Diagnosis of Arthritis in Cats

There are several different types of arthritis in cats. The key to being able to make an accurate diagnosis is to be informed about the various types of arthritis in cats and the symptoms that each can present. Being knowledgeable about this condition will lead to a more definitive diagnosis and, ultimately, a more supportive treatment regimen.

Arthritis in Cats Explained

In order to understand how arthritis in cats can be diagnosed, a working knowledge or arthritis needs to be understood. The term “arthritis” literally translates to inflammation of the joints, but not all forms of arthritis in cats actually cause joint inflammation. This is what often misleads cat owners to believe that their cat is not affected by arthritis. Arthritis in cats, by definition, occurs when there is damage to one or more joints, which can occur as a result of the aging process, traumatic injury, or from infection.

Type of Arthritis in Cats

One of the most common forms of arthritis in cats, progressive polyarthritis, usually affects more than one joint and becomes worse with time. This type of arthritis occurs at two different levels: (1) through the erosion of the cartilage, which then produces bone spurs and thickening of the associated bones, and (2) through erosion of the cartilage which is so severe that the bones are actually exposed and rub against one another. The first type of progressive poly arthritis is similar to hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis, which are both forms of degenerative joint disease. The second type, however, is similar in nature to rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune response which attacks the joints.

Signs of progressive polyarthritis in cats:

  • Intermittent lameness
  • Limping gait
  • Fever
  • Reluctance to eat
  • Lack of desire for normal activities

Other types of arthritis in cats can be caused by bacterial or viral infections. Viral infections causing arthritis are typically caused by the calicivirus. This happens either as a result of direct infection or, in rare cases, where infection is caused by the calicivirus vaccination. Arthritis in cats due to bacterial infections typically occurs as the result of a bite wound, which sometimes causes the joints to swell temporarily in response to foreign bacteria.

Methods of Diagnosis

The first step to diagnosing arthritis in cats is to have a complete physical examination done. This allows the veterinarian to observe the cat as it moves, and also to determine which joint areas are affected. The veterinarian will examine the full range of motion of each limb and joint area to feel for resistance or limited movement. This lets the veterinarian know which area of the cat’s body requires further evaluation.

The next method of testing is x-ray imaging. Once the area of concern is identified, that area is then be photographed with x-ray equipment, and the structure of the bones and joints can be evaluated. X-ray imaging shows changes in bone structure, erosion of cartilage, bone spurs and the degree of degeneration.

Once arthritis in cats has been confirmed, it may be appropriate to have some blood testing done as well. This will check for the presence of bacteria in the blood and help to determine if the arthritis is related to a bacterial infection or autoimmune response.