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According to Cats Protection, more than 80% of cats over the age of 10 suffer from arthritis, but sadly often goes undiagnosed.

Arthritis is a common problem amongst our elderly patients and refers to inflammation of their joints, which in turn can cause pain and discomfort as well as stiffness.

Within the cat’s joint, the surface of the bone is usually covered with a layer of smooth cartilage which is lubricated with fluid. In a healthy joint this allows the joint to move freely without issues. However, when a cat has arthritis the joint surface itself changes, this results in rough bone rubbing together. This can be painful for the cat but will also lead to further bony changes to the joint, which will make it stiffer as well as reducing the range of motion for that particular joint. This is termed Osteoarthritis (OA), or degenerative joint disease (DJD).

Osteoarthritis can occur due to general wear and tear of the joints, however; it can also be seen in younger cats if they have had a previous injury, which can make them more susceptible.
Due to the cat’s innate ability to hide pain, osteoarthritis is often under-diagnosed in comparison to dogs. Owners are also less likely to observe their cat exercise, which means that changes to gait pattern and signs of joint stiffness are often missed.

Osteoarthritis is an insidious disease which is also very progressive. Often the early signs are missed and with a cat’s ability to hide pain, it can often be difficult to identify.

Signs and symptoms often include;

• Reluctant to play or use stairs, less activity than before
• Avoidance of jumping up or down from high ledges that previously wouldn’t pose a problem for them
• Reduced movement
• Reduced grooming, causing an increase in matting in the hard to reach areas
• Change of behaviour, often irritable, particularly if groomed or stroked

The condition often becomes worse in cold, damp weather, so if you notice any of these signs and symptoms during the winter months it could be an indication that they are suffering from pain associated with arthritis.
 
Currently there is no cure for arthritis, but it can be managed effectively if caught early enough.

A multi-modal approach to patient management is key to a successful treatment programme. Treatment approaches include anti-inflammatories, pain relief, supplements and alternative therapies such as physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, massage and acupuncture which can be beneficial to help relieve the signs and symptoms and improve the cat’s comfort and mobility, overall leading to a better quality of life.

As well as the multimodal approach it is vital to ensure that your cats’ weight is kept to a minimum as excess weight and loading on joints can exacerbate the signs and symptoms. Providing a balance, high quality diet is also essential as part of your management plan. Home enrichment is also an overlooked area in which adaptation can be made to enrich the cats quality of life. Ensuring they have an easy to reach, warm, draft free comfortable bed that can support their joints will help them rest easily. The use of ramps can eliminate the need to jump up and down from surfaces, changing the litter tray so that the sides are lower can also make it easier for cats to access. Areas of the house that may be tiled, laminate or wooden flooring can also be a slip risk for our elderly patients. The use of rugs and mats can help them navigate their way around a home easily preventing injury from slips and falls.
 

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