by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.
Osteoarthritis can be defined as progressive, non-inflammatory, irreversible deterioration of the articular cartilage in a pet's joint. It can be a painful condition. As a result of the pain, an affected pet may show lameness and stiffness after prolonged rest or excessive exercise. They may be reluctant to move about normally in their daily lives. They may exhibit irritable behaviour when touched or approached.
We used to believe it was a common problem for dogs but rare for cats to suffer. We now know that belief was wrong. One study has shown that 80% (4/5) of cats less than 5 years of age have some degree of osteoarthritis. Another study found 92% of all cats over the age of 12 years affected by the disease and 100% of cats over 15 years old have osteoarthritis.
Why do you suppose cat owners and veterinarians alike, failed to recognize it so commonly affected cats? One reason is probably the fact that cats often disguise the fact they are in pain. In the wild, cats that appear sick or injured are vulnerable to predators. Well, in addition to osteoarthritis, there are many other problems that may cause a cat to be in pain. Dental problems, urinary tract disorders, bone disease and cancer all can be a source of pain. It's very important for owners to recognize signs, sometimes rather subtle, that could indicate their cat is in pain. Let's review some of the symptoms to watch for.
Vocalizing: Is there a change in the meowing, purring, hissing or growling shown by your cat? Does it happen at unusual times or places or fail to happen as it once did?
Daily Habits: Does your cat withdraw from social interaction? Any decrease in appetite? A change in sleeping or drinking habits? Has there been any failure to use the litter box? Does your cat sleep more? Have you noticed it grooming itself less, does it look unkempt?
Self-mutilation: Have you noticed your cat licking, biting or scratching itself more than usual?
Activity level: Have you noticed your cat reluctant to move, having difficulty rising from rest? Is it restless, repetitively getting up and lying down? Does it tremble or shake? Has there been any limping or have you noticed your cat reluctant to jump up? Is it hiding or avoiding handling?
Posture: Does it generally lay with its feet underneath? Does it arch its back or tuck in its abdomen?
Facial Expression: Is your cat panting when at rest? Have you noticed a glazed, wide eyed, sleepy appearance or a vacant stare? Are its ears flattened, its pupils enlarged?
Self-protection: Is your cat now reluctant to be picked up? Does it rest one limb or hold it up when at rest? Is it protective of any part of its body?
Aggressive: Is your cat not showing its usual attitude or personality? Does it growl, hiss or bite when it has normally been a friendly cat?
If you notice any of these signs with your cat, it could mean it is in pain. A veterinarian should be able to help you investigate your cat's health further. Obviously, If the cause of the pain can be identified and eliminated, that's best. However, pain control for our pets has come a long way in the last few years. There are now much more effective medicines available that have been proven safe for cats. If long term pain management is necessary for a cat, there should be ways to achieve that. Barry Burtis is a local veterinarian. Past Pet Tales can be found at www.baycitiesanimalhospital.ca