Feline arthritis - osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is often also referred to as degenerative joint disease. It is by far the most common form of feline arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease which can start any time during adulthood, although because cats are good at hiding pain, the early signs may well be missed. However as the disease progresses, the symptoms become more obvious. Because osteoarthritis makes the joints painful, the cat tries to put less weight on the damaged leg and so walks more unsteadily.

Later she will become less inclined to move, and there will be visible stiffness in her movements when she stands up. Another sign that the cat is in pain is if she won't jump on to objects such as chairs or sofas, or she tries but can't. Pain from arthritis is not sharp pain but dull and prolonged, so the cat will not normally cry out. However she may try to bite at and around the painful area. In the late stages her eating may be affected, and perhaps not surprisingly, she can become moody, irritable and depressed.

What happens in osteoarthritis and what causes it?

Osteoarthritis can be caused by simple wear and tear of the joints. This is why it is generally accepted that osteoarthritis is a disease caused by aging. However, some conditions can increase the risk. For example, obese cats are in general more prone to degenerative joint disorder because there is more strain the joints for a prolonged period. Injury to the joint, for example a fracture, will definitely increase the risk of osteoarthritis developing later. Other conditions, such as hip displasia also put the cat at higher risk.

In a healthy joint the bone is covered by by a protective lining called cartilage. There is a fluid between the bone and the socket called the synovial fluid, which acts as a sort of shock absorber. The synovial fluid is produced by the lining of the joint which also provides nutrients to the cartilage. Osteoarthritis damages the lining, exposing the delicate bone underneath. As the cartilage starts to flake off, the bone underneath protects itself. Bone cells start multiplying at random which often leads to disorganised growth. As a result bumps appear on the bone, deforming the joints. In the advanced stages, the cartilage may be completely lost. The bone is then in direct contact with the socket causing friction which limits joint mobility and makes it very painful.

Treatment of osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a chronic degenerating condition, which means it gets worse and there is no cure. However, there is a lot you can do to slow down the disease. First of all, if your cat is diagnosed early, medication will help to minimise pain and further damage. The vet may prescribe NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Keeping the inflammation down slows down the rate of cartilage damage.

Other possible treatments include giving your cat Glucosamine and Chondroitin. Glucosamine is an important building component of cartilage and helps the body's attempts to rebuild damaged tissue. One of the main functions of chondroitin is to inhibit the enzymes responsible for breaking down cartilage cells. By doing this the chondroitin helps new cartilage to form. Both glucosamine and chondroitin can be very successful in slowing down osteoarthritis, but they are only effective if there is still some cartilage to work on. The smaller the damage the better the chances of repair.

Exercise is good and necessary for treating osteoarthritis and the cat should be encouraged to exercise to keep her joints flexible. Of course, a cat with painful joints is hardly going to share this opinion. Therefore it's important that pain is well managed beforehand. A useful tool in pain management is warmth. Applying warmth to the inflamed joint definitely helps to ease the pain. Try putting a heating pad in the cat's bedding, and make sure the bedding somewhere warm and out of the draft.

It goes without saying that slimming an overweight cat will do wonders for mobility.

If the joint is irrepbly damaged, the vet might recommend surgery. Because cats' joints are so small, only hip surgery stands any chance of success. Until very recently all that could be done was to remove the the top of the thigh bone to encourage new growth. It was shown that the newly regenerated bone was much less painful. However, in March 2007, a one tough kitty named Oreo received a full hip replacement, becoming the first cat in history to undergo this surgery successfully. Hip replacement has been done before on dogs, but were unheard of with cats because of the joint size. Oreo's operation was done by Dr. Dominic Marino, surgery chairman and chief of staff at Long Island Veterinary Specialists in Plainview. Oreo's implant was only 2 millimeters in width - the size of a wooden matchstick - but cost rather more at 3,500 dollars. Oreo is fit and sound after the surgery and the surgeon predicts: "The cat has a 98% chance of normal function, never looking like he had surgery on the hip-replacement side". Money well spent, you might say!

Note: This information is for guidance only. It is not intended to replace consultation with a licensed practitioner.

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