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Degenerative collective ache causes affliction and bound advancement in bodies of all ages, but analytic signs aggravate with age. (Photo: Adobe Stock)Let’s alpha with two alarming statistics that chronicle to artful degenerative collective ache (DJD):

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DJD is a accepted but generally anonymous action in cats, causing abiding affliction and preventing bodies from assuming accustomed artful behaviors. Since the ache is progressive, it worsens with age and analytic signs increase. Ilona Rodan, DVM, DABVP (feline practice), discussed the action at a contempo Fetch dvm360 conference. If DJD is untreated, she explained to her audience, the cat’s amusing relationships aural a domiciliary can change and accommodating abundance can suffer.

By actuality acquainted of DJD, its incidence, the joints it affects, the pharmacologic options available, added multimodal therapies, and simple ecology modifications, your veterinary aggregation can advice advance the affection of activity of afflicted bodies and advice them alive calmly with their owners.

What causes DJD?

The account in the majority of artful DJD cases charcoal unknown, Dr. Rodan says, but we do apperceive that blubber is a predisposing factor. Ample studies in animal anesthetic accept apparent that blubber is a account of DJD and arthritis in people, and the aforementioned seems to be authentic in pets. “We apperceive that weight accident helps with osteoarthritis in dogs, and we accept abridgement in debility in bodies with weight loss,” says Dr. Rodan.

Another absorbing finding, Dr. Rodan says, is the affiliation amid abiding branch ache and DJD. In fact, 69% of bodies (between 6 months and 20 years) that accept DJD additionally accept abiding branch disease. “It’s not aloof accompaniment because they’re earlier cats,” Dr. Rodan says. “There is absolutely some correlation.” Aback veterinarians amusement bodies with DJD, they charge to accede abiding branch ache aback allotment medications, she says.

Injury and abiogenetic conditions—including hip dysplasia, patellar break and osteochondrodysplasia—can additionally activate bodies to developing DJD. Hip dysplasia is accustomed in Maine coon cats, and patellar break is accepted in Abyssinian and Devon rex breeds—although Dr. Rodan says her best contempo cases accept been in calm shorthairs. Osteochondrodysplasia in the Scottish bend brand is a dominantly affiliated action that after-effects in abnormal limbs and accelerating collective destruction. “Deformities can be apparent by 7 weeks of age and the action accelerates degenerative collective disease. There are organizations, abnormally in added countries, that are advising that Scottish folds not be bred,” says Dr. Rodan.

Which joints are afflicted by DJD?

Feline DJD generally affects assorted joints in the limbs, aback or both. Analgesic or axial DJD is best frequently begin amid thoracic base T7 and T10, but added astringent ache is apparent in the lumbar vertebrae, Dr. Rodan says. Axial DJD increases as the cat ages. (See “‘DJD’ or ‘osteoarthritis’?” below.)

“In the limbs, elbows and knees are afflicted about 20% each. The accident in the achievement and amateur is about 18%. And we see it in the hocks as well,” says Dr. Rodan. As against to axial DJD, appendicular DJD occurs appropriately through the assorted ages. “So, all ages for the limbs; earlier bodies for the back,” concludes Dr. Rodan. Knowing this can advice you during your concrete assay of a cat you doubtable has DJD.

Why is diagnosing DJD a challenge?

Feline DJD is difficult to ascertain because bodies adumbrate their affliction as a careful mechanism. Also, aloof as in people, there’s abandoned about-face in affliction beginning amid cats, Dr. Rodan says.

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“DJD has a slow, insidious onset,” Dr. Rodan says. “Most owners aloof anticipate their cat is accepting old. Plus, affliction is not consistently static. The analytic signs of DJD can wax and wane. Sometimes the cat will accept acceptable days; sometimes they’ll accept bad days.”

As against to dogs, best bodies with DJD do not actualization debility because the ache tends to appulse the aforementioned joints bilaterally. “Unless accessory to an injury, owners generally don’t admit signs as bodies are not awkward because DJD is impacting both legs,” she says.

Dr. Rodan says that in practice, the best way to analyze DJD is a aggregate of accommodating history, concrete assay and radiographs.

Patient history and buyer observations

Changes in behavior are the best accepted signs of DJD, but these can additionally action with added types of pain, nonpainful illnesses and distress. Audience generally admit the affliction of DJD in their own pets added accurately than veterinarians do because they apperceive their cats’ accustomed behaviors and routines and apprehension changes. However, audience frequently aspect the changes to old age rather than to pain.

According to Dr. Rodan, signs of affliction with DJD can accommodate decreased grooming, bargain movement or withdrawal, changes in vocalization, abode soiling, changes in relationships with bodies or added animals in the household, and human-directed aggression. A cat may display assorted changes in behaviors.

Analysis of a cat’s amble is absolutely arduous to conduct in a practice. So the accommodating history should accommodate questions about changes in the cat’s mobility, including how aerial the cat can (and will) jump, whether the cat hesitates afore jumping up or down, and whether the applicant has noticed changes in how the cat climbs up or bottomward stairs.

Dr. Rodan says a acceptable applicant analysis to use is the Artful Musculoskeletal Affliction Basis (created by Dr. Duncan Lascelles and copyrighted by the Comparative Affliction Research Class at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine). Veterinarians can admission the latest basis at this NC State articulation afterwards bushing out a abrupt online form.  Although there is a authentic artful astute affliction scale, there is as yet no authentic abiding affliction calibration in cats.

Your beheld and concrete examination

The capital ambition of the assay is to appraise the cat’s amble and posture, Dr. Rodan says. The aboriginal step? Watch from a distance. “Observe them in the assay room,” she says. “They may appetite to jump up on the bank or the owner’s lap, but they may alternate absolutely a while afore they jump. They arise to be thinking, ‘Is it account the affliction to get area I appetite to go?’”

Your hands-on assay should accommodate palpation of the cat’s aback and limbs to analysis for acerbity and beef atrophy. Dr. Rodan says, “On palpation, we can agenda a decreased ambit of motion and collective thickening, but abandoned in the elbows and hocks. In hips, amateur and knees, DJD has to be absolutely bad afore there’s a change in ambit of motion.” Analgesic affliction is best accepted over the lumbar and lumbosacral regions. “Less accepted allegation are affliction on ambit of motion, aqueous in the collective capsule, awkward and crepitus,” she says.

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Finally, beam the cat as it allotment to its carrier at the end of the examination, acquainted any averseness that ability reflect collective pain. As bodies should never be affected to get them to move, Dr. Rodan additionally advises allurement audience to booty 30- to 45-second videos of their cat jumping up and bottomward from the bed and aggressive up and bottomward stairs. If the buyer shares the videos with you electronically, you can articulation them to the pet’s cyberbanking medical records. Comparing these videos over time and to appraise acknowledgment to analysis can be actual helpful.

Confirmatory radiographs

Although abounding bodies accept radiographic affirmation of DJD, radiographic signs do not necessarily agree with pain. And conversely, DJD affliction can be acquainted afore there are attainable changes on radiographs, with a ambit of 33% to 85% of aching joints accepting radiographic affirmation of disease.3 “Radiographs don’t consistently associate with assay findings,” she warns. Therefore, radiographs are taken to aphorism out added attainable causes of pain, such as neoplasia or fracture.

When you’re demography radiographs of these cats, analgesia is essential, Dr. Rodan says. She prefers to do them aback the cat is beneath accepted anesthesia, such as for a dental prophylaxis or periodontal procedure. Careful radiographic accession is additionally important. “Stretching these bodies out is activity to accomplish them absolutely uncomfortable, but that’s all-important to admission acceptable views, authoritative analgesia additional balance or anesthesia critical,” Dr. Rodan says.

If the concrete assay and radiographs don’t acknowledge affirmation of DJD but you’re still apprehensive that a cat is in pain, you can do an analgesic trial. Ideally you would conduct a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory biologic (NSAID) balloon afterwards analysis of class values.

Treating bodies with DJD

Unfortunately, bodies with DJD get advised beneath than dogs. “There are a lot of affidavit for that,” says Dr. Rodan. “One is it’s harder to analyze DJD in bodies in the aboriginal place. They’re not limping. And again we’re anxious about adverse furnishings of medications, which is a actual important reason.” On top of those factors, owners can accept agitation administering the assigned drugs.

Combination biologic therapies and changes to the home ambiance that acquiesce the cat to accomplish its accustomed behaviors are capital to affliction administration and the patient’s abundance and welfare, according to Dr. Rodan.

Multimodal pharmacologic management

Different medications ambition altered sites forth the affliction pathways, so Dr. Rodan advocates multimodal therapy. “Use altered therapies calm because they assignment synergistically,” she says. “Using them calm allows you to use lower doses so you accept beneath ancillary effects.”

NSAIDs. Dr. Rodan says the NSAIDs accustomed for cats—meloxicam and robenacoxib—are the analysis of best appropriate now for artful DJD, alike admitting they’re not accustomed in the United States for abiding use in cats. “Meloxicam, which has been about for longer, is accustomed for abiding use in bodies in Canada, Europe, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand and several added countries,” she says.

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When application NSAID analysis in cats, Dr. Rodan advises afterward the guidelines developed by the International Society of Artful Anesthetic and the American Affiliation of Artful Practitioners. If you’re activity to appoint meloxicam or robenacoxib for abiding use in the U.S., she recommends allurement cat owners to assurance a abandonment acknowledging the off-label usage.

Use abandoned the 0.5 mg/ml injectable meloxicam and abandon the amid syringe, replacing it with a 1-ml syringe for authentic dosing to abate the abeyant for branch and alarmist problems, Dr. Rodan instructs. She advises giving 0.1 mg/kg the aboriginal day, again abbreviation the dosage to 0.05 mg/kg every day or beneath frequently.

“We accord the aboriginal dosage in the practice, again we admonish the buyer how to accord the lower dosage at home,” she says. “We mark a tuberculin or insulin syringe with a abiding brand so the buyer can see area they’re declared to draw the biologic up to.” Dr. Rodan has her technicians admonish audience how to adapt and administrate the biologic and to explain the accent of accurately administering the biologic to the cat.

Dr. Rodan says she generally tapers the dosage and abundance of meloxicam, and she’s begin that abounding bodies are adequate with low-dose NSAIDs accustomed every added or every third day. “That works because I’m application it in affiliation with article else,” she says.

There are assertive precautions to booty aback accumulation NSAIDs with added drugs in bodies with DJD. Dr. Rodan avoids application NSAIDs with glucocorticoids, warfarin, phenobarbital and digoxin, and she says NSAIDs should additionally be acclimated anxiously with ACE inhibitors and diuretics. “In fact, I will not use NSAIDs with diuretics because it’s so attainable for bodies to become dehydrated,” she says.

If a cat is on concise steroids, Dr. Rodan advises a five-day accident aeon afore starting an NSAID. If a cat has been on abiding steroids and you appetite to attack to alteration it to an NSAID, she says you charge to abate the steroid for a minimum of three weeks and again acquiesce for at atomic a three-week accident period. “I acquisition that best of these bodies accept been put on abiding steroids because they charge them, and I can’t get them off. So I aloof won’t use NSAIDs in those cases,” she says.

Dr. Rodan says to acquaint owners about the ancillary furnishings to attending for and admonish them to stop the NSAID and alarm their veterinarian if the cat begins ing, refuses to eat or exhibits any added changes. A chargeless downloadable applicant advertisement about NSAID use in bodies is attainable here.

Veterinarians are generally anxious about NSAID use in bodies with circumstantial abiding branch disease, but Dr. Rodan says a cardinal of studies accept apparent that meloxicam and robenacoxib can be acclimated in bodies with circumstantial DJD and abiding branch ache as continued as patients are bistro able-bodied and normovolemic, and the branch ache is abiding and in stages 1, 2 or aboriginal date 3.4,5 Accommodating ecology as acclaimed in the AAFP/ISFM’s “Long Term Use of NSAIDs in Cats” is necessary.

Central-acting drugs. About one-quarter of bodies with DJD accept maladaptive pain, Dr. Rodan notes. “NSAIDs do not assignment on maladaptive pain,” she says. “So in accession to NSAIDs, or aback we cannot use NSAIDs, we accept to use article else.”

Although tramadol can abatement axial sensitization, Dr. Rodan does not use it. “It’s bitter, and with the [human] opioid addiction problem, I won’t let it be in the clinic,” she says.

Gabapentin is Dr. Rodan’s best for a centrally acting drug. It can be acclimated for abiding and neuropathic affliction afterwards austere ancillary effects. “Gabapentin is fantastic,” she says. “It functions at the armpit of the analgesic cord. It’s short-acting, and it’s ideal aback you can use it affiliation with added treatments.” She addendum that gabapentin is actual safe, admitting it can be sedating. She starts at lower doses and gradually increases to aftereffect to anticipate sedation.

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NV-02. NV-02 (also accepted as frunevetmab) is a artful anti-nerve advance agency monoclonal antibiotic actuality developed by Nexvet. There accept been two studies appear on this arising therapy,6,7 with a cardinal abstraction in progress. Dr. Rodan says NV-02 appears to be a safe abiding analgesic for bodies with DJD-related pain. “Hopefully it’s activity to get FDA approval soon,” she says.

Nonpharmacological treatments and ecology modifications

When alleviative bodies with DJD, Dr. Rodan says veterinarians charge to accede added than aloof drugs: Weight abridgement in ample cats, nonpharmacological therapies and ecology changes can all advice in DJD cases.

Obesity exacerbates DJD affliction because it puts an added amount on the joints, and it causes low-grade deepening that may be associated with DJD. “Weight accident improves action and mobility; it reduces affliction and disability,” Dr. Rodan explains. “Exercise is absolutely important. In fact, in animal medicine, they’re now talking about exercise alike added than the calories that are eaten.” Dr. Rodan says accepting a cat to exercise is as attainable as demography it alfresco on a harness, absolution it alfresco in a safe enclosure, agreeable it in alternate and cocky play, application addle feeders, and absolution it try hydrotherapy if the cat doesn’t apperception water.

The diet the cat eats can advice too, Dr. Rodan says: “The abandoned nutraceutical that works is omega-3 blubbery acids, and that is aback fed in the diet.” Analysis accepted decree joint, branch and chief diets for omega-3 blubbery acerbic supplementation.

Dr. Rodan has begin acupuncture to be a safe, able analysis for artful DJD aback acclimated aural a multimodal approach. She has a certified acupuncturist in her practice, and she says bodies abide the treatments actual well.

Other therapies to try in a multimodal administration affairs accommodate the Assisi Loop (or added targeted pulsed electromagnetic acreage devices) and cold-laser therapy. Dr. Rodan credibility out that studies in bodies are lacking. “These are anecdotal still,” she says, “but I use these treatments in affiliation with added things. I like to use assorted things, and owners don’t apperception it. Consistently amend the accommodating to ensure its comfort.”

The home ambiance should additionally be adapted to acquiesce the cat with DJD to accept attainable admission to its advantaged places. Dr. Rodan advises audience to accommodate food, baptize and clutter in calmly attainable areas area the cat doesn’t accept to attempt with housemates. “Owners like to put litterboxes in the basement, but anniversary cat should accept admission to a litterbox on the attic area it spends best of its time,” she says. “My admired litterbox for bodies with DJD is the dog litterbox for dogs up to 35 lb or a ample accumulator box with an aperture cut out in the front. Use whatever box you appetite as continued as the cat can calmly get in and out of and accept amplitude to about-face around.”

A cat with DJD may not be able to bend bottomward commonly to eat or alcohol from a aliment or baptize basin comatose on the floor. “Raising the aliment and baptize bowls to about the cat’s accept acme lets them sit in a added accustomed agriculture posture,” Dr. Rodan says.

Something as simple as a abrading column can be adapted for a cat with DJD. Whereas a adolescent cat ability accept adopted a vertical sisal braiding post, an earlier cat with DJD may adopt a bendable carpeting on a accumbent surface.8 Pet accomplish or ramps can accommodate attainable admission to adopted comatose areas for bodies with DJD.

Follow-up care

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As with any abiding condition, bodies with DJD charge amend accessories to appraise how the analysis is working. “Be abiding to chase up to see how the bodies are doing,” Dr. Rodan says. “Additionally, I like to accept videos from afore and afterwards treatment. I can see if this cat is absolutely affective about bigger than in the arrangement alone.”

In summary, aback attractive at the bodies in your convenance and befitting an eye out for DJD, Dr. Rodan says to be acquainted that the ache happens in both the limbs and the spine. “Examinations are important; X-rays are important; and history is alike added important,” she says. “These bodies accept a poor affection of activity if not treated.”

Once a analysis of DJD is reached, NSAIDs should be the mainstay of analysis aback indicated, and a multimodal administration action is best. Your veterinary team’s TLC can accommodate abundance for cats, admitting the attendance of DJD, and abutment for audience who appetite to be abiding their bodies are not in pain. “Cats charge to be cats. And we appetite them to accept a abundant affection of life,” Dr. Rodan concludes.

Dr. Ilona Rodan is architect of the Cat Care Dispensary in Madison, Wisconsin, and Feline-Friendly Consultations to advice veterinary professionals apprentice to handle bodies to anticipate abhorrence and affliction and to advance convenance environments and healthcare for cats. Dr. Rodan speaks at abounding veterinary conferences, including the Fetch dvm360 conferences. Dr. Ilona Rodan is architect of the Cat Care Dispensary in Madison, Wisconsin, and Feline-Friendly Consultations to advice veterinary professionals apprentice to handle bodies to anticipate abhorrence and affliction and to advance convenance environments and healthcare for cats. Dr. Rodan speaks at abounding veterinary conferences, including the Fetch dvm360 conferences.


1. Lascelles BDX, Henry JB, Brown J, et al. Cross-sectional abstraction evaluating the attendance of radiographic degenerative collective ache in calm cats. Vet Surg 2010;39(5):535-544.

2. Bellows J, Center S, Daristotle L, et al. Aging in cats: Accepted concrete and anatomic changes. J Artful Med Surg 2016;18(7):533-50.

3. Freire M, Robertson I, Bondell HD, et al. Radiographic appraisal of artful appendicular degenerative collective ache vs. arresting actualization of articular cartilage. Vet Radiol Ultrasound 2011;52(3):239-247.

4. Guillot M, Moreau M, Heit M, et al. Assuming of osteoarthritis in bodies and meloxicam ability application cold abiding affliction appraisal tools. Vet J 2013;196:360-367.

5. King J, King S, Budsberg SC, et al. Analytic assurance of robenacoxib in artful osteoarthritis: after-effects of a randomized, blinded, placebo-controlled analytic trial. J Artful Med Surg 2016;18(8):6320642.

6. Gruen ME, Thomson AE, Griffith EH, et al. A feline-specific anti-nerve advance agency antibiotic improves advancement in bodies with degenerative collective disease–associated pain: A pilot affidavit of abstraction study. J Vet Intern Med 2016;30(4):1138-1148.

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7. Gearing DP, Huebner M, Virtue ER, et al. In vitro and in vivo assuming of a absolutely felinized ameliorative anti-nerve advance agency monoclonal antibiotic for the analysis of affliction in cats. J Vet Intern Med 2016;30(4):1129-1137.

8. Wilson C, Bain M, DePorter T, et al. Buyer observations apropos cat abrading behavior: an internet-based survey. J Artful Med Surg 2016;18(10):791-797. 

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