Arthritis in Cats
Arthritis and degenerative joint disease in cats
Osteoarthritis is a complicated type of arthritis where the normal cartilage that cushions the joint degenerates and is worn away.
Due to the challenges of diagnosing arthritis in cats, it can be difficult to tell how many cats are affected. This may be partly down to a cat’s tendency to try and hide pain.
What causes arthritis in cats?
Osteoarthritis is a complicated type of arthritis where the normal cartilage that cushions the joint degenerates and is worn away. This results in inflammation, discomfort, ongoing damage and secondary changes in and around the joint. Osteoarthritis can develop without an obvious underlying cause, in part due to mechanical ‘wear and tear’ in the joints. It can also be secondary to a joint injury or abnormality.
What are the signs of arthritis in cats?
Cats often do not show signs of pain like other animals. They tend to hide discomfort until it is totally unbearable.They may not limp but often alter their normal activities and habits in order to minimise movements that cause pain.
Signs a cat may have arthritis:
- Reluctance to jump up or down or use stairs
- Jumping up to lower surfaces than usual
- Stiffness in the legs, especially after sleeping or resting for a while
- Difficulty using the litter tray or cat flap
- Reduced physical activity
- Sleeping in different, easier to access sites
- Changes in grooming resulting in a matted or scruffy coat, or sometimes overgrooming around painful joints
- Overgrown claws due to lack of activity
- Temperament changes
Managing arthritis in cats:
- Medications can be very effective at controlling the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis, but should only be used under direct supervision by a vet, as drugs can have side-effects. Never use human medications for cats, many are toxic and even low doses can prove fatal
- The most commonly used class of drugs for managing arthritic pain are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). To minimise the risk of side-effects, the drug should be chosen and used carefully. In some cats, alternative or supplemental analgesic (pain-killing) drugs may need to be used
- Modifying a cat’s environment can greatly help to maintain quality of life for an arthritic cat. Things to consider include:
- Use of soft bedding out of any drafts.
- Steps or ramps to enable cats to reach favourite spots, or food (if fed at a height) that may be difficult to access
- Check that the cat flap is easy to open and consider propping it open if the cat finds it difficult to push through
- Consider having a litter tray inside and use one with low sides if your cat finds it difficult to get in to the tray
- Groom regularly, especially areas that your cat finds difficult to reach and keep an eye out for overly long nails
- Careful weight management is very important. A cat carrying unnecessary weight will struggle and reduced activity could result in weight gain in a cat that was previously a healthy weight. Speak to our vets if you would like advice on a suitable diet for weight loss or weight management