Joints may be damaged due to acute or chronic trauma. Unfortunately, cats are commonly victims of road traffic accidents and this is often a cause of acute trauma to joints. Cats also have very active lifestyles and often fall from heights, this may also be a cause of acute joint trauma. If cats have a traumatic injury to a joint they will usually become lame. The degree of lameness will depend upon the severity of the damage to the joint and if a cat does not seem able to bear any weight on a limb this could be a sign of a severe injury and veterinary attention should be sought urgently. When a cat has traumatic injury to the joint involving structures such as bone, cartilage, ligaments or synovial membranes, the joint will become inflamed. Owners may notice that an injured joint is swollen, painful and hot; this is due to the inflammatory process within the joint. This inflammatory process leads to increased synovial fluid production and it is the accumulation of this fluid which causes the joint to swell and become painful. If you notice any of these signs in your cat's joints or if your cat seems to suddenly become lame it is wise to consult your vet at the earliest opportunity since early treatment of traumatic arthritis may help to prevent long term joint damage.
Traumatic arthritis may develop following traumatic injury to a joint. Arthritic changes in a joint may be the result of a single traumatic episode (for example a road traffic accident or a fall) or repetitive trauma to the joint. Repetitive trauma to the joints may occur due to poor conformation of the joint or because of some activity which causes stress and damage to the joint. Obviously it is difficult to prevent damage to the joints caused by poor conformation. (Although if poor conformation is detected in young, growing animals before there is any damage to the joint, measures may be taken to try to limit joint problems later on. This may involve limiting activity to a certain extent. Animals with congenital joint problems should generally not be used for breeding.) If trauma to a joint is due to some activity which puts undue stress upon the joint it may be possible to eliminate the activity or at least limit it to a more acceptable level.
When a cat is showing signs of lameness it may be possible to diagnose traumatic arthritis on the clinical signs alone, especially in acute cases when there is a known history of a traumatic episode involving the affected joint. However in many cases it will be necessary to perform further diagnostic tests. Procedures such as radiography (X-rays) or synovial fluid analysis may be required to make a definitive diagnosis of traumatic arthritis. It is very important to differentiate traumatic arthritis from other causes of arthritis such as sepsis or infection of the joint and this is the reason that these further diagnostic tests may be necessary.
The treatment of traumatic arthritis will depend upon extent of damage within the joint. In cases where there is no structural damage anti-inflammatory medication is usually sufficient, together with rest and possibly immobilisation of the joint. In more serious cases where there is disruptive damage within the joint involving the bone or ligaments, surgery may also be required. In such cases the patient must often be stabilised before such surgery can be considered. In these cases the affected joint would be immobilized and pain relief would be given until the patient was considered fit enough to undergo the necessary surgery.
In many cases of traumatic arthritis the joint may need to be immobilized for several weeks, especially if surgical repair of the joint was necessary and strict rest will often be needed for a considerable length of time. In all cases of traumatic arthritis the prognosis must be guarded because there is always the possibility that osteoarthritis will develop as a consequence of the trauma to the joint. The more the severe the trauma to the joint the higher is the likelihood of this occurring. There is also the possibility that the joint will heal well but there may be reduced joint mobility or even a mechanical lameness following the healing of the lesions within the joint.