Modern Medicine, Old-Fashioned Care

Jun 15, 2023 | General Health

Cutting-Edge Treatment Relieves Pain Caused by Osteoarthritis in Cats

Cats can be challenging, in many ways.

Medically speaking, however, their biology is a bit odd. As they age, inflammation can spontaneously develop in their joints, causing unbearable pain and significantly affecting their quality of life.

Arthritis can affect cats as young as 6 or 7 years old but is most commonly seen in patients older than 10.

“Honestly, pain control in cats is a big gap in veterinary medicine,” says Dr. Jerica Lugo, VMD, of Doylestown Veterinary Hospital. “There are a lot of medications out there that are not great for use in kitties because of the associated risk of kidney disease,” she says.

Dr. Lugo is passionate about pain control for her patients and has worked extensively with stem cell therapies and other treatments. Finding a good fit for cats has always been a challenge.

Dogs, she says, are different. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory treatments are readily accessible. Using them long-term in feline patients, however, increases the risk of kidney damage. And if a patient already HAS kidney disease – they cannot be used at all.

Other treatment options, like Gabapentin, says Dr. Lugo, are frequently inadequate for osteoarthritis pain – which, along with kidney disease, is one of the leading medical concerns facing our feline friends.

But there is a new hope being utilized in veterinary clinics today – with astounding results. Solensia is a new, injectable pain relief medication that targets osteoarthritis in cats and prevents pain signals from reaching the brain. Ultimately, this delivers a great deal of relief.

“Cats are incredibly good at hiding their pain and discomfort,” Dr. Lugo says. “So, frequently, owners don’t know they’re having arthritis issues. It’s something that’s often overlooked in kitties.”

Dr. Lugo speaks from experience. Her cats Storm and Panda are both 14 years old. Storm began exhibiting signs of arthritis late last year.

“I noticed that if I tried to touch her back end, she would get uncomfortable and look at me like, ‘Don’t touch me there.’”

After further examination, Dr. Lugo began giving Storm monthly Solensia injections in November of 2022, and before long – Storm was living up to her namesake once again.

“My husband teased me about how energetic she was,” Dr. Lugo laughs. “He was like, “What did you give her? She’s acting like a playful kitten!”

In addition to a huge energy boost, Storm’s comfort level has also improved substantially.

“She’s totally fine with me touching her back now. I can give her scritches down by her hips, whereas she didn’t want that before. She definitely seems to be more playful. And she’s out and about more. She’s even coming up to guests who come to the house, where previously she was a little more standoffish. Now I know that was because she was so uncomfortable.”

What is Solensia?

The first and only FDA-approved treatment to control osteoarthritis pain in cats, Solensia is a monthly injectable given by your cat’s veterinarian.

Working alongside your cat’s natural antibodies, Solensia prevents pain signals from reaching the brain, providing relief, and ultimately fostering easier movement. Studies have shown that just one treatment can boost a cat’s mobility.

During a three-month clinical study, 77 percent of cat owners reported that Solensia improved their cat’s quality of life, comfort, and overall well-being.

Appointments are typically scheduled every 4 weeks to administer the injection and check for any changes and improvements in a cat’s behavior.

Another big plus, says Dr. Lugo, is that Solensia has been tested in cats with Stage 1 and Stage 2 kidney disease, and has been determined to be well tolerated by those patients.

“That’s also pretty groundbreaking,” she says. “Even kitties who have kidney disease already can use this new treatment.”

In addition to Storm’s improvement, Dr. Lugo knows of other Doylestown patients who have been using Solensia regularly.

“We’ve seen a big difference in these cats, too,” she says. “Suddenly, they’re more playful, they have more energy, and they’re doing things they maybe haven’t done in a while – like jumping on surfaces that maybe they couldn’t jump on anymore, like their bed or their cat tree. I haven’t seen that kind of success in any other pain medications we’ve tried for cats.”

When Should You Consider Solensia?

As mentioned, cats are experts at hiding pain and discomfort, so the signs are often pretty subtle.

“The things I always tell owners to watch for is the way that they’re walking – do they seem like they’re a little bit hunched? Are they a little tender in the backend? When they’re walking, do you see them kind of tiptoeing a little differently? When you pet them, do they no longer allow you to touch a certain area, like with my kitty? Do you see changes in their jumping and climbing behaviors?”

Cats of any age like to be up high, Dr. Lugo says. They climb, they jump, they explore. If those behaviors suddenly stop happening, that’s a really good indicator that there’s arthritis pain afoot.

Studies have proven Solensia to be safe. Before self-diagnosing or starting any treatment, however, consulting with your family veterinarian should be your first step.

“Bringing your cat to the vet is incredibly helpful,” Dr. Lugo says. “We’re trained to pick up on the more subtle things. During an examination, we can feel their hips, their shoulders, and their backs and check for any differences in their joints that suggest there may be arthritis present.”

Arthritis remains a huge quality-of-life issue for so many feline patients. But the good news is relief is now available.

“It makes a big difference when we can offer pain control for our older kitties. It gives them more quality of life and more time with their owners,” says Dr. Lugo. “I’m so happy we have Solensia as an option now.”