Degenerative Joint Disease (Arthritis)

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Feline arthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD), is very common in cats. DJD occurs when the cartilage (firm, connective tissue that protects the ends of bones) within a joint is worn away. This lack of cartilage in the joint can cause chronic unbearable pain and can lead to poor quality of life.

Cats with degenerative joint disease most commonly have pain in their lower back, elbows, knees, hips, shoulders, and hocks (the equivalent of our ankles). Studies indicate that as many as 92% of cats may have DJD. You may think that DJD only occurs in older cats, however even young cats can get it. You just might not notice it until their condition worsens with age.

Your Role in the Diagnosis

You are crucial in finding out if your cat has DJD because you know their normal temperament, disposition, routines, and activities.

  • Any change in your cat’s normal behavior may be a sign of pain.
  • Keep a notebook and write down your cat’s normal behavior, any changes, and/or new behaviors.
  • To identify changes, compare your cat’s daily behaviors and reactions in various situations to when they were young adults.
  • Any changes in your cat’s normal behavior can mean your cat is either in pain, sick, or stressed. These are all reasons to speak with your veterinarian right away.

Signs and Symptoms

It can be very difficult to realize that your cat is in pain because the signs are subtle and difficult to identify. Cats have a natural instinct to hide or mask signs of pain or weakness. This is because cats are solitary hunters – who protect themselves from predators and perceived threats. Even cats that live solely indoors still have this protective instinct.

Cats with DJD rarely limp because the disease usually occurs in the same joint in both legs (e.g. both knees). This differs greatly from arthritis in dogs, who may exhibit more pain in one leg so there is a noticeable limp. Discomfort with walking is also easier to recognize in dogs because they are usually taken on walks outdoors.

If your cat displays any of the following changes, contact your veterinarian immediately.

  • Decreased jumping up or down, or not jumping as high as before
  • Difficulty or hesitancy going up or down stairs; slower on stairs
  • Stiffness
  • Less active and playful
  • Withdrawn, hiding, or increased “clinginess”
  • Decreased grooming or over-grooming a painful area
  • Aggressive when handled or towards another pet
  • House-soiling (not using the litter box for urine and/or stool)

Management of the Pain

If your veterinarian diagnoses your cat with DJD, there are excellent treatments for this condition. So don’t delay and contact your veterinarian if you notice any possible signs.

Please remember to NEVER give your cat any medication without direction from your veterinarian. This includes over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen (i.e. Advil or Motrin), acetaminophen (i.e. Tylenol), or aspirin. Many of these drugs can be deadly to cats.

  • Once a diagnosis is made, your veterinarian will help you develop a treatment plan for your cat.
  • Treatment includes both medication and simple changes in your home to allow your cat to maintain their normal behaviors.

Routine Veterinary Care

catcheckup-infographicsYour cat needs preventive care examinations or check-ups at least once a year and more often for senior cats and those with chronic conditions.

These visits are important to your cat’s specific healthcare plan. Your veterinarian will discuss and assess topics such as:

  • Nutrition
  • Lifestyle
  • Environmental enrichment or physical and social surroundings
  • Disease and parasite prevention
  • Behavior

Why Are Preventive Care Check-ups So Important?

  • During the check-up, veterinarians can often detect conditions that may affect your cat’s health long before they become noticeable so they can be managed or cured before they become painful or more costly.
  • Cats age more rapidly than we do, so preventive care check-ups are a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle.
  • As a member of the family, your cat deserves the best possible care. Together, you and your veterinarian can best decide how to accomplish that by meeting at least once a year to talk about your cat and any changes that have taken place in their life.
  • With the information you bring and a good physical check-up, a plan will be created to meet the needs of your cat and the family.
  • You are an important member of your cat’s health care team. You can be helpful in helping your cat live a happy and healthy quality of life.

 

What Your Veterinarian Looks For?

Are you curious about what’s going on during your cat’s yearly check-up? It may seem like your veterinarian is just petting your cat, but she is examining your cat’s entire health and lifestyle during the checkup.

Don’t have a veterinarian? Find a feline practitioner in your area.

Pet Health Insurance

Did you know that 1 in every 3 cats will require unplanned veterinary care each year for conditions such as tooth infections, diabetes, kidney disease, thyroid disease, heart disease, etc.? If your cat becomes ill, would you have $500 – $2,000 to pay for this unexpected and unbudgeted veterinary expense?

It is for the unexpected situations—accident and illnesses—that cat health insurance can have the biggest benefit. Ideally, your cat’s veterinary care should be not be based on what financial resources you have available when your cat unexpected becomes ill. Health insurance for your cat can help ensure she receives the care she deserves without any delay.

When considering cat health insurance, it is important to understand that each plan is different. Some plans cover preventive care such as vaccinations, deworming, and flea and tick prevention, but not all include this kind of coverage. Like human health care insurance, pet health insurance will have a monthly premium. However, a small monthly premium can be much more affordable than a large veterinary bill when your cat unexpectedly becomes ill.

Health Insurance for your cat can help protect you from large, unexpected veterinary bills and ensure your cat gets the medical care he needs, when he needs it. – Dr. Apryl Steele, DVM

When selecting a health insurance policy, consider the following questions:

  • Do you need a policy only for unexpected or emergency expenses?
  • Is preventive care and checkup coverage necessary?
  • Does the policy cover accidents, illness, and/or preventive care?
  • Are hereditary conditions covered?
  • How are pre-existing conditions defined? It is possible to submit medical records to most insurance companies to determine what they would consider a pre-existing condition. Pre-existing conditions are ineligible for reimbursement, although some have a time frame at which they are no longer consider pre-existing.
  • Does the policy require you to pay the veterinarian and apply for reimbursement (most policies do)?
  • Can you choose any veterinarian?
  • If the premium changes, what are those changes based upon? Does it increase annually with age?
  • What is the maximum reimbursement amount?
  • Is there a deductible (amount due before policy comes into effect)?
  • What is the percentage of the total bill that is reimbursed? (usually 80% – 90%)
  • What is the average time it takes for reimbursement?
  • What is the policyholder satisfaction rate?

 

Health insurance for your cat can help protect you from large, unexpected veterinary bills and ensure your cat gets the medical care they need, when they need it. For information on pet health insurance providers, visit: petinsurancereview.com.

Diabetes

What is Diabetes Mellitus?

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Feline diabetes, known as diabetes mellitus, has become an increasingly common condition in cats. It often occurs in cats that are overweight and/or older. As in humans, cats have a pancreas that should produce insulin to regulate the sugar (glucose) in their bodies from their diet. Diabetes occurs when a cat’s body is not able to properly balance out the sugar in their bloodstream.

If your veterinarian diagnoses your cat with diabetes, you will need to work together to create a plan to manage this disease. You are an important part in creating a treatment plan for your cat. When diabetes goes untreated, you may notice increased signs and symptoms (listed below) which can progress leading to pain, nerve damage, muscle weakness, other diseases or conditions, or even death.

Risk Factors

The following factors could put your cat at higher risk for developing diabetes:

  • Male
  • Neutered
  • Over seven (7) years of age
  • Overweight or obese
  • Taking medications such as corticosteroids
  • Other conditions happening at the same time, such as infection, hyperthyroidism, and/or renal issues

Diagnosis

Feline diabetes is not always easy to diagnosis. Your veterinarian will need to conduct a thorough examination of your cat, obtain an individual medical history, and conduct laboratory tests. In the early stages of diabetes, you may notice that your cat “seems a little off” or “less interactive.”

Signs and Symptoms

If you notice any of the following behaviors or problems in your cat, contact your veterinarian. This information may alert them to the possibility that your cat has diabetes.

  • Weight loss
  • Drinking more water than normal
  • Drinking from unusual places
  • Begging for food/increased appetite
  • Decreased ability to jump
  • Walking on heels instead of toes (known as “plantigrade stance”)
  • Lethargy or decreased activity
  • Urine is sticky or difficult to clean
  • More frequent urination or urination outside of litter box

Testing

If your veterinarian suspects that your cat has diabetes, they will need to conduct blood and urine tests. These tests will allow them to rule out other diseases or conditions.

When they review the blood test, your veterinarian is looking for repeated abnormally high levels of blood glucose, referred to as hyperglycemia, and the presence of glucose (sugar) in the urine, referred to as glucosuria.

Treatment

Once your cat is diagnosed with diabetes, you will work with your veterinarian to create a monitoring and treatment plan. There are different options to treat diabetes. Also, many cats have other diseases or conditions which may complicate treatment. It is crucial to be honest with your veterinarian about your goals, time, and ability to monitor and treat your cat. So, try and maintain a frequent, open dialogue.

Goals of Treatment

  • Potential remission is the goal, but is not possible for all cats
  • Blood glucose regulation and stabilization
  • Stable, appropriate body weight
  • Reduction of signs and symptoms (noted above)
  • Good quality of life
  • Avoiding hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), ketoacidosis (cell starvation where fat breaks down to provide energy), or neuropathy (pain or damage to nerves)

Treatment Options

Monitoring

An important part of the treatment plan is monitoring your cat’s response to the insulin and making adjustments as needed. There are three different monitoring protocols – intensive, standard, and loose.

You and your veterinarian will determine the method that works best for you and your cat.

Many diabetic cats can live happy and normal lives. To help your cat live a long life:

  • Maintain recommended checkups
  • Work to keep their blood sugar level stable
  • Strive to maintain a healthy body weight
  • Manage other diseases

You are a key part of your cat’s diabetes treatment plan. Remember to be open and honest with your veterinarian about your ability to monitor and provide insulin therapy. Each cat is different and your veterinarian will work with you on an individualized healthcare plan for you and your cat.

Why You Need to Visit the Veterinarian

As a member of the family, your cat deserves the very best possible care. One of the best ways to ensure your cat stays healthy is by making sure they have an annual preventive care check-up, or more frequently for senior cats and those with chronic conditions.

During the check-up, your veterinarian will review your cat’s nutrition, lifestyle, environmental enrichment (key resources such as food, water, litter box, scratching areas, play areas, resting areas, etc.), disease and parasite prevention, and behavior. This is also the perfect time for you to ask questions and share any changes in your cat’s behavior. Even very minor changes could be a sign of a medical issue.

With a thorough physical exam plus the information you share, you and your veterinarian can create a plan to meet the individualized needs of your cat. Regular check-ups are key to a healthy and happy cat.

Here are the top 5 reasons routine veterinary visits are a vital part in helping your cat live a long, healthy life:

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1. Cats Age Much More Rapidly Than Humans.

A cat reaches the approximate human age of 15 by his first birthday and then the approximate human age of 24 by his second birthday. Each year after, your cat ages approximately 4 “cat years” for every calendar year. So your 8-year-old cat would be 48 in human years. Annual veterinary care is crucial because a lot can happen in a “cat year”.

2. Cats Are Masters at Hiding Illness.

Cats are excellent at hiding signs that they are sick or in pain. Your cat could develop a health condition before you notice anything is wrong. Veterinarians are trained to spot changes or abnormalities and detect many problems before they advance or become more difficult to treat.

3. Your Cat May Be Overweight.

Over 50% of cats are overweight or obese. Your veterinarian will check your cat’s weight at each visit and provide nutritional and enrichment recommendations to help keep your cat at an ideal weight. Just an extra three pounds can put your cat at risk for diabetes; heart, respiratory, and kidney disease, and more.

4. Preventive Care Is Better Than Reactive Care.

During a regular check-up you share information with your veterinarian about how your cat behaves at home. This history along with a thorough physical examination, allows you and your veterinarian to create a plan to help your cat remain healthy. Regular check-ups can help avoid medical emergencies by detecting conditions or diseases before they become significant, painful, or more costly to treat.

5. Kittens Have 26 Teeth, While Adult Cats Have 30.

That equals a lot of dental care! Periodontal disease is considered the most common disease in cats three years of age and older. Often there aren’t any obvious signs of dental disease. Most cats with dental disease still eat without a noticeable change in appetite. Discuss your cat’s teeth at their annual check-up.

Find a Cat Friendly Practice® near you. You are an important member of your cat’s healthcare team. You can help your cat live a happy and healthy life.

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Giving Your Cat Medication

Giving medication to your cat can be an intimidating task, but with some patience and proper instruction you can learn how to it. Here are a few tips and tricks that can help you:

  1. Ask your veterinarian to show you how to give your cat the medication.
  2. Do your best to remain calm. Your cat can pick-up on your stress, so take a deep breath and move slowly and confidently.
  3. Be prepared! Make sure you have the medication and any dropper ready and within arm’s reach.
  4. Tip your cat’s head back so her nose is straight up.
  5. If you are giving your cat a pill, make sure you place it back far on your cat’s tongue. It is easier for her to swallow and she is less likely to spit it out.
  6. Gently massage your cat’s throat to help her swallow the pill.

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s videos provide step-by-step instructions for administering both liquid and pill form medication.

Please Remember

  • To ask your veterinarian for help. They can show you how to safely give your cat a pill.
  • Avoid forcing your cat to accept the medication. Also, do not forcibly remove your cat from a hiding place or interrupt eating, grooming, or elimination for purposes of giving them medication.
  • Give your cat positive reinforcement (i.e., treats, brushing, and petting) for accepting medication. Favorite rewards for cats include delicious treats, catnip, interactive play, and petting or grooming. It is important to remember that the reward must be something your cat likes, and that preferred treats may vary between cats.
  • Unless your veterinarian says that medication must be given with food, do not use food as an aid to giving medications. It may cause aversion and reduce your cat’s food intake.
  • If you are having difficulty coping with this responsibility, ask your veterinarian for advice. He or she can also recommend resources to help you administer the medication.

Top 10 Tips for Your Senior Cat

1. Schedule Regular Wellness Check-ups.

  • Work to develop a close relationship with your cat’s veterinarian while he is still healthy. Your veterinarian can get to know your cat and  detect subtle changes that may indicate a health condition or disease.
  • Your cat needs to visit their veterinarian more often as they age, usually about every 6 months, even if your cat appears healthy. Please remember  6 months in cat years is roughly equivalent to 2 years for a person and a lot can change in that time.

2. Set Your Senior Cat Up for Success.

  • Reduce the stress of veterinary visits by getting your cat comfortable with his carrier. Make the carrier cozy with soft, familiar bedding. This makes it easier to get your cat into the carrier on the appointment days.
  • Leave plenty of time to arrive so you are unhurried and calm.
  • Ask the veterinary office if they have a cat-only waiting area, cat concierge service, or if you can go directly to the waiting area. This helps keep your cat calm.
  • Prepare a list of questions or concerns to ask your veterinarian at your cat’s wellness check-up.

3. Learn Your Cat’s Habits and Pay Attention to Changes.

  • Cats are masters at hiding illness. Changes are often subtle and easily missed.
  • If you notice a difference in behavior, such as sleeping more or hiding, don’t ignore it! Speak up and tell your veterinarian.
  • It can be helpful to keep a diary to track of appetite, vomiting, and bowel movements.
  • Tell your veterinarian about any changes in your cat’s behavior, even if they are minor. You know your cat and his routines better than anyone.

4. Beware of Changes in Weight.

  • Both weight gain AND unplanned weight loss requires a visit to your veterinarian.
  • Weight gain can make your cat more likely to get chronic diseases and have a shortened life span.
  • Weight loss in senior cats is usually a sign something is wrong. Some of the most common diseases causing weight loss – hyperthyroidism, intestinal disease, and diabetes – occur with a normal or even increased appetite.
  • Gradual changes in weight are hard to notice. Monitoring your cat’s weight is one of the most important reasons for regular wellness examinations by your veterinarian.

5. They’re Not Just “Slowing Down.”

  • Slowing down is often a sign your cat is experiencing underlying discomfort or pain.
  • Arthritis (Degenerative Joint Disease) is present in most older cats. Appropriate treatment can help him remain active and engaged.
  • If your cat has difficulty going up or down steps, does not jump like he used to, or isn’t using the litter box, talk with your veterinarian.

6. Look When You Scoop.

  • Are your cat’s stools softer, harder, or changing color? Is he defecating daily? Constipation is a common, yet under recognized, sign of dehydration in older cats. If attended to early, your veterinarian can help your kitty to feel comfortable again.
  • Has the amount of urine in the litter box changed? Increased urine output can signal some of the most common illnesses in elderly cats – from diabetes or an over active thyroid gland to kidney disease and high blood pressure.

7. Take a “Cat’s Eye View” of the Litter Box.

  • If your cat starts to miss the litter box and or have “accidents” around your house, there may be a medical issue causing him to house-soil.
  • Urinary infections, constipation, arthritis, and muscle weakness are just a few of the reasons an older cat can develop litter box issues.
  • Your veterinarian can look into medical issues and help you with home or environmental concerns that may be causing the changes in your cat’s behavior.
  • Is the litter box easy for your elderly cat to get in and out (i.e., there isn’t a high step into the box)?
  • Does the location make it easy for your cat to access so he doesn’t have to go up or down stairs?
  • Is the litter box in an quiet area that is protected from other pets that may startle or frighten your older cat?
  • Are you scooping and cleaning the litter box often enough to keep up with that increased urine output?
  • Is the litter gentle on your senior cat’s paws?

8. Your Cat’s Needs Will Change.

  • You will need to make some adjustments in your household for your senior cat.
  • As cats grow older, they often need extra padding and warmth for comfort. Provide soft sleeping places and make their preferred sleeping and resting spots easily accessible with stepping stools, ramps, and other assistance.

9. Know How Much Your Cat is Eating.

  • Nutritional needs change for healthy older cats and those with chronic diseases. Discuss nutrition with the veterinarian and get recommendations for your cat.
  • Cat caregivers are often unaware how much their cat is actually eating on a daily basis, especially in households with multiple cats.
  • Monitor food intake so you know immediately if your cat is eating less. This helps your veterinarian intervene when there are problems.

10. Enjoy Your Special Bond.

  • Bonds with our older companions are special. We rely on our cats as much as they rely on us. Elderly cats often crave more attention than they had earlier in life.
  • Continue to provide physical and mental stimulation by petting, playing, and interacting in your special ways.
  • Help out with grooming by gently brushing or combing, and keep nails from becoming overgrown with regular nail trims. The nails of older arthritic cats sometimes overgrow into the paw pads, and this is painful.

Senior Care

What is a Senior Cat?

carecare-seniorThere isn’t one specific age that classifies a cat as senior. Like people, some cats age faster than others. Generally speaking, however, older cats can be placed into one of three groups:

  • Mature or middle-aged: 7–10 years (44-56 years for humans)
  • Senior: 11–14 years (60-72 years for humans)
  • Geriatric: 15+ years (76+ years for humans)

You can increase your cat’s chances of living into his teens or early twenties by providing good care at home and regular veterinary care.

As your cat ages, be prepared to see physical changes. It’s important to discuss these changes with your veterinarian to determine what is “normal” aging and what may be a sign of illness. With regular check-ups, illnesses can be diagnosed early and age-related health conditions can be delayed or managed.

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Some common aging changes include:

  • Changes in vision
  • Appearance of brown spots in the iris
  • Decreased sense of smell
  • Brittle or fragile nails
  • Decreased lung reserve
  • Heart or circulatory problems
  • Decreased digestion and ability to absorb nutrients
  • Loose, less-elastic skin
  • Reduced ability to handle stress
  • Changes in behavior

We all want to grow old with grace and dignity, and we want the same for our pets. Fortunately, expert understanding of cat health and advances in veterinary medicine means cats can live longer, better lives than ever before. As your cat’s caregiver, there’s much you can do to keep your cat healthy and happy. We have additional tips for caring for your senior cat.

 

Life Stages

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There are many ways to keep your cat healthy and happy throughout their life. As a member of the family, your cat deserves the very best possible care. One of the best ways to ensure your cat stays happy and healthy is by making sure they have their preventive care checkups.

What your cat requires will change as they age. Cat’s lives are broken into four stages: kittens, young adults, mature adults, and seniors. Each stage requires special attention to certain health and behavioral areas. The chart below includes a breakdown of life stages that your cat advances through, and concentrates on how to best support them in each stage. Use the information on this page to observe your cat at home, as well as discuss these items with your veterinarian during your cat’s checkups.

The Four Life Stages of a Cat Include:


Kittens (Birth up to 1 year) Kittens have a very high play drive. Now is the best time for gradual positive introductions to people and other pets. It is also the right time for your cat to become comfortable with nail trims, tooth and coat brushing, their cat carrier, and transportation to the veterinary practice.

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Young Adult (1 year – 6 years) – Inter-cat aggression may develop at this stage of life along with sexual maturity. Be sure to use appropriate play with your cat.


Mature Adult (7 – 10 years) – Play activity begins to decrease and your cat becomes more likely to gain weight. Many people assume their cat is young and healthy, but a lot can change in just one cat year which equals four human years. Your cat will benefit from regular checkups to keep her/him healthy and prevent disease or illnesses.


Senior (over 10 years) – The human equivalent at the beginning of this life stage is about 60 years. Senior cats may exhibit behavioral changes (e.g., vocalization, changes in litter box usage, not going up and down stairs as easy). Senior cats should visit the veterinarian at a minimum of every six months since much could happen in a year and your veterinarian can catch things early on before they are more advanced or costly to treat.


CHART – ITEMS TO FOCUS ON DURING EACH LIFE STAGE

More About Feline Life Stages:

Routine Care/Grooming

Cats devote a large part of their day to cleaning and conditioning their coat and claws. Estimates range from about 2 to 6 hours a day. This means you should frequently see your cat lapping her fur, washing her face, using a scratching post, and biting her nails.

Most cats are “self-cleaning,”  but some may have characteristics that make grooming challenging. Long-hair, polydactyls (extra toes), flat-faced, and hairless cats may require help with personal hygiene even when they are healthy.

As your cat’s caregiver, keep these facts in mind:

  • All cats can benefit from regular grooming sessions and nail trimming at home.
  • Grooming enhances your relationship and will allow you to notice even subtle changes in the condition of your cat’s coat, skin, and nails.
  • Acute illness, increasing age, increasing weight, dental disease, less than ideal nutrition, parasites, infections, and chronic illnesses can all contribute to a loss of the well groomed appearance we expect of our cats.
  • If you see changes in your cat’s grooming practices or your cat appears unkempt or messy, call your veterinarian so they can assess your cat and make sure that she is not ill.
  • Having the proper tools makes grooming easier for you and your cat.

Partner with your veterinarian to help keep your cat looking and feeling terrific, and make sure you report any changes in grooming behavior to your veterinarian.