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How to detect osteoarthritis in cats

Older cats often suffer from joint diseases such as osteoarthritis, the number of sufferers is probably high and many cats are neither diagnosed nor helped. Cats are masters at hiding pain and discomfort, so it’s important to learn what signs to look out for.
How to detect osteoarthritis in cats

What is osteoarthritis?

Chronic joint diseases, such as osteoarthritis or spondylosis, impair the cat's joint function when the cartilage wears down and the joint receives an abnormal load. In cases of spondylosis, cartilage and bone bridges form between the vertebrae in the cat's spine.

Both disease states often result in the cat suffering from a painful inflammation that causes stiffness and reduced function.

These diseases can occur without a clear underlying cause and depend, to some extent, on mechanical wear and tear, for example, trauma or congenital defects.

Abnormal wear and tear such as being overweight can also worsen the condition.

Signs and symptoms that your cat has pain in the joints

  • Your cat becomes less active - they sleep more, hunt and play less, sleep in more accessible places, and interact less with people and other animals.
  • Changes in coat and claw care -  your cat may wash less often and get matted or tufted fur. It is also possible that they over-wash areas with painful joints. Overgrown claws are another sign.
  • Different temperament - your cat may be more grumpy when handled, or towards other animals.
  • Less movement - joint problems can be manifested by stiffness or reluctance to jump, difficulty climbing stairs or walking on the litter box.

Cats are masters at hiding pain and discomfort

It can be difficult to see your cat's suffering as cats are masters at hiding pain and discomfort. They are also very good at adjusting their activity level, what they do and how they do it.

Cats do everything they can to reduce the impact of the problem and to minimise the risk of it being noticed. Unlike humans or dogs, cats rarely show obvious lameness. Their movements are well-balanced to reduce any signs of weakness.

How you can help a cat with stiff joints

  • Make adjustments around your cat's difficulties in everyday life. For example, you could use a chair or bookshelf as steps to any high sleeping areas, or move bedding to a lower level.  
  • Keep your cat at a heathy weight to ensure the load on their joints is ok. 
  • Analgesic and anti-inflammatory medicine can reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Diet and supplements can be tried to support joint function and appearance.

How are cats examined?

Degenerative joint disease is more common and usually more serious in an older cat. During examination, the veterinarian combines the symptoms that have been seen in the home environment with the signs of pain or discomfort that can be detected when checking the mobility of joints, widened joints due to deposits and that any swelling or other noticeable changes in specific joints are noted. If there is any uncertainty, x-rays can be taken of the joints.

Examine your cat regularly 

Examine your cat regularly at the vet and compare the cat's status from year to year. This way you can watch for any changes that have taken place and help them to adjust.

Don't just accept that an old cat will be tired and inactive. It's not true! There is a lot to be done to keep them fitter and happier later in life!

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