If your otherwise healthy aging feline friend has slowed down and curtailed some of her physical activities, it could be because she is in pain. Just as humans experience the chronic aches, pains and stiffness of arthritis as they approach their golden years, the same is true for cats. Luckily, there are several pain relief options available to help your cat reclaim her favorite elevated napping zone.
Recognize the Signs of Pain
Degenerative joint disease, also referred to as osteoarthritis, is a common condition that affects older cats. As the cartilage that surrounds and cushions a joint degenerates through wear and tear, the bones that form the joint end up rubbing against one another, causing inflammation and pain. Cats are stoic, meaning that they do their best to mask their pain. This is an instinctual throwback to their wild ancestry, where a show of pain is an admission of vulnerability to other predators. Since your cat may only cry out in cases of extreme pain, you need to observe for behavioral changes that signify that she is in discomfort. Some of these signs include:
- No longer jumping up onto previously favored elevated surfaces, such as the top of a dresser, a high windowsill or your bed
- Difficulty climbing in and out of the litter box, possibly resulting in elimination just outside of the box
- Walking with a stiff gait or limping intermittently
- Difficulty going up or down stairs, lying down or getting up after a period of rest
- Inability to groom hard to reach places, such as the hindquarters, resulting in an unkempt appearance to the coat
- Decreases in playing and other physical activity
- Irritability when moved, picked up or touched on painful areas
If you observe any of these signs, bring your cat to the veterinarian for a physical examination to confirm the presence of degenerative joint disease and to discuss pain relief therapies.
There are several medications within the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory class of drugs that are prescribed for long-term use in dogs to relieve their pain and discomfort of degenerative joint disease. Most of these drugs pose dangerous health risks to cats, however, including kidney failure. For long-term pain relief in cats, the drugs that are often prescribed are opioids. One such drug, called Tramadol, carries a lower incidence of side effects, and the effects are less detrimental than those of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Never administer any pain relievers to your cat without first consulting with your veterinarian (like those at Pet Medical Center – Full Service Veterinary Care). Even the over-the-counter aspirin, acetaminophen, naproxen and ibuprofen that lurk in your own medicine cabinet are deadly to cats.
Acupuncture and Cold Laser Therapy
These two methods of outpatient integrative treatment are both options that are tolerated remarkably well by cats. Acupuncture involves the insertion of tiny needles into the pressure points on the cat's body to prompt a release of neurotransmitters, resulting in the relief of pain and inflammation. Cold laser therapy uses the application of a low level laser light instead of needles. The light waves penetrate the cat's tissue cells to generate healing at the cellular level and achieve relief of pain and inflammation.
Joint Health Supplementation
Nutritional supplements, such as Cosequin for Cats, that contain glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health can be helpful, especially when started at the early stages of degenerative joint disease. Your veterinarian will recommend an initial dose for your cat, and it will take a few weeks of use before you observe its therapeutic effect. After this period, the amount of glucosamine given is reduced to a maintenance dose.
Lifestyle Changes and Accommodations
In addition to the aforementioned therapies, there are things that you can do at home to help alleviate your cat's discomfort and improve her quality of life, such as:
- Consult with your veterinarian about what your cat's ideal weight should be, and feed the appropriate amount for that weight. Being overweight puts extra strain on your cat's joints.
- Replace the litter box with a new one that has lower sides that your cat can step over more easily.
- If food and water dishes are on elevated surfaces, relocate them to ground level.
- If your home has multiple levels, provide a litter box at each level.
- Keep your cat's musculoskeletal system working by coaxing her into interactive play sessions each day.
- Since cold and damp conditions exacerbate arthritis discomfort, provide your cat with heated beds.
- Provide steps to help your cat access her favorite elevated spots.
Once you recognize the signs that your older cat is feeling the effects of degenerative joint disease, you and your veterinarian can work together to come up with an effective treatment plan to provide her with relief and restore her zest for life once again.