Monday, May 13, 2013

Feline Arthritis Part 2: 7 Things That You Can Do at Home to Help

Arthritis changes to an elbow joint
 How exactly do you diagnose your cat with arthritis? Your veterinarian may feel differences between the joints on one side of the body versus the other, or may feel abnormalities within the joints. The cat may display the same signs that you are witnessing at home, or adrenaline may take over and mask the problem. Patience and a calm, cat-friendly environment may allow the cat to relax and allow us to see the problem or, if not, our doctors have a few tricks up their sleeves to investigate further. However, the most effective diagnostic tool for arthritis is often an x-ray. Usually two views of the limbs are taken and analyzed for narrowing in the joint space, thickening of the bone, or formation of new, irregular bony projections in or around the affected joint. It doesn't matter whether there are many joints that are affected or just one - arthritis changes to the bones means pain with movement - a lack of joint cushioning so that bone grinds on bone. Ouch!

One arthritic pair of vertebrae in the lumbar spine
Multiple thoracic (upper back) vertebrae with arthritis changes
In our previous post about feline arthritis, we discussed medical treatments that are available for cats with arthritis to help rebuild and protect joints and decrease pain. However, there are things that you can do at home to help your arthritic cat, as well. Most of the home care options include environmental changes.

  1. Make or buy pet stairs to allow your cat access to favorite spots in the house like beds or couches. This can be as simple as moving a footstool next to a favorite armchair to make one big jump into a set of small jumps.
  2. Make sure that you have a litterbox on every level of your house so that your cat does not have to go far or up and down a lot of stairs to visit one. This will prevent inappropriate urination or defecation around the house. If it is too much work to get to the litterbox, you can bet that many cats will make their own box somewhere else. Also make sure that the edges of the box are not too high, so that it is easy for your elderly cat to get in and out of the box. It may be a good idea to cut down the side of the litterbox a little to help them out. 
  3. Providing extra soft beds at floor level, or even heated beds will help your cat rest more peacefully and wake with less soreness. 
    Thickened toenail that is traumatizing a toe pad.
  4. Make sure that food and water are easily accessible, not up high on a counter, and possibly elevated a little for cats with cervical (neck) pain. 
  5. Cats with arthritis may need extra grooming assistance, and should have their claws checked and trimmed frequently. If they are wearing their nails unevenly, a nail could get caught and torn, or could grow into a toe pad and become painful and infected.
  6. Weight control. Another change that helps arthritic cats is to make sure that they are not carrying around a lot of extra weight. Extra pounds put extra pressure on already complaining joints, so put your pudgy oldster on a diet to ease the burden on his aching joints. Work with your veterinarian to determine a good weight loss plan – you don’t want your cat to crash-diet, because that can cause other health problems.   
  7. Getting your cat up and moving more can help with weight loss and flexibility. With adequate pain control, your cat should show a renewed interest in play, and you should use that to your advantage. For cats with a reluctance to play, you may try offering meals in a food ball, such as the Eggcercizer, which you can find in our office. Ask our hospital kitties for a demonstration! 

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