Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) is a progressive, long-term degeneration of the cartilage of the joints. DJD is common in older cats although many show no symptoms of lameness. Instead, cats frequently will have difficulty grooming, jumping up, or using the litter box. Some cats appear stiff when they walk, become very grouchy or do not wish to be touched.
Causes and Diagnosis of Degenerative Joint Disease
DJD can occur secondary to obesity, trauma, abnormal wear on the joints, or congenital joint diseases like hip dysplasia. In many cases, aged cats have simply worn out their joints from years of jumping, chasing and stalking prey!
Diagnosis of DJD in cats may be suspected based on clinical symptoms but needs to be confirmed by a veterinarian. Radiographs may reveal arthritis and a manual examination of the joints may show decreased range of motion, swelling or pain in the joints.
What Treatments Exist for DJD?
Medical therapy treats the symptoms of DJD but does not cure it. Sometimes surgery is necessary if the cat is in extreme pain from the arthritic joint. Physical therapy can also be helpful for these cats. Exercise therapy, massage, chiropractic, hot or cold packs and even swimming can greatly improve the quality of life for these cats.
Anti-inflammatory drugs such as Meloxicam can be used in cats but they need to be used with caution. Many cats are susceptible to drugs in this class so they are best avoided if possible. Natural therapies such as glucosamine/chondroitin supplements and herbs have proven effective. Devil’s claw, Yucca, and turmeric are useful herbs for this condition, but generally work better in combination.
Herbal formulae such as Agile Joints work very well in these patients. Diets containing omega 3 fatty acids and digestive enzymes are also good for these kitties.
Acupuncture, if tolerated by the cat, works well for this condition. Most of my feline patients do tolerate acupuncture quite well and have excellent results from this treatment. Since excess weight puts a lot of stress on the joints and accelerates DJD, it is important to try to prevent obesity in the cat. With exercise, a healthy diet and the right herbs and supplements, your older cat can live a long, pain-free life even if he does suffer from osteoarthritis.