It's fairly common knowledge that older cats tend to suffer from osteoarthritis. Now, researchers at the University of Montreal in Quebec have identified ways to determine the severity of a cat's condition, and a possible effective treatment. If you have an older cat, you may have noticed that her steps are more tentative, that she has some trouble jumping up on furniture, into her bed, or that she has stopped leaping after her favorite toys. Perhaps it's so bad that she doesn't even seem to like being handled anymore.
Or perhaps you haven't noticed anything at all, since she may be instinctively hiding that she's in pain. Also, it can be difficult to see whether their ability to move has decreased, as their inherent agility can also help to mask such problems. So it's entirely possible that your senior cat has arthritis and you don't even know it, despite the close attention you give her.
It doesn't help that cats aren't good patients at the vet; they tend to make themselves as small as possible on the exam table and may hiss at, or even bite, the vet whether there's pain or not. So until now, determining the amount of pain a cat is in has been difficult.
One of the things that the researchers in Montreal looked at was how much pressure they could put on a cat's paw before it would withdraw it. The less pressure applied, the more sensitive the cat likely was to pain. They also looked at cats' "kinetic gait analysis," which reveals just how much of a decrease in range of motion has occurred, and they measured daily activity in the arthritic cats in the study with an accelerometer.
It's difficult to treat feline osteoarthritis as well, however, these researchers treated their arthritic cats with meloxicam, an anti-inflammatory medication that's often used in other animals, over a four week period, and saw that cats experienced relief from their pain for as much as five weeks after their medication was stopped.
It's currently unclear as to whether meloxicam is safe for long-term use in cats. One article on PetMD, written by veterinarian Jennifer Coates, discusses the warnings and risks associated with meloxicam, specifically, renal failure and death. Dr. Coates explains that she had stopped prescribing meloxicam for all her patients, except those requiring palliative care pending euthanization, after reports of problems associated with the medicine started coming in. Her article makes note of a study showing that meloxicam may not be as dangerous for cats as was thought, and that an ongoing low dosage may be okay.
The researchers at the University of Montreal saw no side effects in the cats that were treated.
Diagnosis of osteoarthritis can be done using x-rays, but it's very difficult to tell just how much pain the cat is in regardless of what the x-rays reveal. The researchers' methods may help veterinarians determine their patients' pain levels, ranges of motion, and more, and find effective ways to treat it.
As always, if you suspect your cat is ill in some way, contact your veterinarian and discuss the pros and cons of all treatment options.