The most common type of arthritis in cats is osteoarthritis. Cats rarely experience limping, as seen in dogs. Instead, they will typically exhibit changes in behaviour, activity levels, and routines. Arthritis in cats has been proven to be very common, especially in those older than 12 years.
Arthritis is irreversible and causes progressive deterioration of the joints, leading to pain, inflammation, and stiffness. Arthritis is also called osteoarthritis (OA) or degenerative joint disease (DJD). There are many different medications for the treatment of arthritis and also other options such as alternative therapies and surgery. The key is to assess and adapt treatment plans regularly.
What is arthritis in cats?
Arthritis simply means “inflammation of the joints”.
The most common type of arthritis in cats is osteoarthritis. Other types include rheumatoid arthritis and septic arthritis, which is caused by joint infection.
Arthritis is a complex condition that affects not only the cartilage but all the structures within the joint. If left unmanaged, it can lead to complete joint failure. Arthritis can affect any joint and may affect multiple joints.
It is a very common condition in cats and in many cases is associated with significant life-long pain. It is often difficult to detect the signs of arthritis in cats due to the difficulty in recognizing the symptoms.
Arthritis can cause a change in lifestyle, behaviour and activity levels (such as reluctance to jump and groom).
It is a progressive disease, meaning it gets slowly worse over time.
How does a cat get arthritis?
There is no single cause of arthritis. Many factors play a role, including:
- Body conformation (how a cat is built)
- Being overweight
- Abnormal joint development (e.g. hip dysplasia)
- Activity history
- Previous injuries
- Orthopaedic surgery
- Nutritional history
Most cats with arthritis experience a combination of these factors as their condition develops and progresses. We now know that just ‘getting old’ is not a cause of arthritis.
How to identify the signs of arthritis in cats?
Cats are incredible at ‘coping’ with discomfort. Which makes detecting it difficult. These are possible signs of arthritis and chronic pain in cats:
- not jumping up or down
- size or height of the jump
- changes in toileting
- sleeping more
- playing and hunting less
- dull or matted coat condition
- change in scratching behaviours
- reduced tolerance to the owner or other animals
- change in the general attitude
Can any cat develop arthritis?
Any cat can develop arthritis, but those that may be more prone to arthritis are:
Cats with known developmental joint problems, commonly seen in breeds such as Maine Coon, Persian, Burmese, Himalayan breeds, Scottish Fold.
Cats who have had previous surgery on a joint.
An injured or traumatised joint.
How is arthritis in cats diagnosed?
To help determine whether your cat has arthritis, your vet will:
- Talk through the history of your cat’s life
- Do an orthopaedic examination
- Take radiographs (x-rays)
Additional tests to rule out other conditions might be recommended by your vet:
- Blood tests
- Urine test
- Checking thyroid levels
- Joint aspirate and cytology
- Occasionally MRI or a CT scan
What is the treatment for a cat with arthritis?
Currently, there is no cure for arthritis, but through careful management, we can give cats comfortable and happy lives.
Treatment options can include one or more of the following:
- Complementary and alternative therapies
- Intra articular treatments
Medications for a cat with arthritis
A combination of treatments is recognized as the best way to control pain with minimal side effects and to protect kidneys and liver.
Medication commonly used includes:
- Anti-Inflammatory medications
Do not use medication for humans as these can be fatal to cats. Seek professional advice from a vet.
Complementary and alternative therapies for a cat with arthritis
Complementary and alternative therapies are often used alongside conventional treatment to help control arthritis symptoms. The various options are below.
Use the following links to find qualified professionals
- Physiotherapy: The Register of Animal Musculoskeletal, Practitioners (RAMP), The Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy (ACPAT), National Association of Veterinary Physiotherapists (NAVP)
- Chiropathy: The Register of Animal Musculoskeletal Practitioners (RAMP), British Veterinary Chiropractic Association (BVCA)
- Osteopathy: The Register of Animal Musculoskeletal Practitioners (RAMP), European Veterinary Society for Osteopathy (EVSO)
- Laser therapy
- Acupuncture: Association of British Veterinary Acupuncturists
- Magnetic field therapy
- Homeopathy: British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons
- Electrohydraulic shockwave therapy
Surgery for a cat with arthritis
The surgical approach to managing arthritis in cats can be simplified into 3 main categories:
Preventative surgery: aims to delay the onset of arthritis due to abnormal joints or a damaged joint.
Stabilising surgery: aims to slow the progression or control the pain of arthritis. A good example is surgery that aims to improve the stability lost in a cranial cruciate ligament rupture (a disease of the knee).
Salvage surgery: aims to improve the dog’s signs and not to preserve the joint. An example is a total hip replacement or a femoral head excision surgery for hip arthritis.
Intra-articular treatments for a cat with arthritis
Managing the disease through injections in the joint. The most common intra-articular injection is Stem cells.
Unfortunately, there is still incomplete scientific work to encourage the use of these treatments more commonly.
What role do you play in your cat’s arthritis care?
Home treatments for cats with arthritis
As part of your vet’s treatment plan, it is often advised that you introduce one or more of the following:
- Home environment adaptations
- Keep your cat slim
- Diet and nutrition
Home environment adaptations for a cat with arthritis
Features within a home or environment can positively or negatively affect your cat’s ability to move safely and independently.
You can improve your cat’s quality of life with these adaptations:
- Provide steps or ramps to ease access to furniture.
- Find a large litter tray with chamfered edges that is easily accessible.
- Provide a comfortable bed.
- Place the litter boxes, food and dishes, and favourite beds on a single level of the home.
- Encourage mental stimulation. Interact and play with your cat. Provide at least three sessions per day and several minutes for each session. Holding, grooming, or stroking your cat, particularly around the head, releases chemicals that improve their mood and ability to cope with chronic pain.
- Pheromone therapy. There is evidence that therapy with pheromones (chemical signals that animals naturally release and detect) can reduce the impact of a stressful environment. There are products available that contain feline facial pheromones. Make sure you get professional advice before you buy something like this.
Weight management of cats with arthritis
A healthy weight will relieve stress on the joints and is important for minimizing pain. It can also help slow down the progression of the disease.
The best way to assess your cat is to look at its shape.
Give your cat a ‘body condition score’ using the body condition score chart.
It can be very hard for a cat to lose weight. Seek professional advice if you need help.
Body Condition Scoring (BCS) in cats
Body Condition Score (BCS) is a scale that gives a practical evaluation of the fat coverage of your cat’s body. By checking how easy or not it is to feel certain bony areas of the body, a score is then produced. There are several scales, from 1 to 5 or 1 to 9. The ideal body condition lies in the middle, so either 3/5 or 5/9.
The body areas normally checked for fat coverage are:
1. ribs and spine
2. hips and shoulders
Here are a few tips on how to do it.
With your pet in a standing position:
- Place your hands on the rib cage and gently feel for each rib, without pressing too hard
- Feel the waist and look from the top and the side (if you have a very furry breed, it may be harder to assess)
- Feel the spine, which runs down the middle of the back
- Feel the top of the hips and shoulders
Diet and nutrition for a cat with arthritis
- Reaching and maintaining optimal body weight is the most important factor that may influence the choice of diet for your arthritic cat.
- Supplementation during meals can also provide a combination of the two: optimal body weight and joint supplementation.
- Mobility and joint support commercial diets tend to provide optimal weight management in addition to including ingredients similar to those found in supplements.
Supplements for a cat with arthritis
A lot of supplements sold in the companion animal market do not have proven health benefits.
It is easy to be misled into using them, especially when:
- They are easy to buy – online, in shops, at pet stores, and as human equivalents in pharmacies.
- They are believed to be ‘natural’, so unable to do harm.
- The majority do not need a veterinary prescription to buy them.
Seek professional advice from a vet if you need further guidance.
Below is a complete list of supplements that may help to ease arthritis symptoms:
- Avocado & soybean unsaponifiables (supplement made from a specific part of the oil of avocados and from soybeans) – Do not feed avocado fruit to your pet, there is a risk of pancreatitis
- Boswelia (extracted from the bark and resin of the indian boswelia tree)
- Cat’s claw (from an amazonian plant)
- CBD (an active ingredient in cannabis extracted from hemp plant)
- Chondroitin sulphate (extracted from mammalian cartilage, normally bovine tracheas)
- Collagen hydrosylates ( also known as gelatin and is made from collagenous structures of mammals such as bovine tendons)
- Devil’s claw (a plant)
- DPLA (a protein that is believed to have pain and mood elevating effects)
- Glucosamine (a natural compound found in cartilage)
- Green-lipped mussel extract a bivalve mollusc extract)
- Hyaluronic acid (a component of joint fluid that gives it elasticity)
- Methylsulfonylmethane is a chemical that occurs naturally in humans, as well as some green plants and animals)
- Omega-3&6 fatty acids (polyunsaturated fatty acids)
- SAMe (a compound found naturally in the body)
- Turmeric & curcumin (turmeric is a plant, whose roots are commonly used to make the spice, while curcumin is the naturally-occurring compound in the plants roots that give it the yellow colour)
- Vitamin e
- Willow bark (a herbal preparation containing salicylic acid from which aspirin is derived)
What to expect if your cat has arthritis?
Caring for a cat with arthritis can be stressful. Follow our practical advice to help make life more comfortable for your cat.
How long will a cat with arthritis live?
Your cat’s arthritis will continue to progress over time.
Although there’s no cure for arthritis, by working closely with your vet, there are lots of ways you can control the symptoms and keep your cat comfortable without shortening its life.
Cost of treating a cat with arthritis
Treatment for arthritis can become expensive.
It is important that you insure your cat as soon as you get them, before any signs of illness start, so you have all the support you need to look after them.
Try to speak openly to your vet about any treatment cost concerns, along with what you think is right for your cat.
Often, there are multiple treatment options, so if one doesn’t work for you and your pet, then your vet may be able to offer an alternative.
When to put a cat down with arthritis
When making this very emotional and hard decision, there are tools that can help you find the right moment to say goodbye. These tools look for consistent deterioration and poor quality of life.
If you need help coping with grief and loss you can contact us at Joii.
Can arthritis in cats be prevented?
When the likely cause of arthritis is identified sooner, it may be possible to prevent it or identify its symptoms earlier.
Practical ways to reduce your cat’s chances of developing arthritis later in life:
- Speak to a vet or nurse
They can help with early diagnosis and track any changes, particularly as they get into their middle and senior years.
This will allow more treatment options and more time to influence the course of the disease.
- Weight management
Giving your cat the correct food and quantity for its age and stage of development is vital.
When to worry
When to worry if your cat has arthritis?
Call a vet if your cat shows any of these signs:
- Not eating
- Failure to improve despite treatment
Waiting until your cat’s legs fail to confirm your suspicions of pain will mean they are in excruciating pain.
Speak to us at Joii for help with:
- Prevention of arthritis in your cat
- Identification of pain in your cat
- Decreased activity
- Decreased appetite
- Increased irritability
- Any change in behaviour
- Urinating or defecating outside of the litter box