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News Article

Detecting degenerative joint disease-associated pain in cats


A checklist has been developed that could be completed by cat owners and used to identify cats likely to have degenerative joint disease-associated pain

A study published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery provides a screening checklist to help veterinarians and owners to identify cats experiencing pain associated with degenerative joint disease (DJD).

The team of researchers that developed the new tool are based at North Carolina State University (NCSU), and led by Margaret Gruen and Duncan Lascelles. They were concerned that feline DJD remains underdiagnosed and undertreated in veterinary practice despite its high prevalence. The authors suggest that one possible reason for this is that while many people may associate limping with joint pain, this is actually a less common sign of DJD in cats. Meanwhile other, more typical behavioural signs of DJD (such as difficulty navigating stairs) may be misinterpreted as normal aging.

In their study, the authors collated questionnaire data from five studies previously carried out at the Translational Research in Pain Program at NCSU. This enabled them to compare 249 cats with, and 53 cats without, DJD-associated pain, and, via a multistep process of analysis, develop a set of questions that can be answered with a straightforward 'yes' or 'no'. After some further refinement, they came up with a final checklist comprising six questions. These ask whether a cat can jump up and jump down normally, climb up and climb down stairs normally and run normally, and whether it chases moving objects such as toys and prey. The checklist can also be used for owners and cats living in a single-storey home by excluding the questions about stairs.

In developing this new tool, referred to as the 'Feline Musculoskeletal Pain Screening Checklist', the researchers compared the scoring of owners who were both aware or unaware of the link between DJD and pain in cats. Unsurprisingly, they found a gap in the responses between the groups, with a higher percentage of 'DJD-informed' owners scoring their cats as impaired for every question. The authors suggest that, given the high prevalence of feline DJD, many cats with undiagnosed DJD would nonetheless still be identified using the checklist; and, when coupled with owner education and engagement in watching for behavioural changes in their cats, the detection of DJD should improve even more.

The authors conclude that this checklist not only provides a clinically expedient tool likely to increase vets' ability to screen for DJD pain in cats, but it may also further provide a foundation for increasing awareness of DJD pain among cat owners. The idea is that the checklist can be completed quickly by owners, and if 'no' is selected for any question, this will prompt further evaluation by the vet.

Article: Enomoto, M., Lascelles, B.D.X., Gruen, M.E. (2020). Development of a checklist for the detection of degenerative joint disease-associated pain in cats. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, OnlineFirst, 3 March 2020, doi: 10.1177/1098612X20907424

Article details

  • Date
  • 04 March 2020
  • Source
  • SAGE
  • Subject(s)
  • Dogs, Cats, and other Companion Animals