It's a sad day when you realize your cat is aging. Your kitty, who would usually run to you to cuddle, slows in movement and dawdles to their food. What we often attribute to old age can, unfortunately, be arthritis. 

Studies have shown that over ninety percent of felines over twelve years of age show signs of arthritis. Arthritis can inflict even younger kitties, with fifty percent of cats over the age of six suffering from arthritic pain. 

Identifying arthritis in felines is not easy. Most of the time, cat owners are unaware of their kitty's pain. So many arthritic cats are left under-diagnosed and untreated so it's imperative to understand the disease and know what to look out for to identify the illness. 

What is Arthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a joint disease where the cartilage that usually protects the joints degenerates. The purpose of cartilage is to protect the bones and act as a shock absorber. Cartilage covers the ends of the bones in areas where bending and movement occurs.

Healthy cartilage provides an environment where motion is fluid and friction is low. When cartilage is under pressure, aged, or injured, the cartilage wears down, and synovial joint fluid changes. Synovial joint fluid provides lubrication for moving parts of your cat's body.

Joint disease is excruciating for cats. It's prevalent in elbows, shoulders, tarsal and hip joints. Forty-eight percent of arthritic cats have OA in more than one joint. 

Signs of Arthritis in Cats

When older cats experienced difficulty getting onto surfaces or out windows, this behavior can signal osteoarthritis. Unlike dogs that get taken for walks and played with, cat owners are slower in noticing joint problems in their furry feline. By the time the disease is diagnosed, it is usually significantly progressed. 

Common signs of pain or arthritis in cats include:

  • Sluggish movement and additional effort for jumping or standing

  • Limping or stiffness

  • Increased sleep or rest

  • Loss of muscle mass

  • Neglectful grooming habits

  • Altered behavior, including unusual irritability or aggression

  • Urinating accidents in the home or beside the litter box due to discomfort when entering or using the box.

What Causes Cat Arthritis?

When it comes to arthritis in cats, it can be challenging to pinpoint any predisposing causes. It's a complicated disease that can be brought on by old age because of mechanical wear and tear damage on joints and cartilage. Keep this in mind as your cat gets older. 

Some secondary causes can bring on arthritis in cats. A previous fracture or dislocation on the shoulders, elbows, hips, and tarsal joints may encourage the synovial joint fluid and spongy cartilage degeneration.

Previous infection or trauma can also promote the onset of arthritis. Cats with hip dysplasia or other congenital abnormalities are also more prone to joint disease. Degenerative joint disease may be hereditary, and a purebred kitty is more likely to develop arthritis than a mixed bred cat.

Obesity or extra weight is a common factor in cats with arthritis. The added weight and pressure on the joints do damage. Making sure your cat remains at its optimal weight can protect them from more than just arthritis. A controlled diet with low-calorie food will help prevent the onset of heart disease, diabetes, or kidney and liver disease. 

Diagnosing Cat Arthritis 

Vets who suspect osteoarthritis in their patients will examine the animal and look for signs of pain. Swelling, inflammation, and sensitivity around the joints can also be an indication of disease. Since arthritis becomes more common as cats age, a veterinarian will often look out for it in felines over seven years old. X-rays are needed to confirm the evidence of OA and to assess the damage. 

Other diseases can also affect your cat's mobility, so your vet may want to rule these out. As well as X-rays, execution of urine and blood tests investigate the presence of other diseases, especially for older cats. Chronic conditions that can cause limping or slowness include feline diabetes, Feline Aortic ThromboembolismFeline CaliciVirus (FCV) Infection, cancer, hip dysplasia, Intervertebral disc disease, or Coccidioidomycosis fungal infection. 

Tests and treatment for chronic conditions are very costly. Unfortunately, this may lead to pet owners choosing to euthanize their pets earlier than necessary. Investing in some pet insurance can help keep your kitty with you for longer and support quality life. 

Arthritis Treatment for Cats

Sadly, arthritis is a degenerative disease with no cure. Once it's affected the joints, the condition will only worsen over time. By recognizing it early on in your pet, you can slow the disease's progression, and they can still live a long life. Treatment options for cats with osteoarthritis revolve around providing comfort and pain relief. Please work with your veterinarian to keep your pet healthy and happy for the remainder of their days. 

Weight Management

Weight loss is an excellent place to start if your cat is on the chubbier side. Additional weight on joints can only increase the degeneration of the condition. Weight loss is, therefore, shown to benefit cats with arthritis.

If your cat is obese, your vet may suggest new food and some restrictions. Monitor and maintain a healthy body weight in your cat if they are already there. Inactivity can cause them to add on the pounds if you're going to spoil them with treats. Monitor snack intake and avoid titbits from the dinner table. 

Amputation

A tumor known as the synovial cell sarcoma causes a type of cancerous arthritis. It's a common infliction of cancer on joints in cats and can cause lameness and joint swelling. Following X-rays and a biopsy, your veterinarian may recommend amputation of the affected limb to alleviate pain and prevent the tumor's spreading. This type of cancer can quickly spread to the lungs.

Prescription Pain Medications

We know we want your cat to feel better, but it's crucial to never give your pet medication without first consulting your veterinarian. There are some licensed Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) for felines, namely Robenacoxib, Ketoprofen, or Meloxicam. These prescribed drugs control inflammation and chronic pain in pets. 

Opioids can also help treat pain. Opioid options for cats include BuprenorphineTramadol, Hydrocodone, Codeine, Hydrochloride, Oxycodone, or Fentanyl. Steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are also an option and can be applied topically, orally, or injected. Steroid injections will target joint and muscle inflammation.

WARNING: All NSAIDs can have damaging side effects in cats, such as vomiting, depression, anorexia, swollen face and paws, coma, salivation, liver damage, diarrhea, and death. Corticosteroids are also not advised for long term use. 

Toxic poisoning is a real danger in pets who have been offered human-grade over-the-counter medication. Look out for the side effects of poisoning. Avoid the following human Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs and other pain-relieving medicines:

  • Ibuprofen is the number one common toxicoses for dogs and cats. It's found in Advil, Nuprin, and Motrin. 

  • Acetaminophen and Paracetamol dosages for humans can be fatal if given to your feline for pain relief.

  • Aspirin needs to be administered with extreme care, at the lowest effective dose. 

Alternative Treatments and Therapy

Nonstrenuous physical therapy can be beneficial in strengthening your cat's muscles and promoting joint health.

  • Hydrotherapy is not for all cats, but if your kitty doesn't mind being in the water, it can be a great form of physical therapy. Hydrotherapy uses the viscosity, buoyancy, and resistance in the water to positively affect muscle strength and manages pain. 

  • Acupuncture works wonders for arthritis pain and inflammation. Fine needles are inserted into specific areas on the body to stimulate an appropriate response. It is non-invasive, calming, and painless for your furry friend. 

  • Laser therapynaturally alleviates pain and releases endorphins in your pet by using a light to activate an inflammatory response, thereby reducing chronic or mild pain.

  • Massaging your kitty's sore and stiff joints can be very helpful in easing pain. Massaging your cat also has psychological effects of reducing anxiety and stress. It also can modulate the immune system. Using a massage balm with natural ingredients known to reduce inflammation will support your efforts. 

Nutritional Supplements and Joint-Supporting Diets 

Low-calorie diets that support healthy joints contain a high (35 percent or more) of animal-based protein. The protein builds strong muscles, which help reduce wear and tear on fragile joints.

Natural Pain Relievers

  • Omega 3 fatty acids are not only delicious for your fish-loving kitty, but they help reduce pain and inflammation. 

  • Green Lipped Muscle Extract (GLME) is full of glucosamine sulfate, amino acids, minerals, and antioxidants.

  • Boswellia Tree resin has a similar effect to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories. 

  • Ginger powder is an everyday pantry staple that can be sprinkled over your cat's food to help with pain and stiffness.

Managing Your Cat's Discomfort 

When your kitty is living with arthritis, there is plenty that you can do to cater to their needs and reduce pressure on their sore joints. Let your furbaby know you care by making these small environmental changes:

  • Groom them when they can't do it themselves. Cut out matted hair and trim nails.

  • Place food and water on ground level for easy access.

  • Select a litter tray with low sides or make access to the outdoors easy by hooking cat flaps open or taking them outside for a little walk throughout the day.

  • Install ramps to their favorite comfy spot and help them up stairs.

  • Put water bowls in multiple places for easy access.

  • Get your kitty an orthopedic bed or cat igloo that provides a haven and a comfortable space for sore joints. 

Final Thoughts on Cat Arthritis

Arthritis is a lifelong condition in cats. Your arthritic cat will need love and palliative care. Treatment is a long term commitment, and it's essential to work with your veterinarian to help manage the disease. Easing your cat's pain and offering them a good quality of life with loads of snuggles is important. Do this, and you can enjoy many more years with your furry companion by your side. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best treatment for arthritis in cats? 

Treatment options for cats with osteoarthritis revolve around providing comfort and pain relief. Improving your furry friend's quality of life is all you can do to ease the symptoms of their condition. Work with your veterinarian to keep your pet healthy and happy for the remainder of their days.

How long can cats live with arthritis? 

Sadly, arthritis is a degenerative disease with no cure. Once it's affected the joints, the condition will only worsen over time. By recognizing it early on in your pet, the disease's progression can be slowed, and they can still live a long life. 

Is arthritis common in cats? 

Studies have shown that over ninety percent of felines over twelve years of age show signs of arthritis. 

How can I help my elderly cat with arthritis? 

Arthritis is a lifelong condition, and it's important to work with your veterinarian to help manage the disease. Small environmental changes can help your cat live with arthritis. Do things like placing food, water, litter boxes, and their bed on floor level so that jumping isn't required.