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age or arthritis? spotting osteoarthritis in cats

While working in the clinic last week, I had one of my favorite patients (and clients) come in to see me – let’s call them Perfect Kitty and Mrs. Observant.

Perfect Kitty was in for a routine visit, and to discuss a couple of odd behaviors that Mrs. Observant had been noticing recently. Perfect Kitty is a 9-year-old cat who had been adopted by Mrs. Observant at the age of 10 weeks. Recently, Mrs. Observant had noticed that Perfect Kitty wasn’t jumping up on the counter anymore while she prepared Perfect Kitty’s breakfast and dinner.

Instead, Perfect Kitty was at Mrs. Observant’s feet, waiting “patiently” to be served. Also, Perfect Kitty wasn’t sleeping in her cat tree anymore. And just this week, Perfect Kitty had urinated outside of her litter box. She was still eating and drinking well, she wasn’t vomiting or having diarrhea, and she was just as social as ever. Mrs. Observant wasn’t sure if these signs meant anything, or if it was just an aging cat’s normal change in behavior.

After further discussion, a full physical exam, and a few tests, we determined that Perfect Kitty was suffering from osteoarthritis, a painful disease that can be difficult to diagnose in cats, since radiographs don’t always give us the full picture. It is most often discovered based on a pet parent’s observations, and by ruling out other underlying diseases. Sometimes cats will show overt signs of pain, such as limping, but oftentimes it is more a matter of changes in their normal behavior. And as every cat owner is aware, what is normal for one cat may not be normal for another.

The most common signs of osteoarthritis that pet parents report include:
  • Sleeping more
  • Unwillingness to jump up or down when they normally would
  • Hesitation to leap, play or run around
  • Unkempt coat/disinterest in grooming
  • Inappropriate urination or defecation

As you can see, these signs are quite vague, which is why they are often attributed to becoming an “older cat.” If you notice any of these signs (or any changes in behavior from your cat’s “normal”), it is worth bringing it to your veterinarian’s attention.

If your vet determines that your cat is likely suffering from osteoarthritis, there are a variety of different therapies that can be used to give your cat some comfort. While not a disease that we can cure, we can manage osteoarthritis for many years. Your vet may discuss any combination of the following therapies to help your feline friend feel more comfortable.

  • Weight loss
  • Moderate exercise routine
  • Joint supplements
  • Pain medications
  • Anti-inflammatories (only a select few are safe for some cats, so ask your vet!)
  • Acupuncture
  • Physical therapy 
  • Chiropractic adjustments

Every cat requires a unique combination of therapies for maximum benefit; keeping your vet informed about what is working and what isn’t is essential for successful long term management.

As for Perfect Kitty, Mrs. Observant reports that she is responding well to our initial therapy. Just yesterday, Perfect Kitty jumped up on the counter to “help” Mrs. Observant prepare dinner. A happy pair!

To more waggin’ and purrin’. RWKJ
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Posted by Shireen Mullen and my beloved 19year old tabby Zoe!
on January 23 2015 06:55

I am wondering that if at 19 yrs I should just let my beautiful furry friend grow old gracefully. I am concerned that in the past few months she is crying out in the middle of the night or at random times as if in pain and yet I give her a cuddle and a massage each day and there is no sign of pain or discomfort. She is drinking lots of water but still has a good appetite and whilst sleeping soundly and a lot compared to her as a much younger cat she will get up and walk the length of the house down to her food/water bowls and yes she does hobble but, then so do I !! The other day (and she has done this a few times) she was crying out and looked uncomfortable and threatened to vomit but only brought up foamy stuff and then she proceeded to do No.2's (not runny but solid) on my bathroom floor. I have put up with her gutzing her food all her life and then throwing up but I figured it wasn't doing any harm as she was alway bright eyed and hey she is still here at this ripe old age so I'm just thinking I have an anorexic cat!

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