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Cat sunbathing by a window

The essentials

  • Feline arthritis is a common condition — Between 60-80% of cats over the age of 10 show signs of arthritis and osteoarthritis.
  • Arthritic symptoms don’t always mean arthritis — Similar symptoms could indicate underlying conditions, like diabetes.
  • Your arthritic cat can still live well after diagnosis — Arthritic cats can thrive and 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 is more than just pain, however. It also affects their mobility — making 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.

Signs and symptoms 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 or lying down. Cats with arthritis may be unwilling to get up or lie down with ease.
  • Stiffness, lameness, or limping. Pay close attention to how your cat moves and if there is any friction in their ability to walk or run.
  • Reluctance to play or go up or down steps. Cats may not be willing to play, run around, or jump as high as they used to.
  • Difficulty getting in or out of the litter box. You might notice your cat soiling outside the litter box or around the house.
  • Poor grooming habits. A matted or tangled coat is often common because it can be painful for cats with arthritis to groom themselves.
  • Signs of pain when touched on some parts of the body. If your cat cries out when touched or avoids being touched, they may be in pain.
  • Unexpected aggression towards cats or humans. Notice if your cat lashes out of hisses at other cats or people.
  • Napping or hiding more than usual. Pay attention to their sleeping and hiding habits.
  • Overgrown claws due to inactivity. If a cat has extra long or overgrown claws it’s likely because it’s painful for them to be active.

What causes arthritis in cats?

Like humans, arthritis in cats usually takes years to develop, with many changes occurring in the joints. The cartilage that normally lines and cushions the joint breaks down, allowing bones to rub together abnormally, which leads to swelling, inflammation, and pain in the joints.

Multiple risk factors can cause that cartilage to deteriorate, leading to a possible diagnosis of  arthritis:

  • Aging. Sometimes, the cartilage in your cat’s joints deteriorates as they age, causing inflammation and pain.
  • Obesity. Any 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 cause a cat to be more likely to develop arthritis.
  • Breed. Some breeds like Maine coons, Persians, or Scottish folds have a greater risk of arthritis due to abnormal development of the hip joints.
  • Congenital abnormalities. Cats with congenital abnormalities (like hip dysplasia ) can be more likely to develop arthritis in the affected joints.

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 (a.k.a. osteophytes) 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 also confirm diagnoses like osteoarthritis (OA) and determine the severity.

We do want to note: OA is typically 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.

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 of arthritis in cats, 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, long-term NSAIDs may speed up kidney disease onset, in which case Solensia may be an option for cats with arthritis. This once-a-month injection is designed for osteoarthritis pain in cats and targets nerve growth in joint spaces, mitigating inflammation.

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. Typical physical therapy for cats may include massage, stretching, and range of motion exercises.
  • Acupuncture. Most felines tolerate acupuncture treatments rather well. Needles generally remain in place for 12-25 minutes depending on the patient. Acupuncture may help with arthritis by boosting the amount of natural painkillers a cat’s body makes.
  • Massage. A kitty massage can be a great way to help relieve pain. Simple strokes, gliding motion, and kneading are common massage techniques that may help soothe the pain and swelling caused by arthritis.
  • Laser therapy. This form of therapy can be an effective treatment for osteoarthritis in cats (or general arthritis cases), as it reduces inflammation. It does this by opening the blood vessels and activating the lymphatic drainage system, alleviating pain.
  • Hydrotherapy. The buoyancy effect of water reduces the load on weight-bearing joints, which helps to reduce pain and allows easier movement.


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 your pet’s pain.

Additionally, 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, our vets recommend doing your best to maintain it by limiting extra treats and measuring proper food portions. Keeping your cat balanced can reduce the above-mentioned joint strain that can happen with obesity or severe weight fluctuation.


Joint supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, or Adequan injections may also help decrease inflammation and encourage cartilage production over time. Omega-3 fatty acids can also benefit cats with feline osteoarthritis.

While there are many different supplements out there that can help improve your cat’s quality of life, we always recommend speaking with your veterinarian before you dose your feline with any supplement to ensure that it’s the best possible choice for your cat’s health.

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.

We’ve included a list of simple swaps below for you to consider for your pet pal.

  • Ramps. Inclines allow your cat to more easily access its favorite spots, like the couch or the bed.
  • Accessible litter boxes. Rather than buy a new setup, many pet parents simply remove the front side so it’s easier to get in and out.
  • Soft bedding. We recommend lining your cat’s sleeping space with pillows and blankets to keep your cat comfortable when they are resting.
  • Regular brushing schedules. Arthritis can make it difficult for a cat to groom itself, so giving your cat an extra “paw” with grooming can go a long way.

Just like humans, cats can live a long and healthy life with osteoarthritis — they’ll just need a little extra care and some pain management support to make sure they stay comfortable. If you suspect your cat may have arthritis, talk to your vet to determine which foods and supplements may best support your cat’s needs. They can work with you to tailor your treatment plan and promote a higher quality of life for your pet pal.

Frequently asked questions: Arthritis in cats

How do you treat arthritis in cats?

There’s no cure for cat arthritis, but you can usually manage their pain and inflammation with medication, alternative therapies, lifestyle changes, and dietary additives. We recommend talking 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 walking or changes in gait, hiding, or a loss of appetite. Your cat might also vocalize when you pet them or hunch, possibly indicating a painful spot.

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?

With the appropriate management, otherwise healthy cats with osteoarthritis can live a long and fairly normal life of 13-14 years. Your veterinarian can provide specific guidance about lifestyle adjustments.