I’ve already shared some ideas about how to make an arthritic cat comfortable at home. So, let’s turn now to looking at medical interventions.
In this article I’ll look at some of the most common treatment options are out there for feline arthritis, how they stack up and what you should know before you begin any treatment regimen.
JOINT PAIN ASSESSMENT
I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: cats hide pain! What’s more, they’re really good at it.
One of the most useful early treatment paths we doting cat parents can do for an older cat is to have your vet perform a proper pain assessment.
Just like with humans, if you can get to a problem early you’re a lot more likely to get a positive treatment outcome. This is especially important with conditions like osteoarthritis, where the joints will progressively worsen.
Through a close examination, a good vet has a solid chance of pinning down the exact location of pain, swelling and general joint discomfort. They can also have X-rays done if there are any suspect places in need of a closer check.
For more information, head on over to the Morris Animal Foundation’s article on feline pain research.
The good news is, pain medication can undoubtedly help a cat with joint pain. But there’s a few things you need to be aware of before administering pain relief to your cat.
Cats are extremely sensitive to medications. Common human pain relief can be deadly to felines. For example, acetaminophen can seriously damage their liver and certain anti-inflammatories can cause kidney damage.
It’s therefore really important that you only administer vet-recommended medications. Even with cat-safe medication, your vet may need to set up a close blood and urine monitoring schedule.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (commonly known as NSAIDs) are often prescribed for joint pain relief in cats.
While they can make a huge difference to your fluff bandit’s general happiness and well-being, you’re going to need to watch your cat like a hawk, especially at the beginning of treatment.
If you see any unusual side-effects, get your vet on the phone quicker than a kitten chasing a laser pointer.
This fact sheet is a great guide to NSAIDs and the side-effects to look out for.
Alternative pain medications
Our understanding of pain in cats is still at an early stage. For this reason, while other drugs are available, our knowledge about their efficacy and potential side effects is still evolving.
Common drugs your vet may prescribe include buprenorphine (a strong opioid used for acute pain), amantidine (a nervous system inhibitor used for treating chronic pain), tramadol (a mild opioid and anxiety reducing medication) and gabapentin (mainly used as a mild sedative but with pain-relieving properties).
While all these medications have their unique uses, the key in all cases is to carefully and accurately follow your vet’s directions, immediately reporting any adverse side effects.
Encouragingly, ongoing research into feline joint pain relief is yielding new insights into how to keep our dauntless mini-tigers pain-free. One area of particular promise is the use of anti-nerve growth factor, which you can read more about here.
OTHER MEDICAL INTERVENTIONS
A range of other treatment options are available in some clinics, with varying levels of research backing them up.
Cold laser therapy
Cold laser therapy is a somewhat controversial and disputed treatment for joint pain in cats. Over the last ten years or so, it’s become an increasingly common non-invasive treatment to reduce inflammatory joint conditions.
It’s important to point out I think that research into its efficacy is of a fairly poor quality. My advice would be to focus on more mainstream joint pain treatments until the research is more conclusive.
While this interesting substance is injected, it isn’t technically a drug. It’s known as a “nutraceutical,” a nutrient containing health-giving additives.
Derived from cow trachea, Adequan is powerful as both an anti-inflammatory and a cartilage-protecting agent. Typically, Adequan will be administered twice weekly in the initial stages, with less frequent injections required for ongoing maintenance.
PetMD has an interesting write-up which you can read here.
There’s one cardinal rule when it comes to managing a cat’s joint pain: talk to your vet.
Cats are tricky creatures when it comes to pain. A regular line of communication with a vet you trust is the best resource you can have to understand what’s going on with your cat’s pain levels and how best to manage them.