Research has shown that 30% of cats over 8 years of age, and a stunning 90% of cats over 12 years of age, have arthritis. These figures should give the veterinary community, which doesn’t give nearly as much thought to arthritis in cats as it does to dogs, something to think about. What is generally perceived as “slowing down” or “a little stiff” may be a sign of significant joint deterioration, and probably causes quite a bit of discomfort in most older cats.
Arthritic cats often gradually stop jumping up as high as they once did, and may be reluctant to use the stairs. (Arthritis can cause litterbox problems if there is not a box on every level of the home!) Providing “steps” (a box or stool, for instance) up to a bed, chair, or other favorite high spots may be greatly appreciated by an older cat.
Cats cannot adequately metabolize many of the arthritis and pain medications commonly given to dogs, such as carprofen (Rimadyl). Moreover, ibuprofen (Advil), naproxyn (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) are all highly toxic to both cats and dogs. Meloxicam (Metacam) is a newer NSAID that is commonly used for post-operative pain but only for a short time. Some experts claim it can be given long-term at a very low dose, but others are wary of the significant potential for kidney damage in cats. An opioid called buprenorphine may be called for in severe cases. It’s given into the mouth but need not be swallowed. It lasts about 12 hours; and there is a new longer-acting form as well. Aspirin can be used, but the dose and schedule are extremely limited due to cats’ inability to metabolize it efficiently–never give your cat aspirin without specific directions from your veterinarian.
The good news is that there are simple, inexpensive nutritional supplements that are very effective and, most important, very safe. Supplements for arthritis include: glucosamine sulfate (250 mg per day), and MSM (methyl-sulfonyl-methane) (200 mg per day). Both of these supplements have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Glucosamine supplies the basic building blocks of cartilage and helps maintain the fluid that cushions and nourishes the joints, and MSM provides elemental sulfur for the body to make certain amino acids and other compounds. But they are not quick fixes—it may take 3-5 weeks for improvement to be noticeable (MSM may take less or more time), and they must be given daily without fail to prevent return of pain. They may not work in all cats. But many guardians notice significant improvement in their cat’s activity and flexibility. Glucosamine is often packaged together with chondroitin, another cartilage compound. However, the evidence is less clear that chondroitin is effective, and it is much more expensive. Plain glucosamine appears to be adequate in most cases; but today there are products with glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM together that may be cost-effective.
Another cartilage building block, hyaluronic acid, is also available in oral form. This is the basic ingredient of Adequan, an injectable drug. However, these injections need to repeated regularly and there is always a risk of infection. Hyaluronic acid comes in oral capsules, but by far the most effective form I have found is a saline-based liquid, Hyalun PRO 30. It’s made for horses, but I take it myself (1 ml per day) and also give it to the cats. A cat needs just a few drops per day mixed into wet food or given directly by mouth (it has a slight salty taste). I have tried multiple hyaluronic acid supplements, but nothing compares to this product. It is an excellent and very cost-effective way to go.
Some herbs, such as Boswellia (frankincense), appear to be effective anti-inflammatories, but few herbs have been thoroughly studied for safety in cats. Boswellia is traditionally used in combination with other herbs in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. Since some herbs can be extremely toxic to cats, it’s best to consult with a veterinarian trained in the use of western or Chinese herbs.
The antioxidant algae blend, BioSuperfood may also minimize the inflammation and pain of arthritic joints.
Omega-3 fatty acids also have excellent anti-inflammatory properties and are featured in veterinary diets for arthritis; click here to read more about Omega-3s .
Many older, arthritic cats are “heat-seeking missiles.” Most heating pads for humans turn themselves off after two hours, but my old cat really appreciated the heated mattress pad from Costco I got him for Christmas! Other options go from a “self-heated” bed like Aspen Pet Self-Warming Cat Bed that needs no electricity; to the chic Thermo-Kitty Deluxe Hooded cat bed!
From a holistic viewpoint, no physical condition is simply physical. In energetic terms, disease, including arthritis, starts on the energetic plane and progresses through the mental and emotional spheres before manifesting itself in the physical body. One way to address the deeper layers is through the use of flower essences, which can heal the imbalances on the mental and emotional planes. Another way to look at this is that mental “stiffness” ultimately contributes to stiffening of the physical joints. Spirit Essences has an essence remedy called “Creak-Away” that’s designed to keep the animal mentally and emotionally “flexible” and minimize the energetic stresses that contribute to the development of arthritis.
Acupuncture, chiropractic, herbs, laser therapy, homeopathy, specific nutritional strategies and other holistic treatments may also be helpful for arthritic cats. For a practitioner in your area, visit www.ahvma.org or call the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association at (410) 569-0795.