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Q: Our veterinarian says my 16-year-old cat, Tabitha. has arthritis. I never knew cats could get arthritis. She doesn’t act lame, though. My vet suggested a drug called Metcam, but I’ve read bad things on the Internet about this drug, and it scares me. What do you think? – V.D., St. Paul, MN

A: Cats are indeed prone to osteoarthritis, as are people and dogs. However, cats are typically so good at masking pain that they don’t act lame. Look for more subtle signs, like not jumping up on the counters or not scampering up and down stairs as enthusiastically as before.

It’s true that the FDA and the drug manufacturer issued a “black box” (or warning) about the use of Metacam, but Dr. Robin Downing, past president and founder of the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management and a certified pain practitioner, notes that used appropriately, this non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug is safe for cats.

“We have many years of data, which can’t be thrown out the window,” she says. “Metacam is used around the world without fanfare. We have a set of excellent guidelines to help veterinarians make the best decisions about using Metacam.”

Downing, of Windsor, CO, says, “Pain relief is the first step to break the pain cycle. About half of all cats are overweight, which most certainly may contribute to the problem. Weight loss is very important, not only to lessen the impact of arthritis, but also for overall health.”

With your veterinarian’s guidance, even cats can slowly begin to exercise. Additional options include physical therapy (including underwater treadmill), acupuncture, chiropractic and therapeutic laser may also help.