Thanks to advances in nutrition and veterinary medicine plus the advantages to health when living full-time indoors, domestic cats nowadays are living longer. There are probably more elderly cats today than there were in the past. VCA Hospitals say “The population of senior and geriatric cats is increasing”. Therefore, there are more older cats with osteoarthritis, but it appears that this condition, although extremely common in older cats, is seriously under-diagnosed (Dr Fogle in Complete Cat Care).
This places an onus, I believe, on the cat caregiver to be observant. You should be able to see changes in behaviour which indicate arthritis although it is easier to spot joint discomfort in dogs than in cats. Dogs tend to limp if they have arthritis whereas cats tend to hide their discomfort.
When domestic cats have joints that hurt because of this disease they often reduce physical activity and become more passive which effectively hides the problem. However, an observant cat caregiver can pick up the symptoms as indicated in the Infographic.
The Infographic also touches on some homecare treatments and caregiving methods to make life more comfortable for an arthritic cat. I would certainly suggest talking to your veterinarian about this and perhaps doing more research online but I hope this page helps.
I would like to expand on the medication and diet for an arthritic cat. Good quality nutritional joint supplements are nowadays specifically formulated for cats. They normally contain essential fatty acids (EFAs) which reduce inflammation. They also contain natural glucosamine and chondroitin which helps to improve cartilage quality. The antioxidants in these medications help to reduce free radical damage.
Although there’s not been a study to the best of my knowledge on the value of joint nutrients in cats, they’ve been shown to be effective in people, horses and dogs therefore I think we can make a presumption that they are beneficial to cats.
They may assist a cat in early or mild osteoarthritis but are less effective when joint disease is more advanced.
A problem with elderly cats suffering from arthritis is that they probably also have other diseases such as kidney disease or thyroid problems.
Dr. Bruce Fogle, a high-profile vet and author in the UK, recommends the non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug meloxicam (this may be branded under a different name in the USA and other countries). He says that it is very effective for reducing pain, but it must be used with caution. It should be avoided when there are additional problems such as dehydration, liver problems, kidney problems, diarrhoea, low blood pressure and dehydration.
Quite a lot has been said about the painkiller Metacam online but in my experience, it can cause kidney disease. I would use this with great caution and dog vet advice. But I will listen to advice from people who know more than I do on the topic of painkillers for cats (please comment).
Cats given meloxicam should be switched to wet foods and the caregiver might consider providing an attractive water fountain to increase water consumption which is useful for all older cats and especially those on meloxicam.
Another form of treatment which may assist is the alternative medical treatment of acupuncture. Note: Complete Cat Care is one of the best books on domestic cat caregiving I have read. Highly recommended. Please consider buying it.
Below are some more pages on arthritis.