Just like in people, our pets go through ageing stages in their lives, and just like us health problems change as they age.
Humans are considered middle-aged from around 42-45 years old, which is when most senior health screening programmes start, but are not considered senior until 56-60 years old.
Dogs and cats are generally considered to start their senior years at around 8 years of age, when physiological changes of aging can be detected in brain function, liver function, and other areas. In very large breeds of dog, this can start at 1-2 years younger.
As animals age, it is important that they have more frequent and more extensive examinations, combined with regular testing (blood, urine, xray, ECG etc). read more
Arthritis in cats
For a long time it was thought that arthritis was pretty uncommon in cats, when compared to dogs. Dogs get arthritis very commonly and it causes stiffness, pain, reluctance to exercise and sometimes vocalisation. In cats, it is now recognised that not only do they not show the traditional signs of discomfort such as lameness as clearly a dogs do, but that x-ray examination is not a great way of detecting joint pain either. The changes on x-ray can be incredibly subtle and difficult to see, yet the joint is still very sore.
Recent work has suggested that arthritis affects 90% of cats during their lifetime, far more common than we had thought.
Elbows, knees, hips and spine are commonly affected. Signs of arthritis in cats are often not obvious: reluctance to play, taking time to climb stairs and jumping onto a chair first then onto the windowsill, rather than straight onto the windowsill in one leap.
Treatment for arthritis follows the same model as in dogs and humans: multiple treatments often give better results than one.
In summary, these are the treatment options available for you to help your arthritic cat:
- Exercise; Arthritic cats should be encouraged to continue exercising. Helping them play by chasing a toy is often all that is required. Getting a young kitten can also rejuvenate an old cat!
- Weight Control; It is essential that arthritic cats are not overweight. We have a Weight Management Programme to help you trim your cat’s weight back to normal. Just talk to our nursing staff. Read more...
- Environmental; Lower the sides of a litter tray to make it easier to get in and out, provide steps for easier access to their preferred high perches, hide food in toys to make them search for it, grooming and stroke twice daily.
- Joint Diets; There are special diets that contain glucosamine, chondroitin and essential fatty acids. Read more...
- Joint Supplements; Synoquin EFA contains the highest levels of glucosamine, chondroitin and essential fatty acids. ALL arthritic cats should be on this supplement. Read more...
- Medication; Pentosan is a course of injections that can be given at home or at the clinic, which reduce pain and inflammation in arthritic joints.
- Stem Cell Therapy; This involves activating dormant stem cells in arthritic joints to improve blood flow to the damaged tissue. It involves a day stay in the Pukekohe clinic, and significant expense, but may improve joint function significantly. Read more...
- Drug Therapy; Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Metacam are extremely good at reducing the pain of arthritis. They are safe for long term use, and even safe in early stages of renal failure in cats.
NSAIDs cannot be given at the same time as steroids, or in cats with heart disease. There is a risk of renal damage if the cat has a low blood volume or blood pressure, such as occur with trauma, and the drug should not be given if the cat stops eating, or develops diarrhoea or vomiting.
Liver and kidney blood tests should be done before starting NSAID treatment, as well as a blood count. These tests should then be rechecked after a month of treatment, then routinely carried out every 6 months when the repeat prescription is written. The dose should be reduced to the lowest effective dose based on response to treatment.
- Opiates; Flare ups of arthritic pain can be managed by opiate medication such as Temgesic. This is not suitable for long term use but for short term improvement can be very effective.
- Surgery; Some forms of arthritis are amenable to surgery, which may involve removing the affected joint. This can make an enormous difference to hip arthritis. Read more...
Arthritis in cats is common. Around 90% of them will get it. They can live normal, active lives if some of the steps above are taken. Don’t let your old friend suffer in silence, they don’t need to and they deserve better.
Paul Eason BVM&S MANZCVS (Surgery; Emergency and Critical Care Medicine)