Cat Arthritis: What to Expect

Cat Arthritis: What to Expect

  • Kirsten Thornhill - 26.11.2021

Arthritis in Felines

It’s never a happy day when you realize that your cat is quickly getting older. Your furry friend, who is usually the first to meow at you and come cuddle up next to you, is moving at a slower pace and now grazes at their food. What often follows your cat’s aging is no other than scary arthritis. 

Studies are suggesting that over 90% of cats (over 12 years old) show signs of arthritis. Not to be mistaken, arthritis can inflict younger cats too, with up to 50% of cats (over 6 years old) suffering from arthritic pain. 

Pinpointing feline arthritis is not an easy task. Many times, cat parents are unaware of their cat’s discomfort or pain. Thus, unfortunately, many cats with arthritis are undiagnosed and left untreated. It’s crucial to be able to understand and identify this disease, knowing what exactly to look for may be more than life-saving for your catto. 

Let’s get to it!

What is Arthritis for Cats?

Osteoarthritis is a joint disease where the cartilage around the joints begins to deteriorate. The main purpose of cartilage, in humans and felines alike, is to protect the bones, acting as a shock absorber. Cartilage covers the ends of our bones, areas where movement and bending occur. 


Healthy cartilage can provide a stable environment where motion created is smooth and fluid, with low friction. When cartilage is under immense pressure, age, or injury, for instance, the cartilage can wear down and the joint fluid can change. This joint fluid, also known as synovial joint fluid, provides lubrication for moving parts within your cat’s body. 

Joint diseases, such as osteoarthritis, can be extremely painful for cats. It’s commonly seen in their shoulders, hips, and elbow joints. It’s been reported that up to 48% of cats have osteoarthritis in more than one area. 

What are the Signs of Arthritis in Cats?

When cats begin to age, they may experience difficulty getting out windows or doors or climbing onto surfaces, signaling osteoarthritis. Unlike canines that go on daily walks and are playing fetch with their owners frequently, cat parents are slower to notice any joint issues on their furry feline. 

Most of the time, once the disease has been diagnosed in your cat, it has usually thoroughly progressed. 

Here are some common signs and symptoms of arthritis or pain in felines:

  • Limping
  • Stiffness
  • Loss of muscle 
  • Sluggish movements
  • Additional effort jumping
  • Neglectful grooming
  • Increased sleep
  • Increased rest
  • Urinating accidents
  • Unusual irritability
  • Altered aggression

What Causes Feline Arthritis?

It can be difficult to figure out that your cat has arthritis, as there may not be just one predisposing cause. It’s a complicated disease that can be brought on by aging, with mechanical damage on joints and cartilage occurring over time. Keep this in mind, not as a scare tactic, but as an awareness tool. 

There are also secondary causes that can cause arthritis in your feline. If your cat has endured a fracture or dislocation on their elbows, hips, or shoulders, at one point or another, they may be more susceptible to developing arthritis. The spongy cartilage degeneration or synovial joint fluid alternation may be an effect of these previous injuries. 



Trauma or infections may also promote the onset of osteoarthritis in cats. Cats with hip dysplasia, for example, may be more prone to this disease. 

Excessive weight gain or obesity are also common factors in cats that may aid to developing arthritis. The added pressure and force on the joints can do years worth of damage to your poor catto. Ensure that your cat remains within their optimal health, which can protect them from more than just arthritis. Controlling their diet and snack intake can help prevent the onset of diabetes and heart disease.

How to Diagnose Arthritis in Cats

Veterinarians who suspect that cats have arthritis will examine the aniaml and look for signs or discomfort or pain. Inflammation, sensitivity, or swelling around the joints can often be an indicator of disease. As we briefly mentioned above, arthritis can become more apparent as your cat ages, so vets may often look for telltale signs once they’re over 7 years of age. X-rays may be needed to confirm that osteoarthritis is a concrete diagnosis to assess the damage. 

Other diseases may also contribute to your cat’s mobility or lack thereof. In addition to taking x-rays, your vet may also perform urine and blood tests to look for the presence of other diseases, especially in older felines. 

Chronic conditions, such as diabetes, Feline Aortic Thromboembolism, Feline CaliciVirus (FCV) Infection, intervertebral disc disease, or hip dysplasia,  may cause limping. 

Laboratory tests and treatments for chronic conditions, such as the ones listed above, can add up in cost quickly. Sadly enough, this may lead to cat parents choosing to euthanize their cat early. We highly recommend looking into investing in pet insurance, as this may help keep your cat with you for longer, with a wonderful quality of life. 

Treatment Options for Cats with Arthritis

Not to sound clique, but there’s only so much you can do as a cat parent. Arthritis is a degenerative disease, with sadly, no current cure. Once it has affect your cat’s joints, the condition will only get worse over time. But, if you are able to recognize it early in your pet, you may be able to help slow the disease, giving your catto a longer life to live. 

Treatment options for felines with arthritis typically revolve around providing them with the utmost comfort and pain relief possible. Work alongside your veterinarian to keep your cat healthy, happy, and feeling pain-free as they age. 

1. Pain Medications

It may not be your first resort, but opioids can help treat cat pain. Opioid options for cats may include:

  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrochloride
  • Hydrocodone
  • Tramadol
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl

Also, steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly prescribed and can be given orally, topically, or through injection. Steroid injections can help target specific joint and muscle inflammation. 

Do note, NSAIDs can have potentially damaging effects in cats too, such as anorexia, coma, diarrhea, depression, liver damage, and death. Corticosteroids are also not recommended for long term use. 

Toxic poisoning can be a real danger in cats who have been given or offered human-grade over-the-counter medications. We highly recommend avoiding the following human NSAIDs:

  • Ibuprofen
  • Acetaminophen
  • Paracetamol
  • Aspirin

2. Weight Maintenance and Care

If your catto is on the thicker/chubbier side of the spectrum, weight loss is a great way to start! Weight on joints can increase the rate of degradation of bone, thus, making it a higher chance that your feline develops arthritis one day. 

If your cat is obese, your vet may recommend new food with some possible restrictions to note as well. Monitoring and maintaining your cat’s healthy body weight is so important as a cat parent. Also, if your cat is inactive and you spoil them constantly with goodies and treats, it may be time to cut back and try to get your cat more active with playtime or toys.



3. Alternative and Natural Treatments 

Physical therapy may be beneficial to strengthening your cat’s joints and muscles, aiding them to continued health and happiness. 

Hydrotherapy may be a great option for your cat if they don’t mind being in the water. This method of treatment uses buoyancy, resistance, and viscosity to positively affect muscle strength and pain management. 

Acupuncture is also a great method for managing arthritic pain in cats. Fine needles can be inserted into specific areas on their body, stimulating appropriate responses. It’s calming, non-invasive, and may even be painless for your furry feline. 

Laser therapy can also naturally help alleviate your cat’s pain, releasing endorphins by using light to activate their inflammatory response. This can help initiate and potentially reduce their pain signs and symptoms. 

Massaging your cat is another way to help relieve some of the pressure and pain they may be experiencing on their muscles and joints. This may even help you mentally, by lowing your anxiety and stress. 

Arthritis in Cats: Final Thoughts

Cat arthritis can be a lifelong condition that you and your furry friend have to work through. If your cat is experiencing arthritis, you will need to be patient, loving, and give your feline the utmost care during this discomforting times. 

Treatment is a lifelong and endearing commitment, with great communication as a necessary bridge between you and your cat’s veterinarian. A personalized treatment plan for your cat’s diagnosis can help in managing their disease throughout their lifetime. 



Easing and lessening your cat’s pain and distress, with improvements for their quality of life can go a long way when it comes to them enjoying their time with you and vise versa. 

Talk with your veterinarian about treatment options, including all-natural, traditional, and pharmaceutical options, as a combination may be just what your cat needs to ensure they are living their best life, pain-free. 

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