Photo: PxFuel

As we all have witnessed in the last year, technology has changed how we live, work and even experience new things. Needless to say, technology has also paved the way for advances in veterinary medicine and treatment, which means our pets are now living much longer lives. 

While we get to cuddle our furry friends for longer, this has also led to an increase in the number of pets living with chronic diseases, one of them being osteoarthritis. 

What Is Osteoarthritis?

They manifest pain through reductions in play, grooming, socialising, and appetite and increases in hiding and sleeping.
Photo: PxHere

Osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease causes pain and inflammation in a cat's joints, and until recent years this condition in cats has sadly fallen under the radar. 

It used to be thought that osteoarthritis only affected dogs, but according to the US Food and Drug Administration's Animal Health Literacy centre, this degenerative condition is a far more common disease than most cat owners realise. 

The centre states that this condition causes the normal cartilage cushion of the joints to break down, eventually leading to pain and decreased joint movement, and sometimes even the formation of bone spurs. 

Unfortunately, while osteoarthritis will most often affect cats in their geriatric years, it can also affect cats of all ages due to trauma. 

Signs To Look For

So how exactly do you know if your cat has osteoarthritis? The truth is, the signs aren't all that obvious, making it all that more difficult to identify. Furthermore, due to their small size and agility, cats are good at tolerating and hiding pain caused by the condition. 

To minimise any discomfort they might have, they very cleverly hold off on certain activities such as climbing the stairs or jumping on or off the furniture. According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, lameness and changes in gait may be observed and you may also note a change in your cat's activity level.

If you notice the following signs and changes in your cat's behaviour, it might be a good idea to bring him in for an appointment with your veterinarian. 

• Swollen joints
• Irritability
• Reduced mobility
• Difficulty jumping or going up and down the stairs
• Stiffness in joints

Treating The Problem

While non-pharmaceutical interventions may easily include a reduced-calorie diet for weight loss or physical rehabilitation techniques amongst others, pharmaceutical treatment methods are limited. 

If your cat has been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, the first thing you should know is that it is a progressive, degenerative disease and sadly, it worsens over time. Secondly, treatment for this condition doesn't always come easy. 

In a set of guidelines of Pain Management for Dogs and Cats, the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Association of Feline Practitioners state that both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical intervention can be combined for pain management. 

While non-pharmaceutical interventions may easily include a reduced-calorie diet for weight loss or physical rehabilitation techniques amongst others, pharmaceutical treatment methods are limited. 

When it comes to pain relief for your feline, drugs such as tramadol and gabapentin have shown promising results in improving mobility and quality of life of geriatric cats with osteoarthritis. 

Unfortunately, its undesirable side effects prevent many veterinarians from using it as a long-term solution. With research still ongoing, it is tough to say just how safe some of these medications are for your pets.

Promising Results

There is some good news: In a recently published study from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, it has been found that the drug amantadine has shown some positive effects. The drug, used to treat the flu in humans, was chosen due to its ability to decrease pain sensitisation. 

The study, which aimed to determine if amantadine would improve owner-identified mobility impairment associated with spontaneous osteoarthritis in cats, followed and monitored the activity level of 11 cats over a seven-week study period and produced some promising results. 

On day seven of the study, these cats were randomly given amantadine or a placebo treatment for three weeks, followed by the alternative treatment for the remaining three weeks. Activity was also continuously monitored with a collar mounted system and mobility-impaired activities were rated using a weekly questionnaire. 

Owners who were tasked with assessing their pet's quality of life (QoL) during the study, reported a marked improvement. 

Overall, eight out of the 11 owners who assessed the global QoL at the end of the study responded that global QoL had improved by 49 percent and the remaining three responded that it was the same as before the study. 

While not all owners reported an improvement, you'll be glad to know that none of them responded that QoL had deteriorated during the study. What this shows is that amantadine can very likely be a viable option in controlling pain caused by osteoarthritis, contributing to the growing list of therapeutics for this important condition. 

Didn't I say there was good news? However, there was a downside – minimal adverse effects such as vomiting were also reported but as it occurred in similar frequency during amantadine and placebo treatments, it was unlikely that amantadine was the main cause. 

Needless to say, this is a very positive step towards providing our feline friends with another form of treatment to help with his pain and improve his quality of life because the truth is – that's all we want for our furry pals. 

More information on the study can be found in the Journal of Feline Medicine And Surgery

Text: Melissa Especkerman