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Caring for your arthritic cat

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By Dr. Jessica Vogelsang
 

"My cat's slowing down with age." "My cat can't jump onto the counter to get its food the way it used to." "My cat once loved being petted, but now it gets crabby when I rub its back."

Sound familiar? It's possible your senior cat has arthritis. Being the elusive and secretive beings that they are, cats often show very subtle signs of arthritis that may go unnoticed unless the owner is looking for them. The exact prevalence of arthritis in cats is unknown, with estimates ranging widely depending on the study, but most clinicians agree it is an underdiagnosed problem in cats.

The signs of arthritis vary, but most owners first notice them when their cats have difficulty jumping. A cat may take a few extra attempts, slide off the countertop, or just start meowing until someone picks it up. The cat may also simply spend more time lying around on the couch, or have a lower tolerance for touch. Rarely does arthritis in cats manifest as outright limping.

Once a veterinarian confirms the suspicion of arthritis though an exam and radiographs, the owner needs to decide on a course of action. The options are a bit more limited for cats than they are for dogs and humans.

Weight loss is a huge help for overweight cats, reducing stress on diseased joints. Many cats benefit from joint-protective supplements, such as Cosequin. Acupuncture and physical therapy are adjunct treatments that many owners also feel are helpful for their cats.

Medication options are limited in cats, unlike in other species. Medications for dogs and humans must never be given to cats, as they have the potential for severe side effects, including death. Meloxicam is the one NSAID routinely used in arthritic cats, but due to the potential for organ damage, the patients must be carefully monitored by their veterinarians.

The good news is that with a little detective work and a willingness to try a few different approaches, many older cats can get a sufficient level of relief from their achy joints. 

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