Treatment Options for Arthritic Cats

Orthopedic surgeon discusses home management

Steve Budsberg, DVM, a professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, gave veterinarians a seminar on VETgirl, a continuing education network for veterinarians, about treating osteoarthritis (OA). Interestingly, Dr. Budsberg noted that signs of OA pain may not always include lameness.

Approximately 40% of cats have signs of arthritis, with 90% over the age of 12 having radiographic signs of joint problems. Cats are more likely than dogs to have bilateral and multiple joints involved. Cats also are more likely to show decreased activity or shortened strides than obvious limping. However, Dr. Budsberg advises that any cat with radiographic evidence of arthritis should be treated, even if the owner has not noticed signs of pain. Goals for treatment are to decrease pain, improve joint function, and slow the progression of the arthritis.

Osteoarthritic pain results from a combination of nerve and immune factors. Four areas that help cats with osteoarthritis are weight control, nutrition, exercise/physical therapy, and medical therapy. Weight control often involves a combination of decreased calories and increased activity. In the area of nutrition, research has confirmed that omega 3 fatty acids can help with arthritic pain in dogs. There has not been corresponding work done on cats, but omega-3s are worth trying in your cat, as they will not cause any harm. Before you add any supplement, verify with your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist that your cat’s current diet doesn’t already have plenty.

Studies investigating the ideal rehabilitation techniques in cats with arthritis are lacking. Standard dog protocols may be helpful here, too, says Dr. Budsberg, including underwater treadmill exercise, which many cats handle surprisingly well.

Many cats do well on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), but dosing amounts and schedules need to be followed carefully. These drugs are used off label for cats, so you need to discuss them with your veterinarian.

A major therapeutic improvement for arthritic cats is the medication Solensia (frunevetmab), the first FDA-approved treatment for osteoarthritis in cats. This is an injectable therapy using a monoclonal antibody to counteract pain. The monthly injection schedule means owners do not have to give a pill to their cats, which can be traumatic for cats and people.