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Clinical Trial at NC State College of Veterinary Medicine Seeks Cats Suffering from Osteoarthritis

Is your cat slowing down? Does he seem hesitant to jump up or down, climb stairs, or play? Does she seem stiff when waking up from a nap? Your cat may suffer from osteoarthritis–a degenerative joint disease–and could be a candidate for a free clinical trial conducted by the Comparative Pain Research Laboratory at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Led by Dr. B. Duncan X. Lascelles, professor of small animal surgery and pain management, and Dr. Margaret Gruen, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, the purpose of the NC State trial is to evaluate a flavored, liquid medication for the treatment of pain associated with osteoarthritis in cats. Owners of cats that participate in the placebo-controlled study receive free study-related medical benefits valued at up to $800.

“Our research shows that degenerative joint disease is very common in cats,” says Dr. Lascelles, who helps direct the Integrated Pain Management Service in the CVM Veterinary Health and Wellness Center.  “Up to 92 percent of all cats are affected, and the severity of the disease increases by 13 percent with each year a cat ages. Of the 90 percent affected, we think about half have pain that alters their ability to perform everyday activities, such as playing, navigating stairs, and using a litter box.”

Dr. Lascelles notes that since pain is difficult to assess in cats, X-rays are taken of every joint and the researchers conduct orthopedic and behavioral evaluations to determine which cats are clinically affected. “Our evaluations are quite detailed,” he says, “thus providing cat owners with a lot of valuable information about the health of their pets.”

According to a newsletter published by the Food and Drug Administration, diagnosis of arthritis in cats can be difficult because, unlike most dogs, cats can tolerate severe orthopedic disease due to their small size and natural agility.

In addition to the diagnostics conducted when a cat is evaluated for trial participation, Dr. Gruen says the study will also assess the cat’s behaviors throughout the study because cats suffering with osteoarthritis may not cry or whine, but may instead show their pain by their behaviors, such as difficulty moving and changes in personality.

Sandy Howell, owner of Sally, a 14-year-old cat, is a trial participant. “I knew that Sally had arthritis, but I was surprised at how extensive it had become,” says Howell. “She had gained weight, wouldn’t go upstairs, was unfriendly to other pets in our household, and did not have much energy. Now Sally’s like her old self again.  Her quality of life has really improved as a result of participating in this study.”

Cats enrolled in this study receive free medical services valued at $750, including physical, orthopedic, and neurological exams; blood tests; urinalysis; X-rays of every joint; and free medication. In addition to the medical evaluation, owners of enrolled cats are eligible to receive $50 in gas cards to help with study-related travel expenses.

According to Dr. Lascelles, the work the Comparative Pain Research Laboratory has been able to do during the last few years has been accomplished with help and participation from cat lovers, owners, and veterinarians. “This collaboration has dramatically changed our knowledge of chronic pain assessment and treatment in the cat,” says Dr. Lascelles. “The current effort will continue to build our knowledge base.”

Signs of arthritis in cats

Without approved medications to treat osteoarthritis pain in cats, there is little awareness of the disease among cat owners. Here are signs owners can observe in their pets:

  • Difficulty moving after a long rest
  • Difficulty finding a comfortable position
  • Difficulty climbing or descending stairs
  • Difficulty jumping up or down
  • Intolerance of being touched or petted
  • Playing less
  • Irritability, or a change in attitude

Qualifications for trial

Cats must:

  • Have owner-perceived impairment in mobility
  • Be older than 1 year
  • Weigh more than 4.4 pounds
  • Be indoor only and willing to wear a lightweight collar that measures the cat’s activity

Owners must:

  • Commit to a 14-week schedule
  • Give liquid medication/ placebo to their cats daily
  • Evaluate their cat’s progress by completing questionnaires
  • Travel to NC State College of Veterinary Medicine for a total of five or six visits (only two visits with their cats) during the study period

A complete list of eligibility criteria will be reviewed with cat owners upon evaluation of their cats.

For more information

Cat owners who believe their cats may qualify can call the Comparative Pain Research Laboratory at NC State’s College of Veterinary Medicine at (919) 513-6854 or send an e-mail to  Interested owners should contact the lab as soon as possible since the number of study participants is limited.

Note: medication given to cats in the trial may or may not help their condition.  As with all medications, there are risks and benefits, all of which will be discussed with cat owners prior to enrollment.