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The Wuzzy Chronicles

Maxes Are Not Small Ebonies

Arthritis in Cats and Dogs
Arthritis in Cats and Dogs
Published on January 10, 2011 : 2 comments

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To emphasize the substantial differences between cats and dogs, our veterinary school professors would often say, “Cats are not small dogs!”  I am sure veterinary education is much more advanced these days.  I like to think students are told something like, “Ferrets are not small cats!

Cats are not small dogs!  However, recently Ebony Dog and Max the Cat have both developed degenerative osteoarthritis in their hips.  Veterinarians do not just attract pets who need us, like other pet lovers, we attract pets who need us and who also have bizarre medical conditions.  I am grateful that this time around it is merely simultaneous arthritis.  That is not so bizarre, as veterinarians’ pets and their diseases go.

Ebony’s first sign of disease was a slower pace of eating.  For a retriever, that is a huge red flag!  I started looking for the reason for her decreased appetite where I start every medical search, with a comprehensive examination.  Ebony’s hips were tender and did not have the flexibility they once had.  I also did blood work, looking for problems with her red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, kidneys, liver, pancreas, thyroid gland, protein levels, calcium levels and blood sugar.  (All of that was evaluated with less than a teaspoon of blood!  How cool is medicine??)

common locations of dog arthritiscommon locations of dog arthritisEvery test came back normal.  I radiographed Ebony’s hips under anesthesia and confirmed her problem, mild hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis.  She did not have a decreased appetite as I had first assumed.  Bending down to eat out of her bowl had become painful.

Max the Cat’s signs were even more subtle than Ebony’s.  Max ALWAYS gets between whatever we are doing and us.  I knew something was wrong when instead of jumping onto my lap to block my computer screen, Max sat down next to my chair and looked up at me.

Honestly, I almost panicked.  Same drill as Ebony…exam, blood work…all was normal.  I still suspected something was wrong.  It is just so unlike Max to give up an opportunity to interrupt what someone is doing.  So I kept looking.

Osteoarthritis is under-diagnosed in felines.  Cats are even better at hiding pain than dogs.  Dogs tend to have happy, jumpy gaits noticeably limited by joint pain, while cats tend to have graceful, slinky gaits that hide joint pain well, though the pain is probably as severe as it is in dogs.

Here is another reason osteoarthritis is under-diagnosed in felines:  Doing an orthopedic exam on a cat is humorously difficult.  When a sore area is palpated on a dog, he or she will cry or lick or jump, or (what I would do if someone was aware that I did not feel well and poked me anyways) try to bite.

Frieda's cat FaronIf you palpate cats’ joints, they will react in one of two ways.  Some cats (the anti-maxes) will tense up and begin meow-swearing, which is your half second warning that they are about to become all teeth and claws.  Other cats (the maxes) become ragdolls, like Frieda’s boneless cat in the Peanuts comic strip.  Every time I tried to palpate Max’s hips, he became a ragdoll and settled in for a kitty petting session.  Finally, after several days of lifting him onto my lap and trying to check his hips before he completely relaxed, I was able to discern some creakiness in both hip joints.

So we had diagnoses on both pets.  Next was treatment.  The first thing we did was adjust their environment.  Russ built Max a scratching post with steps closer together.  We fed Ebony while she was lying down.

I noticed Ebony’s disease progressed very rapidly at the onset, which alarmed me until I realized it also coincided with Joy the Puppy’s complete unstuffing of Ebony’s bed.  Our poor arthritic dog was essentially spending her nights on two thin sheets on a hardwood floor.  When I replaced Ebony’s bed and explained to Joy the difference between toys and beds, Ebony’s condition improved immensely.

Both Ebony and Max are on the thin side of normal.  Continuing their exercise schedules and senior diets should help keep their respective diseases progressing as slowly as possible.

The most important aspect of arthritis treatment is pain management.  Over the counter pain medications can be very dangerous in dogs, and even more dangerous in cats.  For instance, ibuprofen, acetaminophen and naproxen, which are fairly routinely and safely used in humans, are never indicated for use in dogs and cats – they can be fatal, even at very low doses.

Before you start any medication for your pet, consult with your veterinarian!  Even prescription medications have a pretty narrow margin of safety (meaning the toxic dose and therapeutic dose are very close to each other) so it is important to work closely with your veterinarian when creating a pain management plan for your pet.  I talked both cases over with myself, and came up with the safest pain management plan I could.  Max and Ebony were both started on prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and glucosamine and omega-3 supplements.

Many options exist for arthritic pet care, and treatment should be tailored to the individual pet.  We can discuss each therapy option as our pets need care, or just for the sake of discussion, as there are amazing treatment and supportive care options available!  Here’s my working list:  acupuncture, carts, chiropractic, diet changes, environment changes, hip replacement surgery (now for cats too!), homeopathic care, injectable glycosaminoglycans, massage, pain medication, physical therapy, stem cell therapy and supplements.  Let me know of any therapy options I have overlooked!

Max and Ebony are doing wonderfully.  We are having a mild winter, which helps immensely.  They are, of course, at the onset of a progressive disease, and treatment will probably get more challenging.  I will adjust their therapy as needed and let you know what works and what does not. 

Let me know what your experience has been with your own pets and arthritis.

Finch93Shawn Finch is a veterinarian and Mom. She works at Banfield, The Pet Hospital of Papillion. She writes for her own website (, and Carefresh. :)


AnnDbugz says:

January 14, 2011 : 13 years 22 weeks ago

AnnDbugz's picture

Thanks so much Shawn! I didn’t know there were so many options for cats. Ours is just 5 years old and running and jumping like crazy. I now know what to look for and that there are alternative options if she develops arthritis.

Shawn Finch (not verified) says:

January 17, 2011 : 13 years 22 weeks ago

Shawn Finch's picture

You are welcome Ann! THAT is the best thing you can do! Cats are so skilled at hiding pain, but you know her at five and healthy and goofy, and you will know if she ever is not “herself!”