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Understanding Arthritis in Cats 
11/30/99 Administrator

Most cats are naturally extremely agile and athletic animals, but inevitably their joints, ligaments and bones are vulnerable to accidental damage, and to the wear and tear of everyday life. However, thanks to their lightness, sense of balance, ability to land on their feet and built-in shock absorbers (their forelegs are not connected by bone to the rest of the skeleton), cats do not suffer from as many orthopaedic problems as they might otherwise do. These conditions in cats occur most commonly as a result of accidents. 

Cat arthritis, which literally means joint inflammation, can come in many different forms. However, arthritis is much more complex than simple inflammation, so this name is rather misleading. 

For instance, osteoarthritis is associated with the growth of new bone around a moveable joint and the deterioration of the smooth cartilage that covers and protects the ends of the bones within it; the tissues that line the joint may not necessarily be inflamed. 

The following are the common forms of cat arthritis: 

Traumatic Arthritis (sprain) - This may be caused by sudden injury to a joint: i.e., following impact with a moving vehicle, the result of a fight with another cat, or due to an awkward fall. 

Osteoarthritis - This is considered by experts to be the end result of a joint failure that may occur for any reason. The shoulder and elbow joints are those most frequently affected in older cats. Common causes are recurrent episodes of traumatic arthritis (possibly due to a cat's athletic lifestyle), and also dislocations of joints or fractures involving joints that occurred in the past and made the joints more susceptible to excessive wear and tear. 

Traumatic arthritis in a joint that results from a minor sprain is likely to be painful for a short period of time but is not serious. Yet the damage inflicted through impact with a vehicle may be much more severe, and may involve fractures to the bones within the joint that require surgery. 

The seriousness of osteoarthritis depends on the nature and severity of any underlying cause, on the joints affected and on the general health status of the cat involved. A cat who is overweight will always suffer more than one who is not obese. 

Cat arthritis is a painful condition, and for this reason it should always be taken seriously. 

Any type of cat may suffer from arthritis. Usually, though, it is a condition that is perhaps most common in cats who lead athletic lives. 

Symptoms of traumatic arthritis in cats may include the following: 

A swollen joint. 


A painful joint, causing limping on that leg and resentment of the joint being handled. 


Symptoms of osteo-arthritis in cats may include the following: 

Limping or stiffness: this may be mild or intermittent initially, but will gradually become worse over time. Typically, any lameness or stiffness may be more pronounced after rest, and may appear to wear off when the cat has been moving about for a few minutes. The stiffness shown by an affected cat may also become worse in cold and damp weather. 

An abnormal appearance to a joint, due to the new bone formation around it. 

Sudden and more severe lamness may occur if a joint that is affected by osteoarthritis is suddenly sprained. 

If your cat suddenly begins to limp badly, you should immediately take him to your vet. 

If your cat limps intermittently, is regularly stiff after rest, or is less athletic and agile than formerly, take him to your vet. Do not wait until your cat is hobbling about. If he has osteoarthritis, the sooner you will know, and the sooner you will be able to adopt measures to slow down its progression. 

Your vet will consider your cat's symptoms, and will examine him thoroughly both at rest and while he is moving about. The vet will also need to manipulate your cat's joints in order to identify whether they are painful. 

Once the joint or joints which is affected has been identified, the vet may carry out additional tests, including X-rays and possibly analysis of fluid taken from the joints. 

Treatment will depend on the cause and severity of the arthritis. A sudden, uncomplicated case of traumatic arthritis - such as a simple sprain - will usually respond well to strict rest for a few days and to a short course of anti-flammatory medications; a more severe case of traumatic arthritis may require supportive dressings. 

The treatment of a cat suffering from established osteoarthritis is likely to include the following: 

Anti-inflammatory medications - Ideally, these should only be used in the short term, as and when necessary to encourage movement. Do not think of them as miracle cures simply because your cat's stiffness disappears when he is on them. In most cases these medications are acting simply as painkillers, and should only be used in addition to weight control and good exercise management. 

Glucosamine - We recommend taking a high quality glucosamine product such as Syn-flex. 

Dietary management - Weight control is an important feature of any treatment for arthritis. If your cat is overweight, you must follow the dietary advice of your vet. 

Exercise management - Although it is very difficult to impose an exercise regime on a cat, those individuals who are affected by osteoarthritis will benefit from regular activity. A small amount of exercise taken frequently is recommended, so be prepared to wake up your cat for a wander about every now and again, and avoid letting him sleep in one place for hours at a time. 

Surgery - This may be appropriate for osteoarthritis. (Some cases of traumatic arthritis may also need surgical treatment.) 

As osteoarthritis is a progressive condition, the treatment in any given case will need to be adapted from time to time. As always, if you see any signs of arthritis, do make a trip to the Vet.