Feline Arthritis Pain Checklist

North Carolina State researchers suggest six questions

As any cat owner knows, cats do not show signs of pain the way people or dogs or nearly any other living being does. They usually don’t limp, and they aren’t going to be vocal about it, whining like a dog or crying like a toddler usually is not in their repetoire. Owners are often left guessing what’s going on with their cat, wondering if the cat is simply getting older or something’s amiss, unsure of how to decide.

With that in mind, researchers at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine set out to simplify detecting degenerative joint disease, or feline arthritis, a disease that 90% of cats over age 10 battle in some way through a list of questions.

“It really comes down to understanding what pain looks like in cats,” says Margaret Gruen, assistant professor of behavioral medicine at NC State, in a news release. “People tend to assume that their cat will vocalize or show their pain in the same way a dog might, but chronic pain in cats doesn’t show itself that way. Instead, behaviors that owners might attribute to ‘getting old’ or ‘slowing down’ can often be signs of joint pain or disease.”

Chronic pain in cats is usually noticed when the owner sees an odd thing, such as a cat missing when trying to jump up on the bed or hiding more than usual. “Unless you’re paying attention and know what to look for, it can be easy to miss these signs,” Gruen says.

Since feline arthritis is both common and underdiagnosed, Gruen and her team created a simple checklist for cat owners to use to describe these early signs of degenerative joint disease to their veterinarian.

The checklist is simpler than most diagnostic questionnaires, using six yes-or-no questions for owners to answer:

  • Does your cat jump up normally?
  • Does your cat jump down normally?
  • Does your cat climb up stairs normally?
  • Does your cat climb down stairs normally?
  • Does your cat run normally?
  • Does your cat chase moving objects (toys, prey, etc.)?

“We look at this as a way to start the diagnostic conversation with a veterinarian—the checklist was designed to be reasonable in both specificity and sensitivity, but also user-friendly for owners without overgeneralizing,” Gruen says. Owners can bring the answers to their own veterinarian.

“This practical tool is based on robust data we collected from over 300 cats with and without joint pain,” Lascelles says. “Following diagnosis, other ‘scoring’ systems are used to monitor treatment efficacy, but identifying (arthritic) cats in the first place is very much facilitated by this checklist.”

The researchers hope that their simpler checklist helps increase owner awareness and communication with their veterinarians about this common but treatable disease. They published a paper on this topic in the March 2020 issue of the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.

North Carolina State University News; https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1098612X20907424