided and the cat-flap is easy to open without having to reach for it. Food and water should be easy to access without having to jump up onto a high surface. If your cat has preferred high places to rest, provide a series of smaller ‘steps’ up to it they can manage, or a ramp, so that they don’t have to give up these treasured spots. 

Bedding should be comfortable, well-padded and free from draughts for joint comfort. Your cat may spend more time sleeping, so plenty of warm resting areas is ideal. They may also need help grooming themselves, including keeping their nails trimmed. 

2) Diet

Being overweight is a vicious circle for arthritic patients: being obese puts extra strain on the joints leading to worsening arthritic pain, which then leads to further inactivity and therefore weight gain. Keeping your cat in a good, slim condition is really important. If your cat is overweight, speak to your vet or veterinary nurse about a suitable weight loss goal. There are some prescription diets that can help with weight loss, and those with added supplements to help with joint health. 

3) Joint supplements

There are a large range of dietary supplements for arthritic animals on the market. Their role in combating arthritis is unclear, as the evidence behind their efficacy is variable. The main ingredients tend to be glucosamine and/or chondroitin which are aimed at keeping the joint cartilage layer healthy, and various natural anti-inflammatories such as boswellia extract, green-lipped mussel and essential fatty acids. They are usually very safe to use (under direction from a vet), but their effect is likely to be small. Their classification as ‘nutraceutical’ drugs also means the amount and quality of ingredients is not well-regulated, and so the different products can be hugely variable. 

4) Medication

Many cats with arthritis will need medication to reduce the joint inflammation and control the pain associated with that. Medications must be prescribed by a veterinary surgeon after an examination of the cat and a full discussion as to which drug may be appropriate. All drugs have side effects and deciding what to use can be a delicate balancing act.

A common type of medication used for arthritic cats are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). There are various types licensed in different countries with slightly different effects and safety profiles so your vet will be able to talk through some options. They are widely used as they are very effective at reducing inflammation and making your cat more comfortable, but there are some long-term considerations to be aware of. International Cat Care have a useful leaflet about NSAID use in cats you can find here.

Some cats may need alternative medications due to other medical conditions, and severe cases may need multiple drugs. These may include opioids such as buprenorphine which are highly effective pain killers, or newer biological agents that turn off pain transmission, such as anti-NGF antibody injections

5) Adjunctive therapies

Acupuncture, physiotherapy and laser treatment have all received interest as additional therapies. The evidence is not hugely strong as to their benefit, but some individuals may benefit. They shouldn’t be used as an alternative to medication where it is advised by a vet, and should only be performed by qualified professionals. 

We all want our pets to be able to grow old gracefully and comfortably. Arthritis can be a painful and debilitating condition that can really affect our pets’ quality of life. It is good that there are multiple ways and means of managing this progressive condition. If you are concerned about your cat and arthritis, speak to your veterinary surgeon. 

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