A diagnosis of arthritis in your cat can feel devastating and even overwhelming. After all, we know that arthritis is a progressive, degenerative disease that will worsen over time. By most estimates, 90% of cats over age 10 are affected by arthritis, making it one of the most common chronic diseases they face. Once a cat is diagnosed with arthritis, it is important to understand that our focus is on management rather than cure. Success means maximizing your cat’s comfort and function while minimizing pain.
The good news is that there are many strategies, both big and small, to help cats live with their arthritis.
Create a true partnership with your veterinarian. This means scheduling regular evaluations to monitor the progression of arthritis and modify the treatment plan. Dedicate a journal or notebook to your cat’s ongoing health/medical issues, and write down things you have noticed and how she is doing. Take your notebook to all veterinary visits to share your observations as well as to note the details of any updated veterinary recommendations. We only recall about 10% of what we hear, so it makes sense to write things down.
If your cat is carrying extra weight, work with your veterinarian to plan a weight-loss strategy to get your cat lean and keep him or her that way. Your veterinarian will prescribe a specific diet that will provide joint support and help your cat lose weight. Ask for specific portion recommendations, and schedule regular weigh-ins to monitor success. It is a myth that cats need to eat “at will”. They can easily learn to eat two measured meals a day, and this is a big step toward getting your cat back in shape.
Just like humans with arthritis, we know that cats need to “use it or lose it.” Regular moderate exercise contributes to better joint health, even in the face of arthritis. Most cats can learn to use a harness and leash to take walks with human family members. Typically, they want to lead the way rather than “heel” like their canine counterparts. Chasing the light from a laser pointer or a feather toy on a casting rod and reel are two addition activities cats may enjoy.
There are medical treatment options for cats, but unlike dogs, medical treatments for cats are more limited as cats cannot tolerate many medications. NEVER give your cat aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications without your veterinarian’s guidance. Use all products strictly as instructed/labeled. Do not modify the amount or frequency of administering prescription medications except under the direction of your veterinarian. Be sure to ask about potential side effects and monitor your cat carefully. If you witness any adverse side effects from medications, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Are there any other management options I can look into?
Joint supplements can benefit many cats with arthritis. There are many supplements on the market, but be aware that they are not FDA regulated. Talk to your veterinarian about what product he or she recommends.
Other options include physical rehabilitation and acupuncture. These treatments may allow for decreased doses of medication over time by helping to restore more normal biomechanics, movement, and strength in the cat’s body.
How can I modify my home environment to maximize my cat’s comfort and function?
There are some simple things you can do to make everyday living much more comfortable and fun for your cat with arthritis. Something as straightforward as providing raised food and water dishes can relieve low-back pain and make mealtimes more enjoyable. Dishes between your cats’ elbow and shoulder level are generally most convenient. Many cats like to sit in windowsills, so providing a stool or ottoman as a “step up” makes it easier for them to go vertical. Carpeted steps can also help cats climb onto beds and furniture.
In addition, keep your cat warm and dry. Outdoor living is, in general, not appropriate for these cats. Cats with arthritis cannot easily defend themselves from attack, nor can they evade other outdoor dangers. To make sleeping surfaces as comfortable as possible, consider providing your cat with an orthopedic or memory foam bed.
Finally, an often-overlooked yet very important environment modification is slip-free flooring. In this age of hardwood, laminate, tile, and vinyl flooring, cats with arthritis lose out. We can help them by:
- Adding area rugs with non-skid backing.
- Laying down interlocking squares of lightly padded flooring (such as those used to create play surfaces for children). These squares work well for covering large floor surfaces because they can be custom-fitted to any room and easily removed for cleaning and entertaining company.
Work with your veterinarian and fine-tune these options for your cat. With a bit of imagination and creative thought, you can help your cat with arthritis enjoy a long, happy, and comfortable life! Contact us to schedule an appointment if you would like to get some specific recommendations for your cat.