Feline arthritis is much more common than most cat owners realize, and affected cats are at increased risk for conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, hepatic lipidosis, osteoarthritis, and certain cancers. Our Wales Animal Clinic team chronicles all the details of three fictitious feline arthritis cases to help clarify this significant issue. 

Feline arthritis case #1: Tabitha, the untidy tabby cat

Tabitha is a 12-year-old tabby whose owner brought her to the clinic for veterinary evaluation when she started eliminating outside the litter box. For two months, Tabitha did her business in other locations, greatly frustrating her owner.

Cats can eliminate inappropriately for numerous reasons, including a dirty or ill-placed litter box, health reasons, such as kidney disease or urinary tract infection, and stress. Our team’s first step was taking a detailed history about Tabitha’s environment, and we learned that her litter box was in a suitably quiet, private location and that her owner cleaned the box at least three times a day. Next, we performed a thorough physical examination, which revealed no obvious problems, and blood work that was also normal. About 90% of cats older than 12 years of age have some degree of arthritis, so we wondered if that was the problem. Many arthritic cats experience joint pain when getting in and out of their litter box, so they seek other bathroom facilities. We took X-rays that showed slight osteoarthritis (OA) changes in Tabitha’s hips, and developed a treatment plan that involved:

  • Medication — We prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatories to help control Tabitha’s joint pain.
  • Environmental management — We also asked Tabitha’s owner to make some at-home adjustments, such as a low-sided litter box, ramps to her favorite elevated resting places, and elevated food and water bowls that were easily accessible.
  • Exercise — We encouraged Tabitha’s owner to exercise her using a wand-style toy for at least 10 minutes twice per day to improve her muscle strength and joint function.

After three days, Tabitha started using her new low-sided litter box and, according to her owner, is much more energetic and active.

Feline arthritis case #2: Charlie, the chunky Chartreux

Charlie is an 8-year-old Chartreux who was significantly overweight at his annual wellness examination. Obesity can lead to several serious health issues for cats, so our team devised a weight loss plan to help get Charlie back to his ideal weight. This plan included a prescription diet, limited treats, and an exercise program. At Charlie’s two week recheck, he hadn’t lost any weight, and his owner explained that she was having trouble getting Charlie to exercise. He seemed interested in playing with a flirt toy but would stop after one or two half-hearted attempts.

Feline obesity and OA often go hand in hand, because excess weight places strain on the joints and the adipose tissue then produces inflammatory cells that exacerbate joint inflammation and pain. Knowing this, our team took X-rays and found OA changes in Charlie’s elbows and stifles, explaining why he didn’t want to play. Charlie’s treatment plan involved:

  • Medication — NSAIDs were a big part of Charlie’s treatment plan, because alleviating his joint pain would help him move more, which would help him lose weight, which would alleviate the joint strain. 
  • Weight loss — Losing weight was the most important issue for Charlie, and we encouraged his owner to continue his weight loss plan.

Once Charlie’s joint pain was alleviated, he was able to exercise more, which helped him lose weight. He reached his ideal weight in six months, and is now an active, svelte, handsome cat. He continues to get NSAIDs to control his OA pain, and we monitor his joints so we can instigate other treatment measures, if necessary.

Feline arthritis case #3: Manny, the misunderstood Maine Coon

Manny is a 4-year-old Maine Coon. His owner brought him to the clinic for a neurological evaluation, because jumping to his favorite resting place on the top of the refrigerator had become difficult. She had videoed him in action, so we were able to assess the situation—Manny went to jump, but hesitated, and when he jumped again, he didn’t quite make his mark. Manny’s neurological and physical exams and blood work were normal.

Maine Coons are at increased risk for hip dysplasia, a condition that typically leads to OA, which often inhibits a cat’s ability to jump to high places. Charlie became irritable when we palpated and manipulated his hips, so we took X-rays, and found significant OA changes. Charlie’s treatment plan involved:

  • Monoclonal antibody treatment — Charlie’s owner was unable to medicate him orally, so once a month we give him an injectable monoclonal antibody treatment for his OA pain.
  • Environmental management — Charlie’s owner placed a box on the counter next to the refrigerator to help Charlie access his favorite resting place. She also provided a low-sided litter box.
  • Weight control — Manny is not overweight, but keeping him at a slim body condition score (BCS) is important to help prevent excess joint strain, so we recommended methods to ensure Manny stays at a healthy weight. 

Feline arthritis is prevalent, and our team can devise a treatment strategy to help improve your cat’s quality of life according to their specific case. If you suspect your cat has OA, or they are exhibiting behavioral changes, contact our Wales Animal Clinic team.