We love our cats and want them to have happy and active lives. While we can't prevent certain illnesses such as arthritis, we can take steps to help alleviate some of the problems associated with them. Identifying the cause of your cat’s mobility issues gives you the advantage of knowing how you can help them. A way to help is by providing them with supplements, alternative treatment modalities, or medications that can relieve some of their discomfort and give them back the quality of life they deserve. Your cat’s veterinarian can guide you as to what are the best options to help your cat feel their best.
Identifying the Cause(s) of Your Cat's Mobility Issue
Lots of problems can underly your cat’s behavioral and mobility changes, and it’s important to work with your veterinarian to determine which ones are at play in your cat’s specific situation. Arthritis is certainly one of the most common, but it isn't always the culprit. Other potential causes might include degeneration or weakening of their nerves (including that associated with diabetes in cats), muscle weakness and muscle mass loss, luxating patella, or even a torn cruciate ligament.
On the other hand, it isn’t always an orthopedic or neurologic condition that’s hindering your cat’s mobility. A decrease in their vision, such as that associated with high blood pressure resulting from hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, or one of many other conditions, can easily affect your cat’s behavior, mobility, and activity level. Similarly, the cause could be pain unrelated to their muscles, joints, or bones — common problems include inflammation of or a mass associated with one of the organs within their abdomen (e.g., spleen, liver), or even something as “simple” as an overgrown or ingrown nail.
Concerned that your cat might be in pain? Here are some things you can look for to help you determine if your cat might be suffering in silence from the pain of arthritis, or any of a host of other painful conditions.
Understanding the Driving Force Behind Cat Arthritis: Inflammation
Arthritis, which literally means “inflammation of the joint(s),” is a slow and progressive disease with many causes that affect the ENTIRE JOINT (joint capsule, muscles, ligaments, tendons, etc.). One of the largest driving factors for the development of arthritis is inflammation. It doesn’t matter where in the body it occurs or the cause. And one of the most significant causes of inflammation in a cat is obesity.
One of the most important things you can do is help prevent and control inflammation in your cat's body. Here are a few ways to do this:
Prevent your cat from becoming overweight:
- The presence of fat cells in the body causes a constant low-grade secondary inflammatory condition.
- Always measure their food with a measuring cup and feed based on your cat’s individual metabolism. Your veterinarian can help you determine how much to feed your cat.
- Never feed your cat table food as this contributes to obesity.
- Be aware of how many treats you're giving and the calories they're adding to your cat’s daily intake.
- Have an appropriate exercise routine:
- Nothing that requires leaping off of high places.
- Slowly condition your cat by gradually increasing daily exercise.
- Use monthly parasite preventatives:
- Keep your cat on monthly flea and tick prevention, as well as heartworm prevention. These help for reasons other than their original intent of parasite control.
- Fleas can cause allergic reactions in some cats, which in turn can cause inflammation in the body.
- Cats can get heartworm disease but there is no treatment for it. It can cause trauma and inflammation in the heart and lungs. Remember, we want to do everything to avoid inflammation, so avoiding these parasites can help for this reason and many others.
- Have your cat regularly examined by a veterinarian:
- There are many reasons for a cat’s pain and mobility issues, so it's important to bring your cat to see your veterinarian at least once per year, and then twice per year once they become a senior.
- Your veterinarian can thoroughly evaluate your pet for signs and regions of pain, localizing the problem and determining the cause. Only then can an effective and well-balanced pain management plan be determined. Again, it’s not always arthritis, and different conditions benefit from different treatments and approaches.
- It's also recommended to have bloodwork done annually (complete blood count, chemistry-checks on organ functions, and a urinalysis) to monitor your cat’s general health status.
The sooner you detect a condition that causes inflammation, such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, or kidney disease, the sooner it can be addressed and treated. With a thorough examination and history, and certain laboratory and other diagnostic tests, your veterinarian can thoroughly and fully evaluate your cat for the presence of conditions that could be causing your cat pain or other problems.
Many cat owners hesitate to bring their cat to the vet due to the stress they feel it causes. Here are some tips to help lessen the stress of a vet visit for your cat:
- Leave the carrier out regularly, especially a few days prior to the appointment.
- Feed or give treats to your cat in the carrier.
- Spray the carrier with Feliway and then spray a towel or bandana with Feliway to leave in the carrier. Start this a few days prior to the vet visit.
- About 30 minutes before leaving for the appointment, spray the car with Feliway.
- As long as your cat doesn’t need food withheld prior to their vet visit, you can give them Vetriscience Composure treats to help calm them.
Also speak with your veterinarian to see if they recommend a calming sedative for your cat.
Medications, Supplements, and Other Treatments to Help Your Cat's Inflammation and Pain
Because of differences in the way they handle and tolerate drugs, there are typically fewer safe and effective pain medications available for cats than for dogs. That said, there definitely are some safe and effective pain medications labeled for use in cats, and some prescription medications that aren’t specifically labeled for use in cats have been successfully used “extra-label” (under veterinary guidance) to treat and manage pain.
Of course, it’s also true that pain management in cats with arthritis isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” topic. Achieving their best comfort often requires more than one medication and supplement, and it frequently benefits from additional treatments or "modalities," such as acupuncture, physical therapy, etc. Work with your veterinarian to figure out the best pain management approach and combination of treatments for your cat.
Joint Supplements for Cats
*NOTE* DO NOT give human joint supplements to your cat, as they may contain ingredients harmful to your pet and may not actually contain the correct amount of each listed ingredient. Only use veterinary-formulated joint supplements for your pet.
PRO TIP: Choosing between chewable or powder supplements depends on your cat's preferences. If your cat is picky but gobbles down their wet food, powder might be best. If they are used to taking treats and aren't too finicky, the chews might be your best bet.
Omega-3 Supplements for Cats
The Omega-3 fatty acids found specifically in fish oils can help to decrease pain in arthritic cats, by minimizing inflammation. They may also help in cats with cardiovascular or kidney disease, and can also help to keep their skin and coat shiny and healthy, too. Nutramax Welactin is a great fish oil product for cats, and easy to dispense and administer given its liquid formulation. It is recommended to only use supplements labeled for cats.
What Ingredients to Look for in Feline Joint Supplements
I usually recommend starting with Glucosamine and MSM, and as your cat ages and possible symptoms arise, then you can find ones with more ingredients, as per the list below:
- Glucosamine – helps slow down collagen degradation and inhibit inflammation producing factors.
- MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) – crucial for connective tissue and an excellent anti-inflammatory agent. It may also have hepatoprotective properties as well (which protects the liver). Helps with pain due to how it works.
- Boswellia serrata – good anti-inflammatory activity.
- Superoxide Dismutase – helps to scavenge molecules known to cause damage to tissues.
- Yucca schidigera – a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent.
- Chondroitin Sulfate – acts as an anti-inflammatory agent as well as helps reduce the breakdown of collagen.
Consult your veterinarian before starting a joint supplement for their recommendation on the best one for your pet, and to be sure it is safe if your cat has any other health issues. Whatever you and your veterinarian decide for your cat's joint supplement, be sure that it isn’t adding too many additional calories to your cat’s diet. Excessive weight and obesity in cats can worsen their arthritic pain (along with causing or exacerbating a host of other conditions).
Specialty Cat Diets for Joint Health
Speak with your veterinarian about prescription joint/mobility diets specifically formulated to help your arthritic cat. The prescription weight loss diets for cats can help, and there are a few to ask your veterinarian about. Hill’s has a specific mobility support diet for cats called k/d+Mobility. There's also Royal Canin's Mobility Cat Food, designed to prevent crystals as well as maintain weight.
Other Treatments for Cat Arthritis
- Adequan is one of the medications that has been successfully used “extra-label” in cats suffering from arthritis (and even bladder inflammation). Adequan is an injectable therapy licensed to help dogs with certain types of arthritis. It acts by helping to protect the cartilage within joints and helps to reduce inflammation. Cartilage is the thin, smooth layer of cells that covers the bony surfaces within joints. Healthy cartilage is necessary to prevent the painful "bone on bone" rubbing that characterizes degenerative arthritis. Talk with your veterinarian to see if “extra-label” use of Adequan injections might help your arthritic cat.
- Stem cell therapy treatment, while still in its infancy and needing further scientific research, does seem to be showing some promise for helping cats with arthritis. Depending on the extent of your cat’s mobility problems and your finances — stem cell therapy often costs in the $2,000-$3,000 range — this could be something worth researching and discussing with your veterinarian. If you have pet insurance, some policies cover this type of treatment. You can see this recent Washington Post article and this wonderful synopsis of veterinary stem cell therapy on the Data For Good website.
Prescription Medications for Cat Arthritis and Mobility Issues
Prescription medications often play an important role in pain management for mobility-restricted cats. The specific medications needed and the degree to which your cat might need and depend upon them is different in each situation, and will likely change over time and as some of the supplements discussed above are added in. What is also very important to note is that pain relieving medications should only be given to your cat under the guidance and recommendation of your veterinarian. Continued use of these medications will require bloodwork every six months to monitor their effect on your cat’s body.
If you need help giving your cat a pill, check out these two articles for tips and suggestions. "Options for giving your pet a pill," and "Chase the pill after you give it."
WARNING: Do not administer your own pain medications, or even “pet aspirin” to your cat without first speaking with your veterinarian. Many well-intentioned cat owners (and even human medical professionals) have inadvertently injured their cat or complicated their care by administering over-the-counter or human-prescription medications to their cat. Please do not do this, always speak with your veterinarian first.