I often hear the term ‘they are just getting old’. This could be in relation to the fact that as our cats age they may play less, become more hesitant to jump onto surfaces or sleep more. These signs commonly attributed to ‘old age’ may, however, be down to joint pain due to conditions like arthritis – and should never be ignored. We asked our nurse blogger Robyn to investigate the dietary options…
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Feline joint health
Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease, it will get worse over time, and is inflammation of the joint or multiple joints. Arthritis is chronic, meaning it is long term, typically classified as such if the pain extends beyond 3 months.
The pain and discomfort associated with it usually creeps up on us without realising, as signs can be very subtle, especially in our cats. A diagnosis of osteoarthritis from your veterinary surgeon may therefore come as a bit of a shock. With a management plan including anti-inflammatory and pain relief medication prescribed by your vet alongside other lifestyle changes we can get your cat feeling comfortable again.
You may decide as part of this management plan to look at joint care diets for your cat. This article aims to cover some points as to what to look for.
A closer look at the diets
When an owner searches ‘cat arthritis diet’ online, you may find you are often inundated with a barrage of information. How do we know what to believe? From claims of curing pain with diet change, to miracle supplements, the market is hard to navigate. So, let’s look at what we do know.
Types of diet
Owners feed a wide range of diets to cats. We have dry complete commercial foods, wet complete commercial foods, homemade, raw and many others. What your cat likes will need to be taken into consideration.
There are specific joint care diets available on the market; some have evidence of improving cats’ mobility. And many contain several substances such as omega-3 fatty acids and other supplements and some may have calorie control too.
Omega –3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, usually derived from marine based sources have a fairly good evidence base for mild positive effects on the signs of arthritis in a number of species. But the evidence in cats is lacking still; so these diets may be of benefit to your cat alongside other management options. We have got studies in dogs that suggest they can be beneficial at certain dosages; usually focusing on DHA and EPA along with others. This data may be extrapolated to cats, and the addition of omega-3s could be helpful.
At present the WSAVA states that there is no evidence that raw meat-based diets provide health benefits over commercial or balanced homemade cooked diets. Therefore, despite claims it may be superior for management of arthritis, the risk of pathogens and other factors may suggest that it is not always in the best interests of your family to change. Other supplements don’t have a huge body of evidence to support their use so should not be the sole focus of your efforts.
Our pet population is overall getting larger, and obesity is likely to exacerbate osteoarthritis clinical signs.
This is down to both physical load through the joints being increased as our pets must physically lug around extra unnecessary weight; but also because obesity appears to be linked to increased levels of inflammatory chemicals (at least in some species). This could contribute to clinical signs.
Studies have shown that weight reduction in obese animals can positively benefit our arthritic pets, so controlled weight loss alongside your veterinary team is something you should enthusiastically engage in if your pet has a high body condition score.
Some diets for joint care may also state that they are also for weight management and, in my opinion, if your pet is overweight then in terms of diet, my focus would be weight loss and maintaining good muscle as a priority.
Nutritional pet advice can be a minefield of information and confusing to decide upon. Your veterinary team is well placed to give nutritional advice and can help guide you to bring in ‘multimodal’ management interventions to help support your arthritic cat. Part of this may be helping you pick a good joint care diet.
When it comes to diet the most important factors include using a diet appropriate for their age and lifestyle, maintaining a good lean body condition score, and feeding a good quality complete food. Supplementation with support such as Omega-3 Fatty Acids or using diets specifically made with higher levels of these will potentially help as part of a wider plan.
Remember that when it comes to ‘joint care’ we can start early. Keep your pet at a good weight and if they are predisposed to joint issues, you can start them on joint care earlier than they show any clinical signs. Remember that cats are good at hiding pain and signs of pain can be easily missed.
You may decide to look for a joint care diet if they are predisposed, for example if they:
- Have had a traumatic injury before, like a road traffic accident (RTA)
- Are an amputee
- Are a breed predisposed to joint problems, like Scottish Folds and Maine Coons as well as others