This guest post provided by Tiffany Plageman, AAHA staffer.
Cats have a tendency to hide when they’re not feeling well, so it can be challenging to detect or see subtle changes in your cat. Their survival instinct gives them a unique ability to cover a painful condition and because cats are such masters at hiding pain, it’s a good idea to follow an established timeline for veterinary examinations.
Research has shown that many more cats are suffering from osteoarthritis than we are aware of, especially cats past the age of 11. Diagnosing osteoarthritis in cats can be difficult. Your veterinarian will rely on you to tell them about changes you’ve noticed in your cat. They may ask if your cat is moving around less, not climbing or jumping on and off of things as well and if you have noticed any changes in their behavior. Other things that you should be aware of and look for include weight loss, loss of appetite, depression; change in general attitude, poor grooming habits, and urinating or defecating outside of the litter box. A common symptom of osteoarthritis in dogs is lameness, but this symptom is not seen as often in cats.
Osteoarthritis in cats usually affects their joints including the elbows and hips, shoulders and ankles. And, the most frequently affected areas in cats is arthritis of the vertebrae and sternum. Truly, the second biggest challenge of pain management in cats is that they have a low tolerance and higher risk for toxicity to most drugs as compared to other species.
There are fewer pharmaceutical options available to treat pain and osteoarthritis in cats. Because there are fewer options, other treatments include working with your veterinarian to design a weight loss program if your cat is overweight, increasing exercise and/or play. Another area where you can make a difference for your cat is by changing things in your home including things like moving food and water dishes to a more convenient location and providing soft or therapeutic bedding. Purchasing a litter box with low sides, cutting down high sides, or constructing a ramp around the box may also help cats gain entry into the box more easily.
It’s important to be aware of changes in your cat’s behavior, especially as your cat ages. If your cat doesn’t seem to be his/her normal self discuss the changes with your veterinarian.