A Cat Owner’s Guide to Feline Arthritis

While most of us are familiar with arthritis in people and dogs, who both commonly suffer from this degenerative joint disease as they age, cat owners tend not to realize that arthritis occurs in their pets, too. Dogs and cats can develop arthritis, but cats hide their pain well and show only subtle changes, so are diagnosed less often. Recent studies indicate that 60% of cats older than 6 years and 70% to 90% of cats 12 years of age and older have arthritis signs. Cats need pain relief, too, but cat owners must first identify the signs. Our team at Ambleside Animal Hospital has the information you need to recognize arthritis signs and to know when to seek treatment for your favorite feline friend.

What is arthritis in cats?

Arthritis, which also is called degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis, is a chronic, painful, progressive condition that affects the joints. Arthritis develops over time, as the cartilage that lines and cushions the joint breaks down and allows the bones to rub together, causing swelling, inflammation, and joint pain, most often in the spine, hip, knees, and elbows. Arthritis is a progressive disease that worsens over time, so identifying the signs quickly and beginning management in the condition’s early stages is vital.

What causes arthritis in cats?

Arthritis is often associated with senior cats, but although a cat’s risk increases with age, arthritis can affect cats of any age. Factors that influence a cat’s propensity for arthritis development include:

  • Genetics — Certain cat breeds (e.g., Himalayans, Persians, Siamese) are more prone to arthritis and decreased mobility.
  • Injury — Direct trauma caused by a car accident or a fall can damage cartilage, resulting in arthritis later in life and adversely affecting mobility. Ligament injuries, such as an ACL tear, can also cause arthritis.
  • Infection — Occasionally, infections can destroy cartilage and joint tissue.
  • Excess weight — Excess weight means excess stress on the joints and cartilage, which can lead to or exacerbate arthritis and joint health problems.

What are arthritis signs in cats?

Cats are experts at hiding their pain, and the early stages of arthritis are easy to miss. Most cats don’t show obvious indications of their pain until later in the disease process, when signs are impossible to ignore. The most common feline arthritis signs are behavior changes, including:

  • Taking stairs one at a time, or differently than the past
  • No longer using favorite high perches
  • Difficulty grooming, with unkempt fur
  • Accidents outside the litter box
  • Decreased movement and activity
  • Decreased play
  • Increased irritability or hiding

Cat owners commonly attribute these behaviors to normal aging, but often they indicate the pet’s disease is advanced and they are suffering a great deal of pain. Spare your cat from suffering in silence until you notice their obvious discomfort by scheduling regular veterinary wellness visits. Your veterinarian can detect early arthritis signs during your cat’s physical examination, and an early diagnosis and treatment plan provides pain relief sooner and slows disease progression.

How is feline arthritis treated?

Your veterinarian can help determine the best treatment option for your cat’s arthritis, which may include:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — While cats can be sensitive to some NSAIDs, medications that your veterinarian prescribes can help reduce joint inflammation and provide significant pain relief.
  • Pain medication — Pain medications, including gabapentin and sometimes opioids, can be used for pain control if NSAIDs are not sufficient.
  • Injectable joint protectants — Monthly injectables that reduce arthritis pain are available, and are ideal for pet owners who do not want to administer medications daily.
  • Supplements — Glucosamine and chondroitin are the main ingredients in joint supplements proven to spare further cartilage damage. Adequan, an injectable medicine, can also help.
  • Weight control — Cat arthritis medications can help to control pain levels, but they do little to stop the inflammation that causes arthritis progression. Extra pounds exacerbate joint damage, so weight control and moderate exercise are crucial.
  • Alternative therapies —In addition to medication and supplements, an arthritic cat may benefit from alternative therapies such as acupuncture, physical therapy, or cold laser therapy.

You want your cat to have the best quality of life, and identifying arthritis signs early helps ensure they stay agile, comfortable, and happy throughout their senior years. Contact the Ambleside Animal Hospitalto schedule your cat’s next wellness examination, and let us ensure your cat has no evidence of arthritis.