Septic Arthritis in Cats
My cat was diagnosed with septic arthritis. I’ve never heard of this condition before- what is it?
Septic arthritis occurs when bacteria or another infectious agent is introduced into one (or more) joints, leading to painful inflammation. In general, medium to large dogs are most commonly affected, but the condition can occur in cats, although rarely.
The signs of septic arthritis include heat, swelling, and pain in one or more joints. There will typically be decreased range of motion in the affects joint(s), as well as fever, lethargy, and lack of appetite.
What kinds of infectious “bugs” cause septic arthritis?
Bacteria that can live and grow in the presence of oxygen- aerobes- and bacteria that can live and grow in the absence of oxygen- anaerobic bacteria- and fungal organisms can all cause septic arthritis.
Are there any specific risk factors that set the stage for septic arthritis?
Some diseases, such as diabetes mellitus, suppress the immune system, which can create a predisposition to infection. Medications that suppress the immune system can also influence the development of septic arthritis. Any trauma that penetrates a joint, or a surgery involving a joint can be an influencing factor. Finally, osteoarthritis, other joint damage, or injections into a joint can be root causes of septic arthritis.
How is septic arthritis treated?
If a cat with septic arthritis is very ill, he will be hospitalized and treated as necessary to stabilize him. The veterinarian will extract joint fluid for bacterial culture, and may “lavage” (flush) the joint to minimize joint damage. Some cats with septic arthritis require surgical opening of the joint, removal of abnormal tissue, and copious lavage. Occasionally, a flushing catheter may be placed to provide access to the joint for post-operative flushing.
"Activity should be restricted until cleared by your veterinarian."
Once home, these cats benefit from long-term management. Cold packs alternated with heat packs may be beneficial for increasing blood flow, and decreasing inflammation and swelling. Activity should be restricted until cleared by your veterinarian.
Your veterinarian may prescribe a broad-spectrum antibiotic while waiting for the results of the bacterial culture and sensitivity panel. Once the best choice of antibiotic is made, the medication will typically be given for at least 4 to 8 weeks. In addition, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) or a narcotic may be given to relieve pain and inflammation.
What follow-up care might be needed for my cat?
It will be important to watch for the return of joint pain and swelling. There may be a need for microscopic evaluations of joint fluid to monitor response to therapy. Physical rehabilitation techniques may speed healing and help prevent joint degeneration.
Be aware of the potential for degenerative joint disease, recurring infection, limited range of motion in the affected joint(s), bone infection, or generalized infection that spreads to other areas of the body from the infected joint. Long-term antibiotics may be required.
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