Healthy bones and joints are essential for little hunters like cats. However, unfortunately what appears self-evident isn't always obvious. Along with age and injuries, poor nutrition and illnesses can also affect a cat's bone health, cause inflammation and lead to long-term damage.
Bone health for cats
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A cat's skeleton is made up of over 230 bones – the number varies depending on the quantity of tail articulations. That's around 38 bones more than humans have! The moveable vertebral column consists of seven cervical vertebrae, 13 thoracic vertebrae, seven lumbar vertebrae, three lower back vertebrae and between 20 and 23 caudal vertebrae. In contrast to humans, the collarbone is not fused to the skeleton, which gives the cat immense movement capacity. It's hardly surprising that they can balance so gracefully on the narrowest of pales!
As prowling hunters, cats are not geared for running for endurance, but rather for short sprints and leaps, which is demonstrated by their powerful hind legs. Their joints are highly mobile, which is particularly true of the spinal column. When it falls, a cat can completely rotate with the help of the tail to land on its paws and thereby reduce the risk of injury. If such a fall occurs, the cat's joints are protected by elastic cartilage tissue. This acts as a shock absorber that cushions high pressure and strain. This function is facilitated by the viscous synovial fluid, which should ideally completely coat the joint capsules.
Healthy bones and joints
As little hunters, cats rely on healthy bones and joints. A healthy cat moves in a harmonious, almost free-flowing manner. This is thanks to the perfect interaction of their joints, muscles and nerve impulses.
However, living with humans always leads to a more sedate lifestyle with a diet that isn't necessarily species-appropriate. Unfortunately this can often lead to bone and joint diseases. In addition, the reduction of the genetic pool through targeted breeding and the accompanying hereditary diseases plays a part. For older cats, the production of vital synovial fluid is diminishing slowly but surely. Since the cartilage then isn't being supplied with blood, this has a significant impact on the healing process after suffering an injury.
The first warning sign of problems with the bones and joints is not wanting to move around as much. The cat will have difficulty jumping, perhaps also perching in the litter box. Its gait will become stiffer and it might even walk with a limp. Although cats have a very high level of pain tolerance, the tension may show in your cat's face and it might even miaow from the pain.
The cause of such symptoms can be acute injuries, for example, due to jumping from a great height. This can't be ruled out for cats with freedom to roam! If in doubt, consult your vet for advice. A broken bone can often irreparably damage the adjacent tissue.
Acute injury isn't always the cause of discomfort. Acute or chronic illnesses affecting the cat's skeletal system and joint apparatus are more common.
Illnesses affecting the skeletal system
Amongst the most common illnesses affecting the cat's skeletal system are so-called “degenerative joint diseases”. Painful wear and tear of the joints emerges increasingly in old age, although obesity or previous injuries can also present a risk.
Wear and tear of cartilage can lead to synovial fluid becoming more watery, which irritates the tissue and can lead to arthritis. A typical indication is sudden lethargy. Cats suffering from arthritis have problems standing up and moving around straight after resting. Once the cat gets moving, the pain appears to subside.
Arthrosis is the degenerative form of arthritis. After inflammation emerges due to trauma or joint inflammation such as arthritis, the body forms connective and bone tissue around the inflamed joint. These changes further limit mobility.
Chronic pain and a limited ability to move have a significant impact upon the cat's quality of life. Treatment for joint diseases often focuses on preserving joint function and managing the resulting pain. Amongst other things, this can entail physiotherapy, complementary foods and anti-inflammatory medication.
Prevention is better than cure
For cats too, the principle applies that a healthy lifestyle is the best means of preventing illnesses affecting the skeletal system and joint apparatus. A healthy, balanced diet and lots of activity should be top of the list. If your cat is already showing signs of pain when it moves or you know it was affected by bone or joint injuries, early support of the bone and joint function can help. Complementary foods with nutrients such as glucosamine, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that support the joints are often readily available. Products with extracts from green shell mussels from New Zealand are also especially popular. They contain a natural combination of glucosamine, omega-3 fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals that support joint function in a sustainable manner.