Did you know your cat could suffer from degenerative joint disease? Most of us do not realize that our cats can suffer from DJD just as we do. We attribute lameness as arthritis to dogs, but most of us do not think of a cat suffering from lameness.
Why? Because cats have a tendency to hide their deficiencies, most often it takes a veterinarian to find it. A cat that is suffering from degenerative joint disease may limp for a moment or two after waking up from a nap, but then will walk normally and you will never really pay attention to the symptom.
What is DJD? In a healthy joint the cartilage covers and cushions the opposite ends of the joint. In DJD the cartilage, (which has no nerves,) wears away through time and age, leaving the bones (which have nerves) to touch each other and thus create pain. It is sort of like having sandpaper between your knees and walking with the sandpaper rubbing against you. Not comfortable at all!
What are the symptoms? Since cats are very clever at hiding their symptoms, it is up to you, the pet parent, to be aware of your cat's behavior, especially as your cat ages.
In addition to lameness which you may not notice right off hand, your cat may take to hiding more, this is a genetic behavior going back to the days of wild cats, as they try to hide their health problems from their enemies.
Other signs might be licking or biting a certain area as an attempt to make the pain go away. Looking for soft and warm places to lay down. A decrease in appetite as walking or climbing to the food and water dishes is too painful. Litter box problems, it may be too painful to climb into the box or hurt to cover up its messes. Suddenly not jumping up on its favorite couch or chair may become apparent, as it hurts to jump.
If you are in the habit of keeping your cat's food in a high place and you are beginning to notice it is not eating like it should, I recommend a trip to the vet for a check up, as you do not want your cat to become dehydrated.
Early detection is important; however, with a cat's ability to hide its symptoms it can be difficult. That is why knowing your cat and its habits are really very important, as the changes can be subtle and not really noticed until the cat ages. DJD is a slow moving disease and unless you are truly aware of your cat's daily habits you may miss it all together, assuming that poor grooming and grumpiness is just a sign of aging and it really is a sign of pain.
There are two types of DJD. Primary DJD which is the normal wear and tear on aging joints and secondary DJD which is caused by other conditions. Trauma, hip dysplasia, malformed joints, tumors or autoimmune diseases can be causes of secondary DJD.
Your vet can examine your cat and manipulate its joints, feel for heat at the joints and take X- rays, but the best authority on helping find the cause of your cat's discomfort is you. Cats can hide their reaction to pain in the vet's office, but you by knowing your cat's habits can tell the vet first hand how you cat is behaving at home. That is why knowing your cat is so important.
What is the treatment for DJD? Generally a vet will prescribe a non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug for long term use, along with Omega-3 fatty acids, surgery might be necessary for a really bad joint, but in general managing your cat's activities is one of the most important things you can do.
If your cat is overweight, reducing the amount of food is necessary, dry food which is high in carbohydrates should be fed sparingly, eliminate extra treats and table food scraps. Every ounce lost is less weight on a sore limb and really counts.
Making food and litter boxes more accessible is a help, carpet and padded pet ramps makes it easier for your cat to get to its favorite places. In some cases a heated bed offers a great deal of comfort,
As humans, we really do not like to be in pain and we relish the fact when someone offers to help us either by helping to eliminate the pain or just making our lives more comfortable, your cat feels the same. It is important that you do not try to give your cat any human pain relievers or any other over the counter pain killers, they could be lethal for your cat. See your vet for any medication you need for your cat.
Kitty cannot tell us he/she is in pain, but I will say this once more, if you pay attention to your cat's normal everyday habits, you will be able to sense the fact your cat is hurting, and then you can do something to help Kitty get better.
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