Osteoarthritis in CatsLast updated: August 02, 2016
In typical feline fashion, your cat will try and hide his pain and discomfort. For this reason, arthritis often gets overlooked as old age. Your cat's instinct is to not show weakness to anyone, so be aware of subtle behavioral changes like resistance to jump on the counter or chair, which are often the earliest symptoms of joint disease. As pain progresses, cats avoid climbing inside the litter box because of pain, and grooming habits go downhill because they can't reach some areas.
What is Arthritis?Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, occurs when the cartilage around the bones begins to erode. Without this cartilage as protection, the bones begin to rub against each other, resulting in pain and inflammation. Cat arthritis is much the same as our own. Family inheritance plays a part, but abuse of jumping, running, or injuries all contribute. Large joints, such as the shoulder, elbow, hip, and ankle are the most frequently affected. Obese cats are especially prone to arthritis.
- Changes in jumping and climbing habits
- Slow movements and discomfort
- Limited activity
- Difficulty using the litter box
- Loss of muscle
- Stiffness or limping
- Grouchy when picked up
- Stop perching or cry to be put up on a perch or bed
Management and CareOverweight cats should be placed on a diet because extra weight puts extra stress on the joints. One pound of weight puts four pounds of pressure on each hip with each step. You can see where weight control helps arthritis pain. Weight loss should be slow to avoid liver issues, which overweight cats are prone to.
Nutritional supplements such as ArthriSoothe and Bayer DVM Feline Joint Gel are available to support your cat's healthy bones and joints. Nutritional support will help you avoid the need for drug support. If drug support is needed, nutritional support will lower the dose needed to keep them comfortable. Your veterinarian can prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs that will keep their pain under control safely. Do not give your cat anti-inflammatory drugs without your veterinarian's approval – common drugs like Aspirin have a narrow dose range and Tylenol is extremely toxic to cats!
Make Them ComfortableArthritis hurts, especially in cold weather. The goal is to make them more comfortable. Arthritic cats will seek out warm areas to lie down, especially when changes in weather aggravate their arthritis. A warm heated bed on a window seal or low perch area will go a long way to comfort them. Try the Lectro-Kennel™ Heated Pad & Cover, which warms to match your pet's normal body temperature and protects against the cold.
An extra step or bench helps cats get up in bed without hurting themselves. Also make sure that food bowls and litter boxes are easily accessible and close to where your cat spends most of his time.
Encourage walking and playing to increase joint motion. Think of it as physical therapy for your cat. Besides, it is fun and makes you smile to see your old cat trying to act like a teenager again! Pull toys and fishing-type toys are both good choices.
PreventionPreventive measures include ensuring your cat is getting the right nutrients and regular exercise in the first half of his life, which will keep his body healthy and help him maintain a proper weight. Daily vitamin and mineral supplements are available to help your cat get the necessary nutrients, while preventive joint supplements contain key ingredients to strengthen joints and slow the progression of joint problems.
Remember that age is not a disease. Address the issues that prevent a normal lifestyle for your cat. If you take steps to manage arthritis, your cats will be capable of living comfortably well into their geriatric years.
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Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Former Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, practiced veterinary medicine for 30+ years and is known for his work in managing parvovirus. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 1985. He served as Revival's Director of Veterinary Services from 2011 until his retirement in 2019.
The materials, information and answers provided through this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of your personal veterinarian or other pet health care professional. Consult your own veterinarian for answers to specific medical questions, including diagnosis, treatment, therapy or medical attention.