4 Steps to Better Comfort and Mobility

It happens to the best of us. Despite all efforts to avoid it, we are likely all going to develop some mobility issues at some point in our lives. Whether from injury or just “wear and tear”, the cartilage that lines the bones within our joints does not last forever. The consequences? Soreness, inflammation, stiffness and discomfort. The dreaded Osteoarthritis.

Cats are no different. It has long been incorrectly assumed that cats do not suffer from osteoarthritis. It was believed that their slight builds and small body size protected them from the effects of aging in this respect. But the truth is that 80% of cats older than 12 years of age suffer from arthritis pain and decreased mobility.

Those of us with senior pets accept that they will “slow down” as they get older. While true, it may not be the whole story. As I have stated in other blogs, cats are experts at hiding their illnesses from us. So how do we know if our cats are uncomfortable? They rarely vocalize if painful, they are secretive about their habits and are notoriously sneaky.

Here is a list of some of the subtle behaviours that can indicate discomfort. If you think your cat is uncomfortable, bring it to your Veterinarians attention, as they can help you interpret what you see.

Reluctance to jump onto furniture and window ledges, the loss of ability to gracefully climb and descend stairs and walking stiffly are the more obvious indications of arthritis pain. But sleeping more, decreased appetite and thirst, and even urine and stool accidents outside the litter box can be a sign of a cat’s reluctance to get up and move around the house to perform their normal behaviours.

So what can be done about this? Being uncomfortable is one of the biggest enemies of a quality life. It is everyone’s goal to make sure our pets are as comfortable as they can be for as long as they live.

When we think about the management strategy of arthritis in cats, think about it as being shaped like a pyramid.

1) The “base” of the pyramid is weight and body condition management and exercise

Keeping cats lean and fit will significantly decrease the risk of arthritis, and makes those with arthritis easier to manage. Helping your cat to exercise (yes, cats can be encouraged to exercise!) through play, hiding food or using food release toys can help to get them up and moving and maintain strong and toned muscles to support joints. It’s the reason why scientists invented the laser pointer – as a toy for their cats!

2) The next step is diet and supplements

Prescription Diets makes a specific joint mobility diet for senior cats called J/D. It is slightly calorie restricted to assist in weight management but is also highly fortified with Omega-3 fatty acids (particularly EPA and DHA). These have proven very effective in reducing inflammation and degradation of cartilage. It is an effective early strategy for mildly arthritic patients, but also an important component of a more encompassing pain control plan. Dasuquin is an effective joint supplement which can be mixed with canned food or sprinkled over dry kibble. It is pharmaceutical grade glucosamine/chondroitin which is well known to improve the vital health of cartilage. It also contains avocado/soybean unsaponifiable extract which enhances the effects of glucosamine and inhibits the expression of inflammatory compounds involved in the breakdown of cartilage. It is scientifically studied and proven to be a significant factor in improved mobility. It is tasteless and administration is very simple; open the capsule and mix the powder it contains with canned food or sprinkle it on kibble. No stress involved at all.

3) Alternative Therapy

Have you ever had acupuncture, therapeutic ultrasound or laser therapy? All have proven beneficial in helping to relieve aches and pains. The only challenge is that some feline patients to not have enough… patience. But for a certain personality of a cat who is willing to accept them they can another ancillary step in a pain control program.

4) The top step; anti-inflammatories and pain-killers

As our pets become sorer and move “up the pyramid”, we eventually start the discussion of medications for pain and inflammation control. Cats are a tricky species in that they do not tolerate many of the class of painkillers we would take ourselves or those we would use in our canine patients. Aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen are all EXTREMELY TOXIC to cats and need to be avoided at all costs. There is actually very few pain controlling products licensed for long term pain control in cats. As such, we are often timed forced into “off-label use” situation where we use a product for a purpose or length of time it was not intended for. This is an important point of discussion with the owners of senior pets. We want what is best for our patient’s well-being and at the same time, do not want to expose them to undue risk…

Metacam is an anti-inflammatory painkiller used for long term pain control in dogs and short term ‘post-surgical” in cats. It is licensed as a long-term painkiller for cats in Europe but has yet to receive the same licensing here in North America. After ensuring that an older pet’s liver and kidneys are functioning normally, and at appropriate doses and administration intervals, it can be very effective for restoring comfort and has demonstrated a wide margin of safety. But it must be used correctly and with care.

Gabapentin is relatively new on the scene. It is the parent compound of Pregabalin which is used for pain in people. It needs to be compounded into a formulation and dose small enough to give to cats. It takes a while to exert its effects but it quite effective and has few side effects. We use it as a secondary painkiller for cats already on Metacam, or a primary painkiller for those cats for whom Metacam would not be appropriate.
Buprenorphine is a painkiller in the same class of medications as codeine. It is best used as a short-term adjuvant painkiller in conjunction with other strategies. It can be sedating and this may require a dosing adjustment. It is not generally associated with nausea or vomiting, and we do not see the constipation issues seen with codeine-like medications in people. It is given as small volume of liquid simply placed “into the mouth” as it absorbs through the mucous membranes.

So I’m sure your all wondering “What about your cat CiCi?” Well, as she approaches her 20th birthday (yup.. the big 2-0!) Dr. Jacqui and I are very watchful of her mobility and comfort. She eats Prescription Diet J/D kibble as her “main course” in addition to Dasuquin powder mixed in with her canned food “appetizers” every day. 3 weeks ago, after watching her slowly ascend the stairs to her bedroom (she lets us sleep there too), we started her on Metacam. Of course, we did our “due diligence” by checking her liver and kidney function before. It has made a huge difference for her. And no problems so far.

If you think your cat is slowing down, it may not be due to simple “advancing years”. Please let College Manor Vet help. Restoring the comfort and well-being of our patients is one of the greatest satisfactions a Veterinarian can have.