Studies into X-rays of older cats show that it is common for them to suffer from arthritis. The most common form is called osteoarthritis. This is a degenerative joint disease that causes damage to cartilage and the formation of bone spurs in the joint. As a result, the joint doesn’t move as smoothly as it’s supposed to.

All joints in the body can be affected by arthritis, though it most commonly manifests in knees, elbows, hip joints and the lower spine. Chronic pain or discomfort in these areas can severely decrease your cat’s quality of life.

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Signs And Symptoms Of Arthritis In Cats

The symptoms of feline arthritis aren’t always obvious. Cats tend to hide it when they are in pain, because they don’t want to show their vulnerability to any rivals or predators. It is key that you monitor your cat’s habits, especially as she gets older. Even the slightest change in how she sits, eats, plays, sleeps or goes to the bathroom can be a sign of trouble. If you suspect that your cat is becoming arthritic, please take her to the vet, as symptoms are bound to get worse over time. To help you interpret your kitty, we list the most common symptoms of arthritis in cats.

Stiff and swollen joints

Arthritis can affect all joints in your cat’s body. However, the first symptoms are usually seen in elbows, knees, hips and spine. Your cat may stick her back legs out from under her when she sits, because bending the knee gives her pain. She might squirm or complain when you pick her up or touch her lower back. She might get worn out quickly from play or always roll onto her back and swat at a toy, instead of jumping up and catching it. Another thing that I personally noticed in my senior kitty was that she started excessively grooming her back legs, as if to lick the pain away.

Lethargy

Cats with arthritis tend to move around less to avoid pain. Chronic pain is also really exhausting, so your feline may start sleeping more than before. An average cat sleeps about 12 to 16 hours a day. Older cats need a bit more sleep, up to 20 hours a day.

Sleeping cat

Discomfort when being handled

Just like simple movement, being picked up and handled can be painful for your arthritic cat as well. If the pain is really bad, or you tend to pick her up a lot, it can get to a point where it triggers her fight or flight response. She could get aggressive and swipe at you or simply run away as you approach her.

Litter box problems

Stepping in and out of the litter box may become too much for a cat with arthritis. If your cat suddenly starts leaving you presents on the floor, it might be because it’s just too painful for her to step over the side.

Improper grooming

A cat with arthritis can have trouble grooming herself properly. The stiffness of her joints won’t allow her to reach areas on her back. This will leave patches that look a bit matte or greasy.

Hesitant to run, jump or climb stairs

These activities all put extra strain on your kitty’s already aching joints. If your cat starts spending most of her time on the floor instead of happily exploring the heights available to her, there is a good chance that she indeed has arthritis.

Causes Of Feline Arthritis

Aging

Arthritis is very common in older cats. Studies show that up to 90% of felines past the age of 12 show signs of arthritic joints. I recommend taking your senior cat for regular vet visits to help early detection and treatment of any illness, including arthritis.

Injury

A physical injury or dislocation of the joint can compromise the cartilage and set your cat on the path towards arthritis, regardless of her age.

Infection

Similar to injuries, untreated infections can damage both the cartilage and surrounding tissue. If your cat’s joints feel slightly warmer to the touch than the rest of her body, it’s time for a trip to the vet.

Obesity

Overweight cats are at a high risk of developing arthritis. The extra weight she carries around literally puts a heavy load on your cat’s joints. The increased pain will most likely result in lethargy, making it even more difficult for her to keep up her fitness.

Immune disease

Immune Mediated Polyarthritis (IMPA) is a disease of the immune system that causes inflammation in your cat’s joints. IMPA is often accompanied by fever, on top of other symptoms. 

Cancer

Cancerous arthritis is a form of arthritis where a tumor forms around the bone in the joint. Your vet will diagnose this disease through X-rays. 

Genetic predisposition

Arthritis can be hereditary. Some breeds of cat, like Maine Coons, Scottish Folds, Burmese and Abyssinians, are also more prone to developing arthritis than others.

Treatments For Feline Arthritis

If your feline has been diagnosed with arthritis, there are several things you can do to increase her quality of life. Unfortunately, there is no cure, but you can manage symptoms to give your cat more comfort and a better life expectancy.

Prescription pain medication

Your vet will likely prescribe an anti-inflammatory pain medication, such as Metacam. Depending on the severity of your cat’s arthritis she may have to be on this medication for the rest of her life.

Cartilage rebuilding injections

Your vet may also prescribe Adequan, which is a Disease Modifying Osteoarthritis Drug. It is FDA-approved only for dogs and horses, though some vets use it for cats as well. Adequan works to both lubricate the joints and repair damaged cartilage.

Acupuncture and laser therapy

If you want to take a holistic approach to treating your kitty’s arthritis, I recommend looking into acupuncture and laser therapy. Not all vets administer this type of cat arthritis treatment, so you may have to search for a specialist in your area. Laser therapy devices are also available to consumers. So if your cat benefits from this treatment, you can consider doing it at home. In the long run, this can save you a lot of money on vet visits.

Nutritional supplements

How can I treat my cat’s arthritis naturally? If you’re not able or willing to administer medication to your cat on a daily basis, or if you want to give her an extra boost, you can consider giving her cat arthritis supplements. Substances like glucosamine, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) can help to rebuild lost or damaged cartilage and increase her mobility. These nutritional supplements come in the form of a powder that you can simply sprinkle over her wet food.

Weight loss

If your arthritic cat is also overweight, it is high time to put her on a diet and some light exercise. Consider leash training and taking her for short walks around the block or your garden, if you have one. Be careful not to wear her out too much, though. Obese cats are also at a high risk of developing heart disease, so too much stress could lead to a heart attack. Be patient and keep in mind that this is not a sprint, but rather a life-long marathon.

Gentle play

Keeping your arthritic cat active will help to slow down further development of the disease. Be sure to take it slow and not wear her out. Short sessions of ground play are best for felines with arthritis. Avoid activities that include quick turns, jumping or running.

Soft cat beds

Give your cat some extra soft blankets or cat beds to rest her bones on. Place them on the ground, or somewhere she can reach without too much of a climb. If you have a multi-cat household, choose spots where the other cats won’t bother or stalk her. Dominant cats that sense she’s vulnerable may take advantage of her fragility and start bullying her.

Massage

Did you know that cats love massages just as much as we do? And it’s especially beneficial for arthritic cats. Gently massaging a cat’s muscles in her neck, back and legs can really give her some relief. Be careful not to press too hard. Watch your cat’s reaction and stop if she starts growling or meowing. You probably hit a sore spot.

Grooming

Lend your cat a hand by gently brushing out her coat or even patting her down with a moist cloth in the areas she can’t reach. Cats are very clean creatures, so she will surely appreciate it. Same as with massages, you should be careful not to accidentally hurt her when you do this.

Low entrance litter boxes

Replace your litter box with one that has a low entrance. Or simply cut one of the sides out of your current one. Of course, you won’t be able to fill it up to the top with litter anymore. Just use a thin layer and be sure to clean the litter box every day.

Raised food and drinking bowls

Bending down to eat or drink can be very painful for your arthritic feline’s neck. Put something under her bowls to raise them up and make it easier for her to reach the food and water.

Life Expectancy

If your cat has been diagnosed with arthritis, you might be wondering: how long can a cat live with arthritis? Even though arthritis is a debilitating disease in and of itself, with proper care and treatment it should not stand in the way of your cat happily living out her days. If your cat has been diagnosed with osteoarthritis or another form, you should count on extra vet visits throughout the rest of her life. These are crucial to monitor her condition over time and adjust treatment where necessary. On the plus side, this will also allow you to catch any other diseases quickly as they develop, giving your kitty the best chance at a long life.

Final Thoughts

Cats are still much of a mystery to us. Even if they could talk, they probably wouldn’t tell us everything. Luckily, we have scientists who can teach us more about our feline companions. And they have shown us that arthritis is, contrary to what most believed, actually very common in cats.

Still, old convictions take some time to be replaced by new knowledge, also in vets. You might be in a position where you suspect your cat is arthritic, but your vet doesn’t consider it as an option. Just remember that you are in charge of your cat’s health. If at any time for any reason you feel that your vet is not on the same page as you, don’t be afraid to seek out a second opinion.

If you catch your cat’s arthritis early, you may definitely congratulate yourself on being an attentive and vigilant pet owner. Hopefully, you can work to slow down the progression of the disease and give your furry friend some much needed pain-relief with the treatments we have laid out for you.