I have to admit that there are some days when it’s really hard to haul my furry rump out of my toasty heated bed! Those days become more frequent as the colder, wetter weather approaches- and as I get older. I, like many older felines (and those less-refined creatures like dogs and humans), have arthritis, which is also known as Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD). What is DJD you ask? It is an inflammatory disease of the joints that affects the bones, cartilage, and synovial fluid (think motor oil to “lubricate the gears!”). Trauma, obesity, and genetic factors can predispose Fluffy to DJD. Arthritis is a progressive disease, meaning that it gets worse over time, and it is not curable. However, veterinarians can treat the pain associated with arthritis with supplements and pain medications, as well as diet and “alternative therapies.”
Signs of DJD
So how do you know when Fluffy has degenerative joint disease? Cats are more stoic than those wimpy dogs and even wimpier humans, so it can be a challenge recognizing when Fluffy is ailing (see also “Signs of a Sick Kitty”). These are some of the common signs of arthritis:
- Decreased jumping or other decreases in agility (this often is seen in a change of where Fluffy sleeps or sits).
- Stiffness after sitting/sleeping for a long period (usually we’ll sssssttttreeeetcchhhhhh and “walk it off” fairly quickly )
- Change in activity levels; this is sometimes subtle, and most bipedal slaves call it “slowing down” or “laziness”
- Change in temperament; this encompasses both a social kitty becoming more reclusive and a normally stand-offish kitty becoming more loving
- Change in gait; this may not be as obvious as a limp. For example, Dr. Sloan’s older kitties tend to run up the first part of the stairs with a normal gait, but slow down at the right turn and take each remaining step slower….. and slower……
- Discomfort when handled- Fluffy may no longer like to be touched in the hips or back, or may no longer tolerate brushing or petting. This is a big one for me- I have never really liked brushing, but my arthritic hips are now a confirmed No-Brush Zone!
- Decreased grooming; sometimes this is noticeable because it can be asymmetrical (i.e., one leg is matted and the other is well-groomed)
- Other, less common, “red flags” include urinating/ defecating outside of the litter box; aggression towards humans or other animals in the house; howling or other vocalizations
Treatments for DJD
There are a number of treatments for arthritis, including life style changes, supplements, diets, drugs, and alternative therapies.
- My human slaves noticed that I’d been having more issues jumping onto their desks and counters in order to appropriately supervise their activities. One easy remedy was to provide me with Royal Footstools in order to shorten my jumps. I’ve found these Royal Footstools to be very useful in my everyday comings and goings around my clinic. Although I haven’t had any litter box issues, some arthritic kitties do need a little extra help in that department. Consider putting a litter box (along with food and water) on every level of the house so Fluffy doesn’t have to climb stairs. Also, look at lower-sided boxes (cement mixing trays from home improvement stores are a cheap and easy option) or get high sided storage bins and cut a low entry into them. See my “Litter Box Etiquette” blog for additional recommendations!
- Cosequin® is a supplement that contains glucosamine chondroitin, which is a natural anti-inflammatory. It comes as a capsule that has tuna- and chicken- flavored powder inside it. Most cats will eat the powder mixed into a little wet food, tuna, yogurt, or baby food. We don’t completely understand how glucosamine and chondroitin work, but they seem to help lubricate the joints and decrease the formation of destructive enzymes within the joint. There is no conclusive scientific evidence that proves Cosequin® works, but anecdotal stories show that some cats do very well on it (I’m one of them!).
- Adequan® is a similar supplement that contains polysulfated glycosaminoglycans, which help decrease inflammation and destruction of joint tissues. Adequan® also helps keep the joint lubricated. It is given as an injection under the skin twice weekly for a month, then once weekly for a month, and then tapered to every 10 days to monthly. The staff of Cat Care, PC has taught many of our clients to give these injections to their kitties at home. I can attest that the injection doesn’t sting at all- in fact, I pretty much never even notice when my human slaves give it to me!
- Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are one class of pain medication used in animals. All NSAIDs work in a similar manner- they decrease production of enzymes that cause inflammation. However, not all NSAIDs can be used safely in cats (NEVER give a cat ANY medication without speaking to your veterinarian!!!). Cats tend to be more sensitive to the side effects of NSAIDs, which can include GI upset and renal compromise. There are only two NSAIDs labeled for use in cats in the United States, and neither is labeled for treatment of chronic conditions like arthritis. Meloxicam is one such drug, but there is much controversy about its use in cats because of its effects on the kidneys. The veterinarians at Cat Care, PC have successfully and safely used it to treat arthritis pain when supplements are not enough. The DVMs carefully choose which cats are candidates for meloxicam use and use the lowest effective dose at the least frequent dosing interval. Onsior® is the newest NSAID approved for short-term use in cats, but it’s SO new that our veterinarians are just beginning to use it. I’ll keep you posted on it!
- There are several prescription diets on the market that contain ingredients (like glucosamine/chondroitin) that help with arthritis. Hill’s J/D was the first such diet; Royal Canin came out with Mobility Support shortly thereafter, and Purina has now introduced DH. Like any food, some kitties like it and some kitties don’t, but it does offer a nice alternative if Fluffy won’t take Cosequin®.
- Acupuncture and Cold Laser therapy can be used to treat DJD-associated pain. Dr. Thoms is a certified veterinary acupuncturist, and he has successfully combined acupuncture with traditional Western medicine for treatment of arthritic kitties. Feel free to call him for more information about alternative therapies for arthritis (or a number of other conditions!).
Arthritis is no fun for Fluffy, but there are things you can do to improve her quality of life. Don’t hesitate to call our veterinarians or licensed technicians here at Cat Care, PC of Rochester Hills, MI with any questions!