Recognizing Arthritis Pain in Your Cat

When working with the Animal Medical Center veterinarians participating in our post graduate training programs, I often say, “Cats are not little dogs.” What I really mean is, a particular disease in dogs does not appear the same as the disease does in cats. For example, dogs with heart disease typically have heart failure from leaky heart valves, while cats with heart disease commonly have abnormalities of their heart muscles, not their valves. When it comes to disorders of the thyroid gland, dogs suffer from an under active thyroid and cats from an over active thyroid.

Normal hips in a cat. Arrows point to nice, smooth joint surfaces.

A pet’s behavior in response to arthritis pain is also different between cats and dogs.

Arthritis is a common cause of pain in dogs and owners of arthritic dogs are quick to point out their dog is limping. Despite the fact that x-rays show evidence of arthritis in somewhere between 15-65% of cats, limping is really uncommon in feline patients. 

Cats with arthritis suffer from weight loss, anorexia, depression, urinating outside the litter box, poor grooming and, in some cases, lameness. One of my 21-year-old feline patients had to be moved onto a single floor of the house because he was too painful to use the stairs to the basement to get to his litter box. He got a new litterbox too, which had lower sides since he couldn’t step into his old one with higher sides.

Both hips in this cat are affected by arthritis. Arrows point to roughened edges of joint.

Pain in cats is difficult for both veterinarians and cat owners to assess. From my veterinarian’s viewpoint, if I put a cat on the exam room floor in an attempt to watch it walk, it will immediately run under the desk and hide. It will definitely not limp as it rockets underneath the desk.

In a recent study evaluating pain assessment in cats by veterinary researchers in North Carolina, cat owners reported they found it difficult to identify mild pain in their cats. Cat owners believed they could correctly identify changes in their cat’s function and activity. Dog owners more readily identify how pain interferes with their dog’s activities, possibly because dogs participate more fully in family activities such as ball toss, Frisbee and hiking.

If you notice your cat moving around less, not using the litter box or showing reluctance to go up and down the stairs, see your veterinarian for an arthritis evaluation.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

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One Response to Recognizing Arthritis Pain in Your Cat

  1. [...] via Recognizing Arthritis Pain in Your Cat « The Animal Medical Center Blog. [...]

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