The challenges of improving feline mobility

When it comes to conditions that remain largely hidden, feline osteoarthritis must be right up there as one of the most common conditions people never knew their cat suffered from. We took a closer look…

  • Unlike in dogs, where OA is largely secondary to dysplasia or ligament problems, in cats the primary cause of the condition is largely unknown. It’s still very much underdiagnosed as cat owners don’t often realise there is a problem.
  • It’s a condition mainly affecting older cats, so when they become more sedentary because of their stiff joints, owners often attribute this to ageing.
  • It can be difficult to pick up the signs of OA in the consulting room and many cats dislike being manipulated. One way around this is to think about performance tests that can be carried out, so jumping down from a chair or up into the carrier (which cats are always eager to return to once they are out) can help. If there is a safe enclosed area in the practice where there are steps, then that can be another good test of mobility. Refusal to stretch, jump or tackle steps may provide a good indication that something is wrong.
  • It’s important to try and assess the impact of the condition on the cat, as around 90 per cent of older cats have radiographic signs of OA but only 50 per cent are thought to show clinical signs.
  • Treatment should be multimodal. Environmental modification can include providing ramps, lowering bedding to ground level and providing softer bedding. Pain management should be addressed. A clinically proven supplement is often well accepted by both cats and owners who find it easy to give.
  • There are far fewer surgical interventions for OA carried out in cats – possibilities include joint replacement, arthrodesis and joint debridement but in reality, these are rarely recommended or accepted by owners as a suitable way forward.
  • Think also about the behavioural impact – reduced opportunities for observation (if they can’t reach a window) or exploration and play may result in fewer opportunities for stimulation. Pain can also lead to withdrawal from social interaction. Consider advising owners about the use of appropriate toys and providing gentle interaction. Training in physical therapies such as massage may be of benefit.
  • Sharing owners’ stories of their experience with their cats OA on your noticeboards, social media or websites may be one way to improve awareness and recognition in other clients. Senior and Mobility clinics can also be used as a ‘next step’ for those who think their cat could have a problem.
The challenges of improving feline mobility