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Diagnosing & Easing Arthritis Pain in Cats 
11/30/99 Administrator

What is arthritis in cats?

Arthritis in cats is the progressive deterioration of joint (articular) cartilage. One or more joints can be afflicted with the condition. Another term commonly used to describe this condition is degenerative joint disease. When the term osteoarthritis is used, it usually refers to an extension of the changes into the bone underlying the cartilage layer. 

What causes arthritis in cats?

Two broad classes of arthritis are recognized: primary (idiopathic or unknown) and secondary. 

In cats, Primary Arthritis is the least common of the two, and is generally associated with long-term overuse and aging. Secondary Arthritis is more common in cats and develops as a result of unstable joints (for example, hip dysplasia), bone and/or cartilage defects, and damage caused by trauma such as joint fractures and chronic sprains. 

What are signs of arthritis in cats?

Your veterinarian may suspect arthritis after obtaining a thorough history from you and examining the animal. Lameness and/or stiffness are hallmark signs. Sometimes your cat may seem to warm out of the stiffness after being out for a walk, and sometimes cold and/or damp weather may appear to make symptoms worse. 

How is arthritis in cats diagnosed?

Radiographs (x-rays) are generally required to confirm the presence of arthritis and to identify any underlying causes for the condition. Analysis of the joint fluid to determine the type(s) and number of cells can also be helpful in classifying the type of arthritis. Concentrations in the blood (titers) for certain infectious diseases (Borrelia, Ehrlichia and Rickettsia) and specific blood tests (Coombs, ANA, and rheumatoid factor) may be requested by your veterinarian. Occasionally bacterial cultures of the joint fluid and joint capsule biopsies are indicated. 

How is arthritis in cats treated?

Your veterinarian has many drugs, and in some instances, surgical options to choose from. The treatment method chosen depends upon the underlying cause of the arthritis and the joint(s) affected. 

Medication considerations for arthritis in cats 

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): These agents work by inhibiting prostaglandins (mediators of pain and inflammation). 

Cartilage Protective Agents: These agents are thought to work by inhibiting various destructive enzymes and prostaglandins found in arthritic joints. These drugs may also help by increasing the production of normal compounds within the joint such as proteoglycan, hyaluronate, and collagen. These compounds act as lubricants and protectants/strengtheners for the cartilage surface. 

Corticosteroids: The "steroids" are sometimes used for treatment of inflammation in certain types of arthritis. 

Glucosamine: Treatment that is able to aid in the rehabilitation of cartilage and restore health to damaged joints. We recommend a high quality product such as Syn-flex. 

Surgical Considerations for Arthritis in Cats

Arthrotomy or arthroscopy is often used to treat underlying causes of arthritis such as shoulder osteochondritis dissicans or elbow dysplasia. 

Reconstructive procedures are used to eliminate joint instability or correct anatomic defects. 

Arthroplasty procedures are commonly performed for arthritis of the hip joint. Total hip replacement can give excellent results and is recommended in medium to large breed dogs that can accommodate the implants. Removal of the femoral head and neck is performed in smaller dogs and cats, or select patients that can not afford total hip replacement. 

Arthrodesis or permanently ""freezing"" a joint is used in some cases of chronic, severe arthritis and joint instability. Arthrodesis of the wrist joint generally yields excellent results, while arthrodesis of the shoulder, elbow, knee or ankle provides less predictable results. 

What is the prognosis for cats with arthritis?

The prognosis varies with the underlying cause of the arthritis, and the specific joint(s) affected. In most situations, slow progression of arthritis is expected. In many instances, medical and surgical treatments can dramatically improve the function of the affected joint(s) and the animal's quality of life.