Goals of Treating Feline Arthritis
The goals of treating arthritis are to relieve pain and inflammation, improve mechanical joint function, slow progression of the disease and stimulate the body’s ability to repair affected joints.
Surgical and non-surgical options are available to help manage arthritis, both of which can dramatically improve a cat’s comfort and quality of life. Surgery is usually a last resort, because it can be painful and exacerbate other symptoms that are already associated with the disorder.
Non-surgical treatment options include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), to reduce inflammation and pain
- Chondroprotective agents, to promote heathy cartilage repair (polysulfated glycosaminoglycans, glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, hyaluronan, Vitamin C, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and MSM, among others)
- Opioids, to relieve pain
In many cases, dietary modification and weight loss alone will decrease the discomfort associated with arthritis, since obese arthritic cats tend to suffer more than fit ones. Moderate exercise can stimulate cartilage repair an help delay joint degeneration and muscle atrophy. Physical therapy, including hydrotherapy (water exercises) and passive flexion and extension of affected limbs, can be incorporated into long-term management of arthritis, although most cats resist hydrotherapy fairly strenuously. Less traditional techniques may or may not benefit arthritic cats by helping to ease pain, increase circulation, speed healing and promote wellness, comfort and relaxation. These include: massage therapy to stimulate blood flow and reduce stress, acupuncture, acupressure, chiropractic adjustment, and use of herbal or other non-regulated supplements (“homeopathic remedies”). Many of these adjunct remedies have not been scientifically studied in a well-controlled manner to assess their benefit to arthritic cats. Chiropractic manipulation of animals with musculoskeletal abnormalities is highly controversial.
Surgical treatment options include:
When a cat’s joints have become so severely damaged that non-surgical treatment options don’t resolve its discomfort, surgical options may be considered.
- Arthroscopy is the most minimally-invasive surgery currently available for arthritic animals and can be used to repair damaged shoulders, elbows, stifles (knees) and ankle joints. The surgeon makes small cuts over the joint and inserts tiny cameras to assess joint damage and plan surgical repair, which may also be done through the incisions with specialized instruments.
- Elbow and hip replacements may be available for cats at specialized hospitals, although they are rarely done. These surgeries are expensive and require a long recovery time (approximately 2-3 months).
- Damaged wrist, toe, limb and spine joints can be fused surgically using metal implants.
Prognosis for Cats with Arthritis
Although arthritis is progressive and irreversible, non-surgical and surgical therapies often help affected cats live a fairly normal life. The prognosis for cats with arthritis really depends on its cause. If the condition is caught early and is not exacerbated by age or obesity, the prognosis is usually excellent. Overweight and old arthritic cats are not good surgical candidates. Arthritis caused by immune or inherited conditions tends to worsen with time, although medical and life style modifications certainly still can enhance the cat’s quality of life. A veterinarian is the best one to give owners an idea of what they can expect from the various management options.