Nutrition can help your cat with joint problems

Joint pain in dogs is well understood but it’s only recently that it has started to be understood in cats. 

Cats are masters at hiding pain, one for the cat lovers in the great “are cats or dogs better” debate.  The problem with the noble stoicism of cats is it makes it harder to diagnose problems such as joint pain.

However, a study in 2002 by Hardie et al. looked at radiographs of older cats and found that 90% of cats over 12 years old showed signs of degenerative joint disease.  This and other studies suggests that osteoarthritis may be common in older cats but being under-diagnosed.

Signs that your cat may be suffering in silence are

  • Less mobile: Less willing to jump up and down, going upstairs more slowly.
  • Less active: They may spend more time sleeping, go out in the garden less or sleep in different, easier to reach, places. They may be grooming less, and you will see that in their coat condition.
  • Resting posture: You may notice that rather than curl up into a comfy circle they are lying in a more upright tense position, known as sternal recumbency
  • Behaviour changes: they may be more irritable and less willing to interact with others, they may dislike being handled or show increased aggression and fear response – none of us are in the best of moods when we are in pain
  • Toilet habits: You may see them urinating in places other than their litter tray – that could simply be that they find it harder to get into their litter tray

What is osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a deterioration of cartilage surrounding the joints. In a normal healthy body the ends of bones are coated with protective cartilage. Cartilage is constantly broken down and rebuilt. In a healthy body, it is rebuilt faster than it is broken down. However if it breaks down too fast or rebuilds too slowly, due to things such as old age, disease or genetics, then cartilage  degrades allowing bones to rub together, causing pain, irritation and inflammation.

How can diet help with osteoarthritis?

There are 3 ways in which nutrition can help with the management of Osteoarthritis.

1.  Managing inflammation:  Foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils can help support the natural anti-inflammatory process.   

2. Supporting cartilage:

  • Omega-3 from fish oils, reduces the activity of cartilage degrading enzymes
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin are key components of cartilage and their inclusion in the diet provides the necessary building blocks for cartilage reconstruction.
  • Manganese supports the creation of new cartilage
  • Free radicals released during inflammation cause further cartilage degradation.  High levels of anti-oxidants in a diet can help neutralize these free radicals

3. Weight management: Excess weight is both a cause and a result of the problem. Excess weight increases the levels of cartilage degradation and at the same time the reduced mobility, caused by the pain, contributes to weight gain, exacerbating the problem. 

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Dominic Ebery
SPECIFICTM Nutrition Team, Dechra

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