Cats tend to hide pain, and this instinct can make detecting conditions such as arthritis difficult. Arthritis is common in cats; studies have shown that between 60% and 90% of cats have X-ray evidence of arthritis in their limb joints. Our Just Cats Clinic team wants to help by offering information about this condition and explaining how to recognize if your cat is affected. 

Cat arthritis

The most common arthritis type seen in cats is osteoarthritis (OA). This condition causes the normal cartilage that cushions the joint to degenerate, resulting in inflammation, pain, and ongoing damage caused by secondary changes in and around the joint. The disease can be primary, which means an underlying cause can’t be identified, or secondary, which means it likely is the result of an injury or joint abnormality. Some factors that may increase your cat’s OA risk include:

  • Genetics — Some breeds are predisposed to joint abnormalities, which lead to OA. These abnormalities include:
  • Hip dysplasia — Maine Coons, Persians, Himalayans, and Siamese are at increased risk for hip dysplasia. This condition causes the hip joint to develop abnormally, leading to joint laxity and, eventually, OA.
  • Patella luxation — Abyssinian and Devon Rex cats are at increased risk for kneecap dislocation, which leads to OA.
  • Abnormal cartilage — Scottish Folds have a condition that causes abnormal cartilage development, which leads to severe OA and affects multiple joints.
  • Injury — Fractures, dislocations, and other joint injuries can cause abnormal joint structures, resulting in secondary OA.
  • Obesity — Overweight cats are at increased risk for arthritis. The excess weight places extra strain on the cat’s joints, and the fat cells produce inflammatory mediators that cause chronic, low grade inflammation throughout their body.
  • Acromegaly — This is a rare condition affecting older cats that causes their pituitary gland to secrete too much growth hormone. Cats most commonly develop diabetes mellitus, but some also develop secondary OA.

Cat arthritis signs

Cats instinctively hide pain, and they don’t tend to show obvious signs that indicate painful joints. Most arthritic cats don’t limp, but signs you may notice include:

  • Reduced mobility — Affected cats may be reluctant or hesitant to jump on or off elevated surfaces, seem stiff after resting, or have difficulty navigating stairs or using the litter box.
  • Reduced activity — Affected cats may spend more time sleeping, rest in different, easier to access places, or interact less with people and other pets.
  • Altered grooming — Affected cats may spend less time grooming, have an unkempt haircoat, or have overgrown claws caused by reduced activity. In some cases, affected cats may over-groom painful areas. 
  • Temperament changes — Affected cats may spend more time alone or be more irritable around people and other pets. 

Cat arthritis diagnosis

Tools used to diagnose arthritis in cats include:

  • History — Since you know your cat better than anyone, and cats tend to act differently when not in their home environment, our veterinary team takes a detailed history to determine if they are exhibiting any signs that may indicate arthritis.
  • Physical examination — We perform a thorough physical examination, assessing your cat’s gait, and palpating and manipulating their joints to determine if they have pain or decreased range of motion.
  • X-rays — Our veterinary team may suggest taking X-rays to further evaluate your cat’s joints.

Cat arthritis management

Cat arthritis can’t be cured, but steps can be taken to mitigate the effects. Management is typically multimodal and involves strategies such as:

  • Environmental modifications — Modifying your cat’s environment can help make them more comfortable. Recommendations include:
    • Providing comfortable bedding in an easily accessible, quiet area.
    • Placing steps or ramps to help your cat get to elevated surfaces.
    • Providing a low-sided litter box so your cat can easily get in and out.
    • Ensuring food and water bowls are easily accessible at floor level.
    • Trimming claws regularly to prevent overgrowth.
  • Weight management — If your cat is overweight, our veterinary team can help devise a weight loss program to help them safely lose the excess pounds. 
  • Medical treatment — Medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and analgesics, can help many arthritic cats. In addition, a cat-specific monoclonal antibody treatment was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this year to help arthritic cats. However, never access your medicine cabinet to provide pain relief for your cat because human pain medications, including ibuprofen and acetaminophen, are extremely toxic to them. 
  • Dietary supplements — Our veterinary team also may recommend dietary supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids and glycosaminoglycans.
  • Physical therapy — Physical therapy, such as range-of-motion exercises, can be beneficial for arthritic cats. 
  • Acupuncture Acupuncture can be used in conjunction with other management strategies to help manage your cat’s pain. This is a great non-invasive addition to their health care plan.
  • Laser therapy Laser therapy is a non-invasive method to decrease pain and inflammation in joints affected by OA. Most cats tolerate this treatment well since laser treatments are not painful, and the experience is generally quiet and relaxing. 

Recognizing the signs of arthritis in your cat is important to ensure treatment can be started as soon as possible to reduce their discomfort. If you are concerned your cat has arthritis, contact our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited team at Just Cats Clinic so we can evaluate their joints and devise an appropriate treatment strategy if necessary.