While it can be a difficult diagnosis to hear as your cat ages, arthritis is common and manageable. Your veterinarian will help you figure out the best treatment plan for your cat medically, but there are easy things you can do at home to make your cat’s day easier. Be sure to start introducing these environmental changes as soon as you get the diagnosis – it’s never too early! This gives you time to figure out what your cat needs and what will or won’t work for them.
One of the most helpful things you can do is set up one level living for your cat. Even early in your cat’s diagnosis, they might wake up stiff some mornings so having access to everything they need without having to climb stairs can be helpful. Start out with whatever level your cat spends most of their downtime – main level, upstairs, downstairs – whichever area they enjoy the most. Think about what your cat likes – do they like to follow you everywhere? Do they prefer to have quiet uninterrupted time during the day? If they enjoy your company, make their one level living space where you are the most.
Once you’ve decided on a location in your home, you’ll need to provide access to food, water, bedding, and litterbox all on the same level. If your cat already has an area like this and it’s a multi-level home, be sure not to move the original litterbox. Some cats need to know their old spot is available even if they don’t want to use it all the time!
The best kind of litterbox for arthritic cats is uncovered with low sides so they don’t have to step as high to get inside. It’s important to add an extra litterbox as opposed to moving their current box upstairs or downstairs to avoid accidents. Most cats aren’t the biggest fans of change so do things gradually whenever possible. You can also add a puppy pad underneath the litterboxes to help protect your floors. Even with low sides, your cat may have trouble getting in the right position and urine can leak down the sides of the box. With the puppy pad in place, there’s no mess or staining to worry about!
If you haven’t already added one to your home, now’s a good time to add in a pet fountain. As your cat ages, kidney disease becomes more of a risk so start hydrating. There are a lot of different types and styles so pick the one that would work best for your cat. We definitely recommend stainless steel or ceramic to make it easier to clean.
Make sure your cat has access to food in their new one level living space. If you need to move where they eat, do it gradually. Try splitting their normal amount into the old space and the new one until they get used to it. Just be sure that wherever their food is they can access it without jumping, climbing stairs, or hopping over a baby
Orthopedic foam bedding can relieve pressure on sore joints and provide some relief. The beds come in all shapes and sizes so just see what works best for your cat based on how they like to sleep – curled up in a ball, stretched out, etc. It’s helpful to look at dog beds for the most options. If you’re searching online, you can look for surgery recovery orthopedic dog beds – they come in a ton of different sizes and provide the thickest foam for support. Finding your cata new bed can be tricky – they might reject new beds and want to keep using their old bed. What worked for my cat (after trying countless new orthopedic beds) was to get small dog size flat orthopedic foam and put it under her favorite snuggle bed. So from her point of view, she kept the bed she wanted, it’s just somehow magically more comfortable than it used to be!
One of the best things you can do for arthritis is to move around and stretch so don’t stop playing with your kitty. Just rethink how you play. Mornings can be tough on joints because they’ve been sleeping in the same position for a longer period so help your cat stretch a little. Call them from the other side of the room with a treat in the morning to get them up and moving. Still play with wand toys or lasers – whatever your cat likes, but try shorter play sessions instead of a longer one. Avoid big jumps or leaps.
Quality of life
Make sure your cat can still access their favorite spots. If they love a particular window, make sure they can get to it without too much trouble. If they used to jump on a dresser or shelf to look out of the window, provide pet stairs to help make it easier and not such a big jump. If they love cat trees but are having a hard time getting in and out, try sitting something next to it to provide a step jump – so two smaller jumps instead of one big one.
Watchfor Signs of Pain
Since you already know your cat has arthritis, be mindful in re-evaluating their needs as the disease progresses. There are non-invasive treatment options, supplements, medications, and even holistic options to consider for arthritis pain. Talk to your vet to figure out which options suit your cat the best. At home, watch for signs of pain:
- Limping or stiffness after waking up
- Hesitating to jump onto surfaces
- Irritability or aggressive behavior when picked up or handled
- Excessive licking, chewing or biting
- Hiding more
- Abrupt change in behavior – normally social but hiding, normally relaxed but anxious, etc
- Different posturing or hunching
- Urinating or defecating outside the litterbox (may be too painful for them to get into the box to go)
- Ears back instead of in a relaxed position
- Vocalization – excessive meowing or yowling that’s not characteristic
If you see anything unusual at home, trust your instincts and contact your vet. These symptoms are certainly not exclusive to arthritic pain and should be evaluated by your veterinarian as soon as possible.