Cats are designed to run, jump and play. It’s part of what being a cat is all about!
If you’ve noticed your cat slowing down – maybe they’re not as nimble as they used to be – it’s easy to assume it’s a natural part of growing old. However, just like humans, cats can suffer from arthritis, a painful degenerative disease of the joints which causes inflammation, pain and a diminished quality of life.
Primarily caused by wear and tear over time, arthritis is most common in older cats (90% of cats over 12 years of age suffer from arthritis) but it can develop in cats as young as one year. Clinical studies have shown that around 1 in 3 cats suffer from arthritis, yet few are diagnosed and many suffer in silence.
This is because lameness is apparent in less than half of all cases and because cats naturally disguise pain and discomfort (a survival strategy) so the signs of arthritis are difficult to spot.
It’s the subtle changes in your cat’s behaviour you need to watch out for, such as:
Reduced Activity – Is your cat spending less time playing and more time sleeping? Are they hesitant to go out or explore?
Reduced Mobility – Is your cat reluctant to jump, or making smaller jumps? Are they using a chair to help them get to some place higher? Are they having trouble climbing stairs, getting into their litter tray or using the cat flap? Are they no longer sleeping in a favourite high sleeping spot?
Mood Changes – Is your cat irritable when handled? Do they object to being patted or stroked? Have you noticed increased aggression or biting? Is your cat avoiding contact with people and other animals?
Changes in Hygiene – Is your cat spending less time grooming? Is their coat matted and scruffy? Maybe they’re avoiding using their litter tray or not covering up after themselves?
The good news is that with the right treatment, regular check-ups and a little work on your part, your cat can be healthy and active once more.
The first thing to do if you’re concerned is talk to your vet. They will examine your cat to detect any swelling, pain and inflammation and may take an x-ray to confirm any suspicions. It can be useful to take a video of your cat at home to show your vet as they are more likely to show their true behaviour when they’re not stressed and in unfamiliar surroundings.
If your cat has arthritis, your vet will may prescribe a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug or other chondro-protective drug, a diet change, and suggest some lifestyle changes if necessary, such as weight loss.
Some other things that may help:
Make sure your cat has a soft, comfortable bed in a quiet place to retreat to.
Make meal times easier by putting your cat’s bowl in a place that doesn’t require stretching, climbing or jumping. Cats need to feel safe when they’re eating so position their bowl away from their cat flap and litter tray.
Keep a second bowl of drinking water in a separate part of the house as some cats don’t like to drink where they eat.
Use a litter tray with at least one low side to make your cat’s trips to the toilet more comfortable. Place their tray somewhere secluded where they feel safe.
Cats are usually enthusiastic groomers but when they’re suffering from arthritis they may need your help. Find out what sort of grooming your cat enjoys and avoid areas that are sore. Gentle grooming can act like a massage, relaxing your cat and releasing their happy hormones.
Cut your cat’s claws or provide a scratching post.
Encourage play and interaction to provide exercise and mental stimulation.
Make sure your cat has regular veterinary check-ups.
Remember, arthritis doesn’t go away when the symptoms do – it’s a lifelong condition. It’s important you continue with your cat’s medication even when they seem better. If you stop too soon, the pain and stiffness will return.
Book your Seniors Vet Check during June and July for discounted extras.