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Osteoarthritis in Cats: New Treatment Available

Osteoarthritis in Cats

               Osteoarthritis is often thought of as a common disease in older dogs causing lameness, difficulty getting up and slower gait. But, roughly 90 percent of cats over the age of ten also experience pain and mobility changes due to arthritis.  However, symptoms are often less noticeable in cats than in their canine counterparts. 

               What is osteoarthritis?  Simply put, osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD) is the breakdown and wearing away of the cartilage in a joint.  Loss of this cushioning cartilage pad causes bone to rub on bone creating pain and inflammation within the joint.  Pain causes decreased mobility.

Arthritis may affect a cat’s ability to jump up onto her favorite perch such as a windowsill, may make her slower to go up and down stairs and may make her seem less affectionate as petting certain areas may be uncomfortable.  Arthritis may also affect things like grooming behaviors and litter box use.  Osteoarthritis cannot be cured, but it can be managed in cats.

While dogs are often treated with NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), long term use of this class of drug is tricky in cats—they don’t metabolize NSAIDs as well as dogs and we must be very cautious with use in cats.  Cats are occasionally treated with steroids; however, steroids can have undesirable side effects as well.  Other pain medications such as gabapentin, buprenorphine and others may also be used for arthritis pain in cats. NOTE: Acetaminophen is not an NSAID but it is highly toxic to cats. NEVER give your cat acetaminophen (Tylenol) as it can be fatal to cats. 

Supplements such as glucosamine and omega-3 fatty acids and alternative therapies such as acupuncture and cold laser therapy may also be beneficial. Keeping cats at a healthy weight and modifying the environment to make it easier for cats to get around can also help to improve mobility and to ease arthritis pain.

While all of these treatments may provide some relief to cats with arthritis, there is a new FDA approved drug called Solensia (frunevetmab) produced by Zoetis that may be more effective in managing osteoarthritis in cats.  Solensia is the first drug of its kind—a monoclonal antibody that targets nerve growth factor, a specific compound that contributes to arthritis pain. Given to cats as a monthly injection by a veterinarian, Solensia improves mobility for up to 75% of those treated.  Improvement may take two to three months, but treated cats display improved jumping, improved mobility on stairs and increased comfort.  Cats who respond well should continue to receive Solensia monthly for long term control of arthritis symptoms.

Solensia can be used safely in cats with kidney disease and other health conditions and does not interact with other supplements, vaccinations or medications. Side effects are limited but may include vomiting and pain at the injection site.  This drug is not recommended for pregnant, breeding or lactating cats or to cats weighing less than 5.5lbs.

Although cats are good at hiding symptoms of arthritis, there are many ways to treat symptoms and to improve quality of life in our senior feline companions.  Novel drugs like Solensia may be the future of arthritis control for cats providing long term relief from this common cause of decreased mobility.

Solensia is now available at Patton Veterinary Hospital! Ask our veterinarians if this or other arthritis treatments are right for your cat.

This blog brought to you by the Patton Veterinary Hospital, serving Red Lion, York and the surrounding communities.