A Guest Blog by: Viki Smirnova, a Senior Content Editor at helpful resource for pet parents ThePets.net, shares information about osteoarthritis symptoms in cats and gives recommendations for exercises.

Do you know? According to the US Food and Drug Administration, Osteoarthritis is very common in cats, but less is reported. Cats are adept at hiding pain due to their survival instinct, so cat parents cannot recognize their cat’s signs and pains due to osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis generally affects older cats, but other ages may also be affected. Being a responsible cat parent and concerned about your cat’s health, in this article, you can know about osteoarthritis and approved activities and exercises for cats with this condition, read this post to the end.

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis can be defined as a chronic and progressive degenerative disease in which changes occur in the joint tissue, such as the joint capsule, cartilage, and surrounding bones. 

When this normal cartilage cushion breaks down in the joint, it will cause pain, slow down movement, rub the bones together and form bone spurs, etc.

@zaniastudio / Freepik

Causes of Osteoarthritis

The cause of osteoarthritis in cats is still unclear. Predisposing factors are also unknown, so many more studies are needed in this field. In humans, osteoarthritis can be mainly caused by two reasons; primary cause, secondary cause.

The primary causes may be the joint’s mechanical wear and tear, but there will be no underlying cause. In secondary, after a joint injury or abnormality, osteoarthritis is caused, like rheumatoid arthritis in humans, which is an autoimmune disease. At the moment, we can assume that some causes may be the same in cats.

These factors can increase the risk of osteoarthritis in cats such as:

  • Genetics (Hip dysplasia, patellar luxation)
  • Injury or trauma
  • Acromegaly
  • Obesity
  • Old age

As mentioned earlier, cats are experts at hiding pain and disease. At some point, cats show some signs, but cats’ parents assume they are normal, such as sleeping more and walking stiffly. That’s why you need to closely watch your cat’s behavior and activity to diagnose the condition early.

Here are some signs and symptoms that your cat may show and you need to make an appointment with your vet, such as:

  • Stiffness after exercise
  • Hesitance, reluctance, or refusal to jump up or down
  • Reluctance to going up or down on stairs
  • Loss of muscle strength 
  • Difficulty to use a litter tray
  • Reduced mobility
  • Swollen joints
  • A grating sound in the joints
  • Changes in grooming (less or over-grooming)
  • Unexplained irritability or aggression 
  • Spending more time alone
  • Increased time spent resting or sleeping
  • Avoiding interaction animals and people  

Approved activities and exercises for Cats

Consult Your Veterinarian First

Before starting any exercise in a cat with arthritis, it is best to consult with your vet first. A vet can recommend the best exercises along with medications, diet, and therapies. If you visit your vet regularly, he will monitor all progress and changes in health.

Recommended Exercise 

When you are going to start exercising, it is recommended to warm up your cat. Playing or walking gently for a minute or two can help the cat move quickly. A general warm-up also helps reduce cramps, sprains, and muscle injuries.

If your cats don’t like to move at first due to joint pain, you can use the treats as an incentive. You can also use positive affection such as hugging and petting, to help your cat start moving.

After warming up, start with a light walk because it will strengthen ligaments, muscles, and tendons. You can walk your cat for 15-30 minutes, and this activity can be done 5 days a week, which will help blood circulation in stiff joints. Just be sure not to indulge your cat in activities where she spins, jumps, or turn quickly because it can damage her joints.

If your cat shows heavy panting or any signs of pain, stop the exercise activity, and see your vet. Pushing a cat over her limits will cause extreme injury to cats.

Help your cat cool down after exercise

When your cat gets enough exercise, it’s essential to give her cool down periods. Please give her a comfy place to rest so her heartbeat will get to every day. Cooling down also helps reduce joint pain and stiffness and helps remove lactic acid from the body.

You can massage your cat during the cool-down period because it will help eliminate osteoarthritis pain.

During exercise, if your cat is in pain, then you should stop exercising her immediately. It is only possible when you know the signs of pain your cat shows during exercise. Pain is hard to get through but not impossible; you just need to closely observe your cat’s behavior and physical signs like:

  • Stop doing exercise
  • Being grumpy
  • Laying low and not wanting to move
  • Squinty eyes
  • Heavy panting
  • Drooping whiskers
  • Dropped ears
  • Refusing food or treat

How exactly should a cat parent coax their cat to actually walk, though? What are some ways to get them actually involved in this type of activity?

Walking a dog is a bit easy, but it seems like a challenging activity when we think about walking a cat. Normally you should walk your cat; if she stays at home without activity or with less activity. 

In the case of osteoarthritis, walking becomes necessary as a remedy.

If your cat is already trained on a leash, then it won’t be a problem for you. Just put a harness and leash on your cat and start walking in the garden or even inside the house. However, if your cat doesn’t train on a leash and never wears a harness, you should train her.

@bilanol / Freepik

Leash training needs positive reinforcement and a lot of patience. Here are some tips for leash training for your cat, such as

  • Never use a collar, as it can damage your cat’s neck if your cat is a puller
  • Gradually introduce the harness and give your cat time to explore it
  • Give your cat a treat when she accepts the harness
  • Let your cat explore the house with a harness and leash
  • Never force your cat to walk because she is already in pain due to osteoarthritis
  • Give praises and treats to your cat when she starts walking with you.

Osteoarthritis is common in cats, but due to poor diagnosis, it goes unnoticed. You should carefully observe your cat and consult your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment. These activities and exercises above can also help your cat suffering from osteoarthritis.

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