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feline health problems
Arthritis-cats

The essentials

  • Feline arthritis is a common condition — Up to 80% of cats over 10 show signs.
  • Arthritic symptoms don’t always mean arthritis — They may be symptoms of underlying conditions like diabetes. 
  • Arthritis isn’t a death sentence — Arthritic cats can still live long and happy lives with proper care and treatment.

Just like humans, cats and dogs get chronic diseases like arthritis — a degenerative joint disease that makes it painful for them to engage in everyday activities. Arthritis often makes it difficult for your cat to chase their favorite toys, jump up to their bed, or even get in and out of the litter box. Here’s everything you need to know about diagnosing, treating, and caring for a cat with arthritis.

What causes arthritis in cats?

Cats have cartilage to cushion the bones in their joints as they move around. Like people, multiple risk factors cause that cartilage to deteriorate. 

Aging. Sometimes, the cartilage in your cat’s joints deteriorates as they age, causing inflammation and pain. 

Obesity. That excess weight your cat carries can put extra pressure on their joints, making overweight and obese cats more prone to arthritis. 

Injury/surgery. Sites of infection, surgery, or injuries like fractures or dislocation may be more likely to develop arthritis. 

Some cats are more prone to joint issues because of their breed or congenital conditions:

Body conformation. Breeds like Maine coons, Persians, or Scottish folds have a greater risk of arthritis due to abnormal development of the hip joints. It’s just how these breeds come built.

Congenital abnormalities. Cats with congenital abnormalities like hip dysplasia are more likely to develop arthritis in the affected joints.

Signs of arthritis in cats

Subtle signs of arthritis are harder to detect in older cats. As they age, it’s natural for them to sleep more, play less, and enjoy life at a slower pace. However, symptoms like these may also indicate other health issues, so take your cat to the vet for an accurate diagnosis.

  • Difficulty standing up 
  • Stiffness, lameness, or limping when walking
  • Poor grooming habits
  • Hesitancy when going up/down stairs or when jumping up/down (onto/off furniture, etc.)
  • Stiff, swollen, or painful joints
  • Signs of pain when touched on some parts of the body
  • Unexpected aggression or other changes in personality
  • Napping more than usual
  • Longer claws due to inactivity
  • Difficulty getting in or out of the litter box

Diagnosing arthritis in cats

If your cat shows abnormal behaviors like the symptoms above, go for a vet checkup. Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination to check your cat for signs of joint pain, swelling, or sensitivity. Common joints prone to arthritis include the legs, hips, jawbone, and upper or lower back. Cats can sometimes develop bone spurs along the underside of their spine, making the lower back a common spot for arthritis and pain. 

Your veterinarian may also order blood tests to rule out other health issues like diabetes which can change how your cat walks, how often they urinate, and how energetic or tired they are. X-rays or other additional testing may confirm diagnoses like osteoarthritis (OA) or rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and determine the severity of it. OA is difficult for vets to diagnose because cats don’t display common symptoms that people or dogs often experience, like limited joint mobility. Tell your vet if your cat experiences any of the symptoms above or weight loss, loss of appetite, or depression.

Pet insurance or a pet savings account may help cover some of the expenses. However, these options are most effective when you sign your pets up early in life.

Managing arthritis in cats

Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill to  cure feline arthritis. However, there are multiple long-term treatment options to help delay the progression of arthritis, reduce chronic pain in your cat’s joints, and improve your cat’s quality of life. 

Medical treatment

For mild cases, your vet may prescribe medication to help manage your cat’s inflammation and joint pain. The most common drugs used for arthritis are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Onsior (robenacoxib). However, for more severe cases, your veterinarian may recommend orthopedic surgery. If your vet prescribes medication, make sure you clearly understand and follow the dosage instructions. Watch  for side effects like vomiting or diarrhea, and contact your veterinarian if you have any concerns. 

Your vet might also recommend alternative therapies that may improve osteoarthritis symptoms and pain, such as:

  • Physical therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Laser therapy

👉 Never give your cat any medications without consulting your veterinarian. Many over-the-counter medicines like Tylenol or Advil can be toxic or fatal to cats.

Diet

An important part of arthritis care for obese cats is weight management. Excess body weight puts more pressure on weight-bearing joints, which may worsen their pain. If your cat is overweight, your veterinarian may recommend prescription diets to aid in weight loss or exercise plans to help your cat stay healthy. If your pet is at an ideal weight, do your best to maintain it by limiting extra treats and measuring proper food portions.

Supplements

Joint supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, or adequan injections may also help decrease inflammation and encourage cartilage production over time. Omega-3 fatty acids may benefit cats with feline osteoarthritis — food additives like ZipZyme™ Omega are a natural, safe, plant-based source of docosahexaenoic acid or DHA, a particular type of omega-3.

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Environmental support

Treating cat arthritis doesn’t have to revolve around medications or procedures. Simple things you can do around the home can help your cat easily access their favorite spaces or make everyday activities a little easier.

  • Create ramps to your cat’s favorite spots like the couch or bed.
  • Raise food and water bowls with a box or shelf for easy access.
  • Choose an easily accessible litter box, or remove the front side so it’s easier to get in and out.
  • Set up soft beds with pillows and blankets to keep your cat comfortable.
  • Brush your cat regularly (and gently) and keep their nails trimmed since it can be difficult for them to groom themselves.

Frequently asked questions

How do you treat arthritis in cats?

There’s no cure for cat arthritis, but you can manage the pain and inflammation with medication, alternative therapies, and dietary additives like ZipZyme™ Omega. Talk to your vet to determine the foods and supplements that best support your cat’s needs.

What are the signs of arthritis in a cat?

While these symptoms aren’t surefire signs of arthritis, the most common symptoms cat owners may notice include:

  • Difficulty getting up and down
  • Hiding more than usual
  • Loss of appetite
  • Walking stiffly or limping
  • Reluctance to jump or go up/down stairs
  • Stiff, swollen, or sore joints

How can I help my elderly cat with arthritis?

Arthritis in older cats is a common condition. Your vet may prescribe medications, therapies, joint supplements, or diet plans for weight loss. You can also make simple changes around the house to help keep your feline friend comfortable. Ramps to their favorite places, special litter boxes, and comfy sleeping spots can help keep senior cats healthy, happy, and safe. 

At what age do cats get arthritis?

Cats can develop arthritis at any age, but it’s more common in older cats. According to Cats Protection, more than 80% of cats aged 10 and older show signs of arthritis. 

Are there any good supplements for an arthritic cat?

Nutritional supplements with glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, or omega-3 fatty acids are great ways to help improve joint cartilage repair and maintenance. Some popular choices are ZipZyme™ Omega, Cosequin for Cats, ArthriEase-Gold, or Nutramax Welactin Omega-3 Supplement for Cats. Talk to your vet to determine which one is right for your cat.