What is Arthritis in Cats?

Arthritis in cats is a condition characterized by joint inflammation. Also known as feline arthritis or osteoarthritis, its main sign is painful joints. Arthritis is a chronic condition with limited treatment options.

As a type of degenerative joint disease, arthritis in cats is quite common. Statistics show that more than ninety percent of felines over twelve years of age show signs of arthritis.

Plus, arthritis in cats usually affects more than one joint. Forty-eight percent of arthritic cats have signs of joint damage in more than one joint.

What Causes Arthritis in Cats?

Arthritis in cats can be caused by several reasons – from natural wear and tear to physical trauma. Here are the most common causes of osteoarthritis in cats:

  • Genetics. The fact that certain breeds are more likely to develop arthritis indicates a genetic component. Plus, cats whose parents had arthritis have a higher risk of developing the issue.
  • Old Age. Older cats are at a much higher risk of getting arthritis. However, younger cats can also acquire the disease. This is becuase healthy joints wear and tear over time.
  • Physical Trauma. A tear in the joint cartilage can cause faster degeneration in that particular joint. A car accident that results in a broken hip can cause early arthritis in the knee joints.

arthritis in cats

Risk Factors for Arthritis in Cats

There are several risk factors for arthritis in cats. Let’s take a look at each:

  • Cat Breed. Purebred cats are more likely to develop arthritis than domestic, mixed cats. The incidence of arthritis in cats is high in Scottish Folds, Burmese, Maine Coons, Persian, Siamese, and Abyssinian Cats.
  • Obesity. Kitties whose body weight is higher than the recommended weight are very prone to joint disease. The extra weight put on the joints increases the wear and tear damage, resulting in an increased risk of arthritis. 
  • Overmedication. A lot of medications that are prescribed, especially for chronic diseases, can trigger inflammation in the body. Increased inflammation rates are linked with arthritis. After all, the foundation of the disease is joint inflammation.
  • Poor Diet. A bad, low-quality diet tends to be high in pro-inflammatory substances which can cause chronic diseases like osteoarthritis. It is best to choose the diet according to what your cat needs.

At What Age do Cats Get Arthritis?

Arthritis in cats is more commonly observed in seniors (cats older than seven years of age).

Generally speaking, as cats get older, the chances of them getting arthritis increases. However, the disease can also be found in younger cats. But the incidence of arthritis in young cats is lower.

What are the Signs of Arthritis in a Cat?

The most common symptom of arthritis in cats is pain followed by movement disorders. Let us take a look at some of the signs of osteoarthritis:

  • Sluggish Movement. It is defined as additional effort or hesitance in jumping or standing.
  • Limping. As the pain spikes, it is difficult to put pressure on the joint hence the lameness. 
  • Lethargy. The cat prefers to rest over walk and play to avoid the pain.
  • Muscle Mass Loss. Muscles grow if used, and a sleepy cat will lose some of its muscle mass. 
  • Neglectful Grooming. Pain makes the cat disinterested or unable to groom itself.
  • Altered Behavior. Behavior changes include unusual irritability or aggression.
  • Litterbox Issues. Accidents outside the litter box due to discomfort when entering the box.

How is Arthritis in Cats Diagnosed?

Before diagnosis, your vet will ask you for any signs and symptoms you may have noticed. If the signs are indicative of arthritis, your vet will go on to perform a physical exam on your cat.

During the physical examination, your vet will check for swelling and tenderness at the joints. The vet will inspect the knees, elbows, hips, jaw, and upper and lower back.  

To eliminate other conditions that may be causing similar signs and symptoms, your vet may order blood tests. Other illnesses that may cause joint pain in a cat include Valley Fever, Feline Calicivirus (FCV), diabetes, and simple physical injuries. 

X-rays or radiographs may be taken to determine the severity of the osteoarthritis and examine for co-existing abnormalities.

How do You Treat Arthritis in Cats?

Unfortunately, there is no specific medication that is targeted at the treatment of arthritis in cats. The best you can do for your arthritic cat is to ease its symptoms and provide an environment where it can live with the condition.

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Medications for Cat Arthritis

When it comes to medications for arthritis in cats, there are not many options. In general, arthritis meds in cats are used for inflammation and pain management. Here is a close look at the meds for cat arthritis:

  • Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs. NSAIDs are the golden standard for arthritic pets – they reduce pain and inflammation. There are two FDA-approved NSAIDs for cats, meloxicam, and robenacoxib. NSAIDs are linked with some serious side effects, and if your cat is on them, it is advisable to practice frequent vet checkups.
  • Pain Killers. If the NSAIDs are not enough, the veterinarian will prescribe pain killers. The most commonly used pain killers are opioids (morphine, tramadol, fentanyl) and gabapentin. Misuse of these meds can have severe side effects.

Medications for cat arthritis can only be used if prescribed by a licensed veterinarian. It is forbidden to give your cat human meds. For example, Tylenol, the most popular human NSAID, is toxic to cats.

Supplements for Cat Arthritis

Cat arthritis supplements come in different forms and flavors. However, they usually include similar ingredients – CBD (cannabidiol) oil, glucosamine, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, Green-lipped mussels, etc.

Here are some of the best supplements for cat arthritis:

  • Honest Paws Calm CBD Soft Chews for Cats. These chicken-flavored soft chews feature full-spectrum hemp CBD oil that helps reduce pain and inflammation. They also have chamomile flower powder, silvervine, and passionflower, which promote calmness. The chews are suitable for cats of all breeds and ages.

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  • NaturVet VitaPet Senior Glucosamine Cat Soft Chews. Specifically designed for senior cats, these soft cat chews are made with glucosamine and a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. They are wheat-free and come in a re-sealable cup to ensure freshness. Plus, the price of the supplement is budget-friendly.

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  • VetriScience GlycoFlex III Joint Supplement for Cats. Chicken liver-flavored soft chews with several active ingredients like glucosamine, Green-lipped mussels, MSM, grape seed extract, L-glutathione, and selenium. The soft chews are delicious and easy to give. Plus, they are budget-friendly and free from artificial additives.

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  • Zesty Paws Pure Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil for Dogs & Cats. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), this supplement supports healthy joint function. It also reduces inflammation and promotes a healthy heart, immune system, skin, and coat. Plus, it comes in an easy-use pump bottle and has a cat-friendly flavor.

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Therapy for Cat Arthritis

Therapy for arthritic cats is important in terms of relieving chronic pain and strengthening the cat’s joint structures. Here are some of the best therapy options for cats with arthritis:

  • Injectable Joint Protectants. Regular use of injectable joint protectants (glycosaminoglycans) helps with pain relief. However, the downside of this treatment is that they need to be applied every four weeks. Since the procedure can be painful, some cats require sedation.
  • Acupuncture. Acupuncture in cats is not a well-studied area. However, anecdotal reports are promising and support the use of this old Chinese technique. It includes the insertion of fine needles at specific points of the cat’s body to promote pain relief.
  • Cold Laser Therapy. Also known as photobiomodulation (PBMT), cold laser therapy is a non-invasive treatment that eases pain and reduces inflammation. During the therapy, the vet puts a small light-emitting device on the cat’s body. The emitted light is therapeutic.
  • Physical Therapy. Physical rehabilitation is another option for arthritic cats. There are several physical therapy options, such as massages, passive range of motion (PROM), and stretching. It is advisable to talk to a physician in terms of what is best for your cat.

Management for Cat Arthritis

Cat management is an essential part of feline arthritis treatment. It includes three different aspects – a healthy diet, proper exercise, and weight control. Let’s review each approach:

  • Healthy Diet. It is important to feed your cat high-quality food that supports healthy joints, reduces inflammation, and supports optimal weight.
  • Proper Exercise. You need to keep the arthritic cat active. The activity should be in accordance with the cat’s mobility. Talk to your vet about the best exercises. 
  • Weight Control. Obese cats with arthritis need to be put on a weight loss regimen. The extra weight adds pressure to the cat’s joints and worsens the situation.

healthy diet for arthritic cats

Environmental Support for Cat Arthritis

To further support your cat, you will need to make some adjustments to your living space. These changes may not improve your cat’s health but make a big difference in her quality of life. Some of the changes you will have to make include:

  • Cat Ramps. Installing cat ramps over stairs and high furniture is a good way of relieving your cat’s joints. Jumping, climbing, and excessive activity can aggravate joint degeneration.
  • Orthopedic Cat Beds. Orthopedic beds are excellent on several levels – they provide support for the joints, help relieve pressure, and keep the achy joints warm.
  • Special Litter Boxes. Litter boxes with high walls can be difficult to use. To make your cat’s life easier, get a litter box with lowered entrance point.
  • Elevated Bowls. You should invest in elevated food and water bowls. Standing over bowls can be painful. Some arthritic cats may refuse to eat or drink if the position makes them sore.

How Long Can Cats Live With Arthritis?

With proper management, cats can live a long and relatively normal life.

When it comes to arthritis in cats, the key to successful management is combining several treatments that relieve pain and make the cat’s life as normal as possible.

Most veterinarians recommend using modern medicine, alternative therapies, a high-quality diet, and individually tailored environmental support.

How Can I Prevent Cat Arthritis?

It is not possible to completely prevent arthritis in cats.

However, there are several things cat owners can do to minimize the risk or at least delay the onset of arthritis in cats. Here are some simple and helpful tips:

  • Weight Management. The first step toward arthritis prevention is weight control. Obesity is a risk factor for feline arthritis. Therefore, it is important to keep your cat lean and in shape. The best way is to provide proper food and promote physical activity.
  • Physical Exercise. As mentioned, physical activity is vital for keeping your cat’s body lean and healthy. Activity also helps strengthen the cat’s joints and surrounding tissues, thus decreasing the risk of arthritic changes.
  • Joint Supplements. Joint supplements can be used to support joint health and delay arthritic changes. If your cat belongs to an arthritis-prone breed, it is important to start supplementing at an early age.

Regular Checkups. Finally, pet owners need to practice regular vet checkups at the vet. Early diagnosis is critical for successful arthritis treatment. Since vet care can be costly, we suggest investing in good pet insurance, like OneVet.

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