Many cats live very long and happy lives – in my veterinary practice I regularly see cats of twenty years of age and older. The only downside to this is that elderly cats are naturally more prone to the health problems that can accompany old age such as kidney failure, cancer and arthritis.
Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints and occurs when the cartilage, which acts as a cushion and shock absorber, wears away. This causes pain and discomfort, but cats are remarkably good at hiding pain and can react to pain in different ways, so it can be difficult to tell if your cat is arthritic. The common signs are:
Change in behaviour.
Some cats become less active and sleep more, others become more anxious and restlessness. Some cats are irritable and avoid contact, others become more needy and attention seeking.
Finding it hard to get comfortable.
Cats may change their usual sleeping place, or constantly move from place to place to sleep.
Inability to get into litter tray easily,
leading to urinating and defecating outside the tray.
Cats in pain often eat less than usual.
Reduction in grooming activity
leading to matted and unkempt coat.
Cats are more likely to develop arthritis if they are overweight or have had joint injuries in the past, and there can also be a genetic predisposition in some breeds, such as Maine Coons. Although arthritis can affect any joint in the body, the spine, hips, shoulders, elbows, knees and ankles are most often attacked by arthritis. One study showed that 90% of cats over the age of 12 had arthritic change in one or more joints.
If you suspect your cat has arthritis, ask your vet for an examination. Tests such as X rays may be helpful in diagnosing which joints are affected and how badly. Apart from any necessary medication there are also natural ways to minimise joint pain, so here are a few ideas to help keep your cat free of pain and stiffness:
Keep the weight down.
Overweight cats are more prone to arthritis and other diseases such as diabetes.
Encourage gentle exercise.
Symptoms will be worse with inactivity. Even old cats can be persuaded to play if you can find a favourite toy or scratching post.