Obstacles in Diagnosing Joint Conditions in Cats

November 1, 2013

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Now that cats are living longer lives with advances in veterinary medicine, joint conditions have become more more prevalent in senior and geriatric cats. Fortunately,  there are now more methods to assess and help diagnose progressive joint conditions in cats. By doing so, you can help ensure that your feline patients enjoy quality of life throughout their senior years.

Behavioral Changes

Since diagnosing joint health issues in cats is so difficult, many veterinarians have to rely on the owner’s observations. Any behavioral changes, such as a change in mood or physical activity, may indicate hidden discomfort. Cats are masters at masking any health issues including illness and pain, but their demeanor can be telling.

Behavior during an examination is also a poor indicator since cats tend to be fearful of veterinary examinations . This is why it is so important to question the owners about any changes or abnormal behavior. Even if the cat is not as physically active as it once was, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s due to joint discomfort. However, if the suspicions are strong enough, sometimes a vet will treat for joint conditions and ask the owner to carefully track the behavior to see if there’s any improvement.

Affected Joints

According to the Animal and Veterinary division of the FDA, the elbows and hips are typically the most affected joints in cats, but shoulder issues have also been reported.

The report also states, “In one study, 74 of 218 cats were diagnosed with osteoarthritis. Of the 74 cats, 21 (28.4 percent) had osteoarthritis in the limbs and the vertebrae, 24 (32.4 percent) had osteoarthritis in the vertebrae only, and 29 (39.2 percent) had osteoarthritis in the limbs only.”

Usually if one joint is affected, the same joint in the opposing limb will also have some deterioration. Therefore, if the right hip and left hip are both affected, the cat may not show any difficulty walking because of the compensation. This is another reason that diagnosis based on a feline’s physical behavior can be misleading.

Clinical Signs of Joint Conditions in Cats

The clinical signs of joint conditions in cats include symptoms that may indicate a different issue, so it’s important to see a vet if the owner observes any of the following signs:

  • Change in attitude
  • Poor grooming habits
  • Weight loss
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Not using the litter box
  • Inability to jump
  • Generally less active than normal

Pain Assessment Tool

Tabby-HunterDr. Lascelles (BSc, BVSc, PhD, CertVA, DSAS(ST), DECVS, DACVS) of the College for Veterinary Medicine focuses his research on pain assessment and management. In 2008, Dr. Lascelles began developing a more objective pain assessment tool. He used a collar-mounted activity monitor to measure activity levels to help determine whether or not there was evidence of decreased activity and mobility. Dr. Lascelles’ method is another tool that veterinarians can use in order to evaluate and diagnose joint conditions in cats.

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