Many people experience arthritis as they age. Pets may as well. My husband and I recently learned our 11-year-old cat Bailey has severe arthritis in her hips and spine. We were shocked. She showed no signs of distress. We had taken her to the vet concerned about possible diabetes due to weight gain and other issues. Her blood work came back normal so the vet did X-rays, which revealed something we weren’t expecting: osteoarthritis. Bailey is now on a regiment of specialty food with fish oil and glucosamine and injections of Adequan, which helps the joint fluid slow the damage and maintain the cartilage she possesses.
Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease in which the cartilage within the joint is worn away. This leads to inflammation, pain, and decreased quality of life. How do pets become arthritic? Some believe genetics. Bailey comes from feral parents, so we know nothing about them. Injury or trauma can lead to the degenerative disease and obesity can contribute to worsening the condition. Reduced mobility and activity as well as reduced frequency in grooming are some of the signs of arthritis. Additionally, occasional lameness or stiffness of gait may be noticed in a cat or dog experiencing the condition.
Arthritis in dogs is more well-known and studied. Until recently, the condition in cats was not commonly diagnosed or treated. Cats tend to hide signs of pain, and therefore, like us, many kitty caregivers don’t recognize or consider this disease in their furry friends. X-rays, like those provided by our vet, helps diagnose arthritis in a cat or dog, but in particular with a cat that tolerates a great deal of pain, like Bailey.
According to the website CatsWithArthritis.com, three in ten cats suffer from arthritis and only seven percent are treated for the condition. Older cats are more prone to the disease. Some studies show as many as 90% of cats 12 and older have arthritis.
Although one may be tempted to give over the counter anti-inflammatory medication to pets, DON’T! especially to cats: aspirin and acetaminophen can be deadly. Your vet can prescribe the right type of drugs to help your kitty. If you have a dog with arthritis, before giving it any human medication, consult your vet as to what dogs can tolerate without causing major harm or death.
There are many great websites about arthritis in pets, including the following:
However, the best advice on diagnosis and treatment will come from your veterinarian. Radiographs are becoming more common as a baseline health exam for pets. Now that I’m the owner of three senior pets, I recognize the advantage of doing such work, as well as blood tests, when my animals are younger. This recent diagnosis for Bailey came as a great shock, and though my husband and I are taking positive steps to help her and keep her as comfortable as possible, I wish we’d known this was coming by having the x-rays done a few years ago. Most animals are considered seniors when they’re 10; we would have been wise to have done x-rays before that age. We have Bailey’s sister, too; we recently had radiographs done on her, and learned she, too, has arthritis, just not as badly. As a precaution, Murphy will also be fed the same prescription food and receive the injections.
Education is key to helping our furry companions; sadly, sometimes that edification comes with unexpected news.
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.