Osteoarthritis (OA) is a chronic degenerative disease resulting in changes to the tissues that comprise a joint, such as cartilage, joint capsule, and surrounding bone. OA can develop due to a primary problem with the joint (excess force or abnormal shape) or may develop through wear-and-tear activities of daily life. The primary cause of OA often cannot be identified in cats and the disease is less well understood compared to dogs.
The joints most commonly affected in cats are the hip, stifle (knee), tarsus (ankle), and elbow. Older cats are more likely to be clinically affected by OA. In general practice, OA in cats is an underdiagnosed disease; however, in recent years there is increasing awareness of this condition leading to more frequent diagnosis and better patient care.
Clinical signs of OA in cats are often less obvious than in dogs. Lameness or changes in gait may be observed. Perhaps more commonly, you may note a change in your cat’s activity level or a reluctance to jump up or down.
Diagnosis of OA in cats is made by a combination of physical examination and imaging modalities such as x-rays. Due to their reluctance to be manipulated and held, cats may be challenging to examine; therefore, different types of activity evaluations may be used to assess your cat’s mobility. X-ray changes of OA are apparent in up to 90% of cats, with only an estimated 50% of these having clinical signs of impairment due to joint pain.
As a chronic condition, OA often cannot be cured, but can be managed to maximize your cat’s comfort and well-being. Discussing treatment options with a surgeon can help to ensure all options are considered for your pet.