Almost every cat owner can recall the sad moment they realized their beloved, four-legged companion may have entered the last stage of their life.

It could be the first time they were unable to jump on the bed, or maybe they gradually stopped grooming themselves and using the litter box.

While these may just seem like a signs of “getting old,” they could also be caused by osteoarthritis, a degenerative condition in the joints. 

Pet health experts say this chronic disease is extremely prevalent in our feline friends, affecting about 45% of all cats, and 90% of cats older than 12. However, there is no proven treatment that can relieve their suffering.

Until now.

On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first medication to treat pain associated with arthritis in cats. It’s also the first monoclonal antibody approved in the U.S. for use in any animal species.

“This is absolutely groundbreaking,” Dr. Duncan Lascelles, professor of translational pain research and surgery, North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine. “I have been in pain research for 30 years and this is the most exciting development that has happened.”

Lascelles said the “gamechanger” treatment could add several years to a cat’s life as well as pave the way for pain research and management for all other furry friends, including dogs. 

“Finally, for the first time ever in the U.S., there’s a highly efficacious treatment to manage joint pain in cats,” he said. “And therefore extend their life, extend their happiness, and extend that beautiful relationship between cats and their owners.”

In cats that have arthritis, the cartilage cushion surrounding their joints breaks down so the bones rub against each other, causing pain and decreased joint movement, according to the FDA. Although it’s more common in older cats, Lascelles says our furry friends can be diagnosed with arthritis as young as 6 months to a year old.

The new drug – called Solensia – doesn’t treat this directly, but the FDA says it can help manage pain associated with arthritis to improve a cat’s quality of life.

In two clinical trials submitted to the agency, 77% of cat owners saw improvement in their cats when they were treated monthly compared to 67% of cat owners in the placebo group.

“To be able to be mobile is so desperately important to the quality of life,” Lascelles said. “Cats are described as needing 3D spaces. They need to move on the ground but they also need to be able to get to elevation.”  

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Solensia is a cat-specific monoclonal antibody that’s injected under the skin by a veterinarian once a month. Side effects that cats receiving the new drug experienced were: vomiting, diarrhea; injection site pain; scabbing of the neck and head, itchy skin, and dermatitis.

Animal-specific nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are the traditional treatment method for arthritis pain. They can be used for animals as well as for humans. But they’re meant for short-term use, said  Dr. Nina Kieves, assistant professor of small animal orthopedic surgery, the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

“And we really can’t give these drugs if they have severe kidney disease,” she said. “Cats have a high prevalence of having severe kidney disease as they get older.”

Kieves also states that oral administration of NSAIDS is required.

“Feline (arthritis) pain is typically undertreated because of a lack of effective solutions that are safe to use long-term, along with how difficult it can be for cat owners to administer oral medicines,” said Mike McFarland, chief medical officer at Zoetis, which manufactures the recently approved drug. “The approval of Solensia is a significant step forward.”

According to company press releases, the drug will become available during 2022’s second half. Prices have not yet been determined.

Follow Adrianna Rodrigo on Twitter at @AdriannaUSAT 

USA TODAY has coverage for patient safety and healthcare thanks in part to the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. Editorial input is not provided by the Masimo Foundation.



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