Osteoarthritis In Cats - Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Osteoarthritis In Cats – Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Causes of Feline osteoarthritis

What causes osteoarthritis in cats? The disease process begins with damage to the smooth articular cartilage. Normally, this cartilage is responsible for reducing friction in the joint during movement and has a cushioning effect within the body of the cat. If there is abrasion and a reduction in the elasticity of this important cartilage, the surrounding joint structures, such as the synovium, which forms the synovial fluid, the stabilizing joint capsule, and the involved bones, can also be damaged with the progression of this joint disease.

The consequences are the thickening of the joint capsule and the reduction and alteration of the synovial fluid. Ultimately, this leads to further irritation of the joint and a worsening of the situation. If this deteriorating process progresses chronically, the bone creates bony formations in response to the high load, leading to consequent damage to the joint and extreme pain within the cat.

What factors favor osteoarthritis?

In general, osteoarthritis in cats occurs mostly in older cats, especially in the joints of the front limbs (for example, in the elbows or legs) and in the hind limbs (for example, in the hips, knees, or legs) as on the spine. This is because these areas are overloaded during movement and by the weight of the feline and tend to wear down over time.

The following factors contribute to arthritis in cats:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Trauma (accidents such as broken bones or ligaments)
  • Overload (for example, from being overweight or exercising too much)
  • Congenital or acquired malformations of the joints
  • Inflammation of the joints (arthritis) due to infections (for example, borreliosis, ehrlichiosis, or bacterial contamination)

How to tell if your cat has osteoarthritis

How can I tell if my cat has osteoarthritis? In one study conducted by research veterinarians, it was discovered that the joints that were most likely to have cartilage damage without radiographic evidence of feline osteoarthritis were the stifle, coxofemoral joint, elbow, and tarsal joint. The progressive nature of osteoarthritis is why the first clinical signs of the joint disease appear gradual and mild and then begin to progress. In the early stages, affected cats often show behavioral changes. Cats with osteoarthritis can show the following changes in the early stages:

  • The feline will not want to move as much as it once did
  • The cat will avoid making big jumps or leaping up to high surfaces
  • It is difficult for the cat to get up after having taken a rest

When the bone structures begin to be affected, in addition to the cartilage of the joint, the cat will likely show clear symptoms of pain. This leads to more serious clinical signs such as:

  • Decrease in general condition and food intake with consequent weight loss
  • Behavioral changes: such as increased aggressiveness, fear, or decreased desire to play or receive care
  • Self-mutilation
  • Greater susceptibility to other diseases due to the weakening of the immune system related to stress
osteoarthritis in cats

Diagnosing osteoarthritis in cats

If your feline shows noticeable patterns of movement or pain it is best that you go to the vet. The vet can make a provisional diagnosis based on the preliminary report and clinical signs. The veterinarian will question you on the feline’s medical history, conduct a physical examination, and administer radiographs. However, the final diagnosis requires a detailed study of lameness, which includes the following diagnostic measures:

  • Inspection (observation) of walking
  • Palpation of the joints and surrounding structures
  • Imaging techniques: X-rays, computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is beneficial in confirming and classifying the severity of osteoarthritis in cats.

In addition, the surrounding soft tissue can best be evaluated with an ultrasound.

Treating Feline Osteoarthritis

Joint damage caused by osteoarthritis is irreparable, so a cure for the disease is ruled out. Therefore, osteoarthritis in cats is treated symptomatically to reduce pain and the stress on the joints through the following measures:

  • Physiotherapy: controlled movement of the joints helps build muscle
  • A controlled diet and gentle exercise (for example, underwater treadmill): when the body weight decreases, the joints are less stressed
  • Medications such as pain relievers (for example, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs) or anti-inflammatories
  • Food additives: DMOA (Disease-Modifying Osteoarthritis Agents) to support the joints, such as omega-3 fatty acids, glucosaminoglycans or vitamin preparations (for example, vitamin E), as well as green-lipped mussel extract
  • From a certain degree of severity, it may be necessary to resort to surgical measures, such as artificial hardening (arthrodesis) or an artificial joint
  • Methods such as acupuncture or magnetic therapy are also used to relieve pain.

Osteoarthritis is not a disease that significantly shortens the life of the cat. However, it can greatly reduce the cat’s quality of life due to pain, so it is very important to diagnose and treat it as soon as possible. Drug therapy is often recommended to provide pain relief and improve motor function in cats with osteoarthritis. 

Long-term use prescription pet medication may also be helpful in reducing joint swelling and joint pain in cats with osteoarthritis. Oftentimes, the owner is able to gradually decrease the prescribed dosage while still keeping their cats comfortable. The key to successful long-term use drug administration is to use the lowest effective dose possible. 

Osteoarthritis In Cats - Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Preventing osteoarthritis in cats

Prevention of osteoarthritis in cats should start at an early age. It is possible to delay the onset of the symptoms of osteoarthritis and dramatically improve the cat’s long-term quality of life. As osteoarthritis can be determined genetically, you must take the parents’ health into account when buying or raising kittens.

It’s not uncommon for someone to try to sell you a sick feline as if it were healthy, so be sure to ask for a health certificate recognized by a veterinarian. In addition, you must pay attention that your kitten maintains a healthy and balanced diet since being overweight causes osteoarthritis and many other diseases such as diabetes mellitus, gout, or gastrointestinal diseases.

Also, as a cat owner, be sure that your feline engages in plenty of physical activity to keep its weight under control and maintain optimal health. With creative use of toys and owner participation, exercise can be encouraged in cats.

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