Arthritis in Your Cat: Signs, Causes & Treatment

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What is arthritis in cats?

Arthritis is a general term for abnormal changes in the joint. These changes occur when cartilage is worn away faster than it can be replaced. Cartilage acts as a cushion to protect the bones. When it wears away, joints become swollen and painful.

Middle aged to senior cats can develop arthritis. Also known as degenerative joint disease, it can be a source of chronic pain and negatively affect your cat’s quality of life. Arthritis in cats occurs when a joint is unstable causing the bones to move abnormally within the joint. Over time this abnormal movement erodes the cartilage that lines the joints and bone begins rubbing against bone creating chronic inflammation and pain.

Although arthritis is not curable, early treatment is key, without it your cat will continue to lose cartilage resulting in the need for more aggressive treatments like surgery1.

Dog Arthritis

Does my cat have arthritis? Warning Signs and Symptoms

Arthritis can have serious effects on a cat’s health and mobility. If your cat has arthritis, the first thing you’ll notice is that they find movement difficult and become reluctant to walk, run and jump. Some signs of arthritis in cats are similar to those of other serious conditions. Make sure you consult your veterinarian if you notice any of these signs.

Signs of arthritis in cats

  • Decreased activity
  • Trouble jumping on/off surfaces
  • Eliminating outside the litter box
  • Walks stiffly and may even limp
  • Social reclusiveness

While most cat parents are tuned in to the little details and quirks of their cat’s personality, it can be difficult to determine when behaviours that seem unusual are signs of a deeper health concern. Here’s a look at some of the ways cats hide their pain, common conditions they suffer from, and how to get your cat the care needed.

What causes arthritis in cats?

Risk factors include the following:

  • Age: As cats get older, cartilage will begin to degenerate. Though arthritis is much more common in senior cats, young cats can suffer from arthritis, too.
  • Breed: Certain cat breeds are more prone to arthritis and decreased mobility. These cat breeds include Himalayan, Persian and Siamese.
  • Excess weight: Excess weight means excess stress on the joints and cartilages, which can lead to arthritis and joint health problems.

Other possible causes include:

  • Congenital or hereditary defects: Some cat breeds may have congenital or hereditary conditions that make them more prone to developing arthritis later in life.
  • Accidents or trauma: Trauma to cartilage caused by accidents can damage cartilage, resulting in arthritis later in life and adversely affecting mobility.
  • Infection: Occasionally, infections can lead to the destruction of cartilage and joint tissue.

Managing Arthritis in Cats: Improving Mobility and Joint Health

  • Act now to preserve your cat’s joint health. Don’t wait.
  • When your cat has arthritis, cartilage in joints is wearing away, causing significant pain
  • Addressing the problem now can spare your cat more aggressive treatments, like surgery1

1 Renberg WC. Pathophysiology and management of arthritis. Vet Clin North Am: Small Anim Pract. 2005; 35:1073- 1091.

Treatment: The importance of nutrition

The food your cat eats plays an important role in overall health and well-being. Balanced nutrition is an essential part of an active, healthy lifestyle. For accurate diagnosis and treatment options, always consult your veterinarian and ask them to recommend the best food for your cat’s arthritis and joint mobility health.

Arthritis and Joint Health Questions to Ask Your Veterinarian

  1. What are the treatment options for my cat’s arthritis and joint health?
    • Ask how nutrition works with other available options
    • Ask how your cat’s weight is related to joint health
  2. Should nutrition be a part of my cat’s treatment regimen? Would you recommend a Hill’s Prescription Diet brand cat food for my cat’s arthritis or joint problems?
    • Ask about special nutritional concerns for your cat and how the recommended food may help
    • How much/how often should you feed the recommended cat food
  3. How many days will it take to see signs of improvement in my cat’s condition?
    • Discuss how nutrition affects your cat’s body weight and joint health
    • Discuss exercise programmes you can follow without adversely affecting your cat’s joint health
  4. Can you provide written instructions on arthritis and joint health?
    • Ask about over-the-counter (OTC) medication you can or cannot give your cat for pain
    • Take notes about all medications and supplements dispensed
  5. What is the best way (email/phone) to reach you or your hospital if I have any follow-up questions?
    • Ask if you need a follow-up appointment
    • Ask, if a reminder email or notice will be sent