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Meow, that hurts! Arthritis can affect cats, too.

As most cat owners and veterinarians can attest, cats are masters at concealing signs of illness, a trait inherited from their wild counterparts. This tendency complicates our ability to determine when our feline friends are in pain. In fact, for many years, veterinarians believed that most aged cats didn’t develop arthritis because they didn’t exhibit the typical signs. It turns out, arthritis actually is a common problem in older cats, but can be tricky to diagnose.

Cats dislike any kind of restraint, even when meant to be helpful, and they object (often strongly) to examination. Cats live sedentary lives, and if they slow their activities due to illness or pain we often don’t notice any change in routine. Cats don’t go for walks or participate in outdoor activities, common ways owners detect signs of pain in other companion animals. Finding new methods of evaluating cats for pain will help us make sure our cats are comfortable and enjoying a good quality of life.

Morris Animal Foundation has been interested in pain evaluation and management in cats for many years. Recently, the foundation funded several studies focused on learning more about how to detect, localize and treat osteoarthritis pain in cats.

Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, refers to chronic changes in the joint structures resulting in exposure of the ends of bones. These bones then rub together, causing pain and decreased function.

Cats metabolize pain alleviating drugs very differently than dogs, complicating treatment for osteoarthritis. Because commonly used pain relief drugs have to be carefully monitored in cats, veterinarians often are reluctant to prescribe these medications unless they feel confident in their diagnosis.

Two foundation-funded researchers have made tremendous strides in diagnosing and managing pain in cats.

Dr. Duncan Lascelles, North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. Mary Klinck, University of Montreal, have helped define new ways to evaluate cats for pain as well as provide methods for evaluating response to pain medications.

Both Drs. Lascelles and Klinck worked on developing scales that would help veterinarians score a cat’s pain, particularly in cats with osteoarthritis. One aspect of Dr. Klinck’s study was to discover which portions of a standard orthopedic exam are helpful and which aren’t when it comes to finding pain in cats. Dr. Lascelles also showed how his pain scale could be used to objectively evaluate response to drug treatment, eliminating the placebo effect that can plague these studies. (J Vet Intern Med 2013)

The pain scales developed by these researchers may provide a valuable tool for veterinarians looking for better ways of detecting osteoarthritis pain in cats. Check out Morris Animal Foundation’s pain studies in cats and other species at our Research Study Database, as well as learn about how you can help animals live longer and healthier lives.

(Veterinarians: register to access the Feline Musculoskeletal Pain Index© at NC State’s College of Veterinary Medicine, Comparative Pain Research – Clinical Metrology Instruments.)

Categories: Animal health
January 28, 2016