In the last few weeks I have stressed the importance of maintaining a healthy weight for your pet and that pet obesity can lead to several healthy issues. One of the most common of these obesity related diseases is arthritis, which can affect both dogs and cats. Arthritis is difficult to diagnose and often overlooked in our cat population so I thought I would highlight what can be a source of chronic pain and negatively affect a cat’s quality of life.
Signs of Degenerative Joint Disease
Also known as degenerative joint disease, arthritis occurs when a joint is unstable or is carrying more weight than it was designed to accommodate. This causes the bones to move abnormally, first rubbing against cartilage and then, when the cartilage erodes, rubbing bone against bone. The result is chronic inflammation and is just as painful as it sounds.
The most obvious sign of joint disease is when a cat starts limping. However, there are numerous other subtle signs that may indicate your pet is uncomfortable. Cats may start urinating or defecating out of the litter box because it is too painful for them to jump into it. They can excessively lick in areas that are painful resulting in hair loss on their legs or belly. You might also notice your cat spends more time on one level of the house; this could be because they are avoiding the stairs. These are just a few examples. Bottom line: if you notice any changes in your pet’s behavior, talk with your veterinarian immediately.
Prevent Arthritis in Cats
There are many ways to help prevent arthritis in cats from developing but we are fairly limited with treatment options once it has set in. For treatment and prevention using a glucosamine/chondroitin supplement and a fish oil supplement are the best options. Don’t forget weight management! Helping your cat to shed a few pounds will greatly improve mobility and comfort.
Glucosamine and chondroitin help repair and maintain cartilage. In my opinion, the best brands are Cosequin and Dasuquin, both made by Nutramax. A recent study found that in many brands, there were large discrepancies between the level of active ingredients that was supposed to be in the supplement and what actually was. I have toured the Nutramax plant and feel confident that they are producing a premium product.
The Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil are in my opinion a wonder supplement. Along with helping just about every system in the body they also decrease inflammation in joints and boost the effectiveness of other drugs. In fact, I believe all animals should be on an omega-3 fatty acid supplement for life.
Getting your cat to actually eat either of these supplements can be a challenge. A good option for the fish oil is to a specialty diet such as the J/D diet made by Hill’s Prescription Diets. This is specifically formulated for cats with joint disease. The diet was created using nutrogenomics–a fancy word that means they used DNA sequencing to locate the genes that are active in animals with arthritis and created a diet to alter expression of these genes. Not only is this really cool, but several studies show the J/D diet really works. Weight loss is key in the prevention of arthritis for pets. The other reason J/D is a great option is that it helps promote lean muscle mass to help your cat burn a few more calories.
The best medicine is to prevent arthritis in cats before it sets in! I hope I have given you some tips to keep your pet’s joints healthy. With so many options for preventing arthritis and keeping your pet pain free, you won’t want to wait to get started. Next week we will discuss treatment options if your cat is showing any signs of arthritis or discomfort.
Ashley Gallagher, DVM