As we discussed last week, cats are very good at hiding their pain and it can be difficult to know if they are uncomfortable. The best thing is to voice your concerns to your veterinarian so that you may work together to determine if your cat has arthritis and, if so, the best way of treating arthritis in cats so that she will feel better.
In dogs, the first line medication for treating joint pain is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) such as Rimadyl or Metacam. Unfortunately cats do not tolerate these medications long term and can develop kidney disease from them. In my opinion the only medication that is safe for long-term pain management in cats is gabapentin. This medication works on neuropathic pain and while it does not treat inflammation like the NSAIDs it can help make a kitty more comfortable.
While we are limited in what we can use for oral medications, there are other options for treating arthritis in cats such as laser therapy and acupuncture. Both of these treatments have no side effects and are generally well tolerated in cats. The only downside is that you usually have to bring your cat to the hospital, which is not always enjoyed by our feline friends.
At Friendship Hospital for Animals we have a therapeutic laser that uses specific wavelengths of light to decrease inflammation and stimulate healing. During each painless treatment, the laser light interacts with tissues at the cellular level to increase metabolic activity within each cell. A cascade of beneficial effects is initiated, increasing circulation and drawing water, oxygen, and nutrients to the damaged area. This creates an optimal healing environment that reduces inflammation, swelling, muscle spasms, stiffness, and pain.
You may ask if shining a light on a cat really works; I believe it does. There are more than one hundred rigorously controlled, scientific studies in humans that document the effectiveness of laser for many clinical conditions such as joint pain, hip dysplasia, swelling, ligament sprains, muscle strains, bite wounds, traumatic injuries, post-surgical pain and chronic wounds. It doesn’t work for every cat and can be expensive but I have seen some impressive results in my patients.
Acupuncture is the ancient practice of placing tiny needles in specific points on the body to treat a variety of conditions. Pain relief is the most common use for acupuncture in pets. Again it can be a difficult to gauge if it is effective or not but given our limited treatment options for cats with arthritis it is certainly something worth trying. There is also some evidence that acupuncture can also be used for weight loss.
Remember, if you do notice some stiffness, limping or slowing down in your cat, talk to your veterinarian about your options. Weight loss goes hand in hand with all of these treatment options. Removing any extra weight and stress on your cat’s joints will improve mobility and help make him more comfortable. If you determine that your kitty has arthritis then these are a few things to try to help alleviate pain.
Ashley Gallagher, DVM