Arthritis is a common condition affecting cats of all ages but mostly older cats. Fortunately there are many ways to slow the progression of arthritis and treat the associated pain.
It’s important to work with your veterinarian to design an arthritis management program. Arthritis management should be a team approach and you (cat owners) are the most important members of that team. You know the behaviours of your own cats best and will be able to help judge how the treatments are working.
Lifestyle and Home Changes
These are the mainstay of arthritis treatment. There are many easy ways to alter your cat’s home to help reduce arthritis pain:
-cut a low opening in the litterbox so your cat doesn’t have to jump in or out
-litterboxes should be as spacious as possible
-distance to the litterbox should be minimal
-make or buy a set of steps or ramps for your cat to get to their favourite spots
-move food and water dishes to a more convenient location
-elevate the food and water dishes to allow for a more comfortable eating position
-provide soft, well-padded beds in your cat’s favourite spots
-many arthritic cats love heating pads, set on low with a blanket covering them. Don’t leave them unattended to prevent fire.
-for cats that go outdoors, building ramps, steps or outdoor enclosures can allow cats to continue to enjoy the outdoors
-weight loss is probably the single most important part of managing arthritis in overweight cats. Increased body weight stresses the arthritic joints even more and contributes to the pain. Weight loss alone will decrease the amount of pain that the arthritic cat is experiencing.
-moderate exercise (usually accomplished by playing with toys) has benefits in maintaining normal range of motion in arthritic joints and also in maintaining/building muscle mass. In acute flare-ups, restricting exercise may be warranted.
There are safe medications available through your veterinarian that can be given to make your cat more comfortable. These medications can control inflammation, provide pain relief, slow the progression of arthritis and support repair of cartilage within the joints. They are available in a variety of forms and are very easy to give.
Joint supplements and Nutraceuticals
Glucosamine and chondroitin - the two most common joint supplements. They have a positive influence on cartilage health by improving cartilage repair and maintenance in the joints.
Essential fatty acids (DHA and EPA) - The omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory effects.
Diet – Therapeutic diets for arthritis in cats have become available (Royal Canin mobility support and Hill’s j/d) that contain omega-3 fatty acids as well as glucosamine and chondroitin. The Royal Canin diet also contains green lipped mussel extract.
Laser therapy can reduce pain and improve mobility. Cats enjoy their treatments which are extremely safe with no side effects. Laser therapy can also reduce the amount of pain medications needed.
In summary, arthritis management is not just about giving pain medications. It is about making a plan with your veterinarian and then evaluating the effectiveness of that plan. Multiple adjustments may be required to find the right combination for your cat.