Osteoarthritis is a painful condition that unfortunately is common in cats but is much more frequently diagnosed in dogs. It is defined as the slowly progressive, non-inflammatory, irreversible deterioration of the articular cartilage of synovial joints.
How Arthritis Affects Cats
Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, is reportedly found in roughly 90% of cats over 12 years of age. It most commonly affects large, overweight and/or extremely active animals. The clinical signs of arthritis are at first subtle and gradually worsen with time. Any age, breed or gender of cat can develop this condition. Overt lameness is less commonly seen in cats than in dogs, although it certainly can be present. Cats with this disease often have difficulty with grooming, jumping up onto furniture and/or accessing their litter boxes. They also tend to become more irritable than normal. They may have morning stiffness, which they "warm up out of" as the day progresses.
Most cases of osteoarthritis in cats and other companion animals are caused by some abnormality in the biomechanical forces on affected joints – either abnormal wear on normal cartilage or normal wear on abnormal cartilage. This can be caused by congenital or inherited conditions, immunologic disorders, trauma, age, nutrition, obesity or other factors.
Preventing Arthritis in Cats
Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease that cannot reliably be prevented or reversed. Weight management is extremely important to manage the progression of arthritis in cats, as overweight cats are much more commonly affected than are fit ones. Prompt recognition of the condition and early intervention can also help to delay progression of the disease. Owners should always provide their cats with a comfortable sleeping area that does not require excessive jumping to reach.
A number of surgical and non-surgical treatments are available to treat arthritis in cats. Weight management is perhaps the most important protocol, followed by oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and dietary supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. Steroid therapies are also available to suppress the immune system in severe cases.
The prognosis for cats with arthritis really depends upon its cause. If the arthritis is caught early and is exacerbated by age or obesity, the prognosis is usually excellent as long as cat's owner strictly follows a weight management treatment plan. Arthritis caused by immune or inherited conditions tends to worsen with time, although medical and life style modifications certainly still can enhance and extend the cat's quality of life.