Degenerative diseases

Treating Arthritis in Cats

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. November 24, 2019
Treating Arthritis in Cats

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Like humans, cats can suffer from many joint related diseases, such as feline arthritis. This is a condition that causes inflammation and joint pain, among other symptoms. Arthritis is not easy to detect in cats because they are very adept at hiding pain, which can make it difficult for you to realize that your kitty is suffering.

This is why it is important to learn to recognize early symptoms of arthritis in cats, before we discuss the best pain relief and treatment options for your pet. If you have an elderly cat, or suspect that your cat may have arthritis, this AnimalWised article will give you all the information you need about treating arthritis in cats along with the main signs to look out for, causes to be aware of and tips on adequate care for an arthritic cat.

You may also be interested in: Arthritis in Dogs
  1. What is feline arthritis?
  2. Causes of arthritis in cats
  3. Signs of arthritis in cats
  4. How to treat arthritis in cats
  5. Treating feline arthritis - at home care

What is feline arthritis?

Feline arthritis, also called feline osteoarthritis, is a chronic inflammatory disease. Although many assume it only affects older cats, arthritis can affect cats of any age. It is also known as degenerative joint disease. The word ‘degenerative’ indicates that the condition gets worse over time. Arthritis wears down the protective cartilage tissue around the cat's joints. This progressive loss of cartilage causes the bones to rub against each other. This leads to swelling, joint pain, stiffness and some loss of mobility, among other symptoms.

While arthritis cannot be reversed, its progress can be slowed down and its symptoms reduced. This is why it is important to be able to recognize the onset of arthritis in cats as soon as possible. The more the disease advances, the harder it will become to treat and the more you cat may suffer.

Treating Arthritis in Cats - What is feline arthritis?

Causes of arthritis in cats

Feline arthritis is usually the result of old age in cats, which causes the natural deterioration of cartilage (much like arthritis in humans). However, there are some conditions that can cause arthritis to develop in cats of any age. Here are the possible causes to look out for, if your cat is younger and you suspect arthritis:

  • Injury: arthritis can appear as a post-traumatic condition when a cat has suffered an injury like a blow to the joint or dislocation. Such injuries can damage the cartilage around the joints leading to arthritis.
  • Infection: occasionally, infection can affect the joints and lead to the deterioration of the cartilage. This may be due to wounds or bites at the joints. This is called ‘septic arthritis’.
  • Genetics: certain genetic malformations in a cat's joints, such as hip dysplasia, are related to the development of feline arthritis[1]. Some breeds of cats such as the Maine coon or Persian cat may be more prone to this.
  • Obesity: while not all overweight cats will get arthritis, the extra weight puts pressure on the joints and cartilage. This can eventually lead to arthritis or worsen existing arthritic symptoms.
  • Immune dysfunction: arthritis caused by immunological diseases is actually a different to feline osteoarthritis and is known as ‘polyarthritis’. In such cases the cat's own immune system attacks the synovial membrane, which helps lubricate the joints. This causing swelling and severe pain, among other symptoms. It can be brought on immunological diseases such as feline leukemia virus.

Signs of arthritis in cats

As we have explained, it can be difficult to detect arthritis in cats. The major signs of arthritis in cats involve behavioral changes that may not immediately suggest disease. Unlike arthritic dogs, cats with arthritis may not signs of lameness, and are very skilled at hiding pain. In fact, even professional vets can have trouble diagnosing feline arthritis, as the disease can sometimes be difficult to detect even in radiographs[2].

Despite this, it is good to keep a look out for certain symptoms if you have any reason to believe your cat may be vulnerable to arthritis. You can determine this if any of the causes described in the previous section can be applied to your cat. Here are some of the signs of arthritis in cats:

  • Changes in mobility: these include changes in gait and reluctance to jump or climb stairs. Studies have shown that loss of mobility is one of first signs of feline arthritis that owners can notice[3]. Changes in posture and difficulty getting up may also be observed.
  • Behavioral changes: these include changes in mood and signs such as listlessness, loss of appetite, anxiety, poor grooming or urinating outside the little box. They may also object to you touching or handling them, by flinching away or vocalizing. This is a sign that the cat may be in pain.
  • Grating sound: this is not a very common sign of arthritis in cats. However, if the damage to the cartilage is advanced you may notice a grating sound when the cat moves, as the bones in the joint rub together.
  • Visible inflammation: this is another symptom that may not appear or can only be observed once the disease has progressed considerably. If your cat has been injured you may notice swelling in the affected joint sooner. Studies have shown that in cats the hips and elbows (in the front legs) are the most frequently affected by arthritis[4]. Keep an eye on these joints, if you think your cat may have arthritis.

If you notice any of these symptoms or signs, or suspect feline arthritis brought on by infection or other factors, take your cat to a veterinarian as soon as possible. While they may not be able to confirm arthritis right away, a specialist can determine the appropriate course of treatment to help your cat feel better and recover normal behavior.

Keep in mind that it is especially easy to miss the warning signs of arthritis described under the first two categories. Many pet guardians just put them down to ‘old age’ or moodiness, without getting a proper diagnosis. This could leave your cat to suffer unnecessarily as the arthritis advances, instead of getting treatment from the early stages onwards.

How to treat arthritis in cats

Feline arthritis is a progressive and degenerative disease, which means it cannot be reversed. Treatment focuses on limiting or slowing down the progression of arthritis, as well as easing the clinical symptoms the cat is suffering from. To achieve this, treatment options for arthritis in cats range from anti-inflammatory drugs to environmental adaptation and physical therapy. Always consult a vet to find out the most appropriate treatment for your cat. Here are some of the most common treatment options for arthritic cats:

  • Prescription drugs: the most common medical treatment for feline arthritis are prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These help relieve pain and minimize joint inflammation. However it is important to keep in mind that you should never gives cats NSAIDs meant for humans, or administer doses without checking with the vet first. Meloxicam is the only NSAIDs that is presently considered effective and safe for arthritic cats to take long term[5]. Long term use of NSAIDs could be harmful to cats with kidney disease, so be sure to consult with your vet before choosing this treatment method.
  • Supplements: pharmacological supplements or ‘nutraceuticals’ such as chondrotitin or glucosamine may help relieving pain and inflammation causes by arthritis in cats. However, so far studies have not shown significant improvements in mobility with the administration of these drugs. They may not harm your cat, but are not as clinically effective as NSAIDs[5]. Always consult the veterinarian before choosing to administer these or any other supplements.
  • Physical therapy: physiotherapy is another measure that may help reduce pain in cats with arthritis, although there is again limited evidence. While you can perform basic massages at home, a proper physical therapy regime should only be carried out by a trained veterinary specialist.
  • Diet and exercise: this is both a treatment option and a necessary preventive measure. To reduce your cat's chances of developing arthritis, it should have a nutritious, adequate diet and be given regular exercise from the day you first adopt it. This is to keep its musculoskeletal system in good condition, making the cat less prone to suffer feline osteoarthritis. If your cat is arthritic and overweight, reducing its calorie intake and increasing exercise are recommended. This will help reduce the load on their joints, and therefore reduce the swelling and related symptoms of arthritis. Consult your veterinarian to determine the best diet for your cat and an adequate exercise regime that will not cause any extra strain.
  • Surgery: is always the last option and will only be recommended if the cat's arthritis is highly developed or caused by an underlying condition that can be treated with surgery. Surgery should only be carried out if the veterinarian considers it necessary.
Treating Arthritis in Cats - How to treat arthritis in cats

Treating feline arthritis - at home care

Apart from the treatment options described above - including regular exercise and proper diet - there are certain special care measures you can take to make life easier for an arthritic cat.

First of all, your cat needs to be as comfortable as possible at home. This implies modifying the environment so that the cat does not have to exert itself more than necessary. You can do this in simple ways, such putting soft blankets or towels in the cat's bed or wherever you know it likes to rest. Soft, cushioned surfaces are easier on arthritic joints than hard, flat ones. You can also use warm compresses or place a hot water bottle in the cat's bed to help relieve the swelling and pain in affected joints. Remember that cold and humidity aggravate the pain of arthritis in cats, so make sure your home stays warm, dry and without abrupt changes in temperature.

It is also important to reduce the number of obstacles in the cat's way, so that it does not have to jump or make other painful and difficult movements. For example, if cat cannot jump up to a favorite spot anymore or use the stairs, consider putting in or building a ramp so that it can still climb up. Use a litterbox with lower sides to make it less painful for your cat to get in and out of. Also make sure that food and water bowls are easily accessible so that the cat does not have to walk a long distance to get to to them.

Finally, avoid adding to your cat's discomfort by causing them any kind of stress. Treat your furry friend with with lots of love, affection and patience, so they know they can count on you. A calm, comfortable and loving environment are the key to making your arthritic cat feel better.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Treating Arthritis in Cats, we recommend you visit our Degenerative diseases category.

  1. Perry, K. (2016). Feline hip dysplasia: a challenge to recognise and treat. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 18(3), 203-18.
  2. Clarke, S. P., et al. (2005). Prevalence of radiographic signs of degenerative joint disease in a hospital population of cats. The Veterinary Record, 157(25), 793-9.
  3. Klinck, M. P., et al. (2012). Owner-perceived signs and veterinary diagnosis in 50 cases of feline osteoarthritis. The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 53(11), 1181-1186.
  4. Clarke, S. P. and Bennett, D. (2006). Feline osteoarthritis: a prospective study of 28 cases. The Journal of Small Animal Practice, 47(8), 439-45.
  5. Bennett, D., Zainal Ariddin, S. M., and Johnston, P. (2012). Osteoarthritis in the cat: 2. how should it be managed and treated? Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 14(1), 76-84.
  • Bennett, D., Zainal Ariddin, S. M., and Johnston, P. (2012). Osteoarthritis in the cat: 1. how common is it and how easy to recognise? Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 14(1), 65-75. Retrieved on 25 November, 2019.
  • Hardie, E. M. (1997). Management of Osteoarthritis in Cats. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice, 27(4), 945-953. Retrieved on 25 November, 2019.
  • Klinck, M. P., et al. (2015). Preliminary Validation and Reliability Testing of the Montreal Instrument for Cat Arthritis Testing, for Use by Veterinarians, in a Colony of Laboratory Cats. Animals (Basel), 5(4), 1252-1267. Retrieved on 25 November, 2019.
  • Sul, R. M., Chase, D., and Bennett, D. (2014). Comparison of meloxicam and a glucosamine-chondroitin supplement in management of feline osteoarthritis. A double-blind randomised, placebo-controlled, prospective trial. Veterinary and Comparative Orthopedics and Traumatology, 27(1), 20-6. Retrieved on 25 November, 2019.
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Treating Arthritis in Cats