Arthritis in cats

Feline arthritis is no different than human arthritis and is quite common. It’s caused when joint cartilage becomes damaged or deteriorates. When this happens, the remaining bones lose their “cushion” and rub together resulting in arthritis.

Arthritis is most common in cats that:

  • Are middle-age or geriatric

  • Are overweight or obese

  • Have had past joint injuries

  • Have congenital abnormalities (occurring at birth)

Arthritis is more common in overweight and obese cats.
See Nutrition and Weight Control for your cat.

Arthritis is painful to your cat

While arthritis often starts gradually and its signs can be difficult to detect, symptoms of pain in your cat are fairly easy to spot. First, it’s important to know the behaviors that are normal for your cat; each cat is different. Then watch for any changes that might include:

  • Reduced activity level / more time sleeping.

  • Anxiousness and restlessness.

  • Difficulty getting comfortable to rest or sleep.

  • Irritable/avoids contact with family members.

  • Cries out in pain or squirms when handled.

  • Not grooming resulting in an unkempt coat.

  • Decreased appetite and weight loss.

  • Lameness (may be difficult to detect).

  • Difficulty getting in or out of the litter box.

  • Possible urination/defecation outside the litter box.

  • Difficulty or hesitancy in jumping up. Your cat may still jump, but may hesitate first.

  • Difficulty maneuvering stairs.

  • Constipation, especially in older cats.

  • Stilted or awkward gait after a long nap or rest.

  • Unkempt looking fur and reduced grooming.

  • Seeking warm areas to lie down.

  • Limping or favoring a leg.

  • Excessively licking possible painful areas.

Arthritis is common in cats that are overweight and middle age.

Arthritis is common in cats that are overweight and middle age.

Treatment for cats with arthritis begins with a diagnosis

If you notice any of the above symptoms, make an appointment with your veterinarian immediately. You’ll want to rule out any other health conditions. Your veterinarian will conduct a physical examination of your cat and will probably take x-rays. Your veterinarian may also want to evaluate your cat’s joint fluid to rule out joint infections. The pain associated with arthritis is highly treatable. If your cat is diagnosed with arthritis, your veterinarian will suggest a number of treatment options to keep your cat comfortable and pain-free. Your veterinarian will also suggest steps you can take to help make your kitty more comfortable in your home, such as:

  • Adding a ramp or steps to help kitty access sleeping and perching areas.

  • Getting a heated cat bed or heating pad to warm kitty’s achy joints.

  • Gently massaging the affected areas if kitty will let you.

  • KKeeping kitty active with regular exercise.

  • Watching excess weight.

  • Strategically placing stools or other furniture to help your cat access beds or other resting areas.

  • Moving litter boxes onto the main floor to avoid stairs.

  • Getting a low-sided, larger litter box so kitty can get in and out more easily.

  • Consider acupuncture or other homeopathic treatments.

  • Talk to your veterinarian about joint supplements such as glucosamine chondroitin. Some cats also require low doses of pain medication.

  • NEVER give your cat Tylenol, aspirin or other human pain relievers.