Managing Arthritis In Cats: Improving Mobility And Joint Health
- Act now to preserve your cats joint health. Dont wait.
- When your cat has arthritis, cartilage in her 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.
Is Arthritis Common In Cats
We have traditionally believed that arthritis was uncommon in cats because they do not often show the long-term signs of lameness that other species, such as dogs, demonstrate when they are affected. But we now know that arthritis is common in cats – about 20 per cent of the whole population, and a much higher proportion of elderly cats, show signs of arthritis when their joints? are radiographed.
What Is Feline Osteoarthritis
Feline osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, is caused by the wearing away of joint cartilage . Without this cushion, adjacent bones are able to rub against each other, resulting in debilitating pain.
The disease most commonly affects the hip, knee, ankle, and elbow joints in cats. And while the root cause of osteoarthritis in cats isnt always known, the American College of Veterinary Surgeons says that injuries, abnormally shaped joints, and normal, everyday wear-and-tear can be to blame. Sadly, the condition is incredibly common. In a 2011 study, 61% of cats ages six years and older had X-ray evidence of osteoarthritis in at least one joint, and 48% were affected in more than one joint. The study also found that disease prevalence increases with age. In other words, the older your cat gets, the more likely it is that she will have at least one arthritic joint. However, even young cats can be affected.
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Other Options For Relieving Arthritis In Cats
Arthritis is a condition where lots of small things can add up to a big improvement. So dont feel helpless, because making minor adjustments can help.
For example, my favorite tips are:
- Heat Therapy: Get your cat a heat pad, or better still a heated cat bed. Theyll love you fur-ever as they snuggle up in that lovely warmth that penetrates their joints to ease those aches.
- Warm Bags: Invest in some microwaveable wheat/corn bags. Then place the warm bag over the sore joint for extra relief.
- Jumping Assistance: Provide a stool or chair as a staging post to help your cat jump up to a favorite spot.
- Massage: When done correctly, massage helps remove inflammatory toxins away from inflamed joints and increases the supply of healing oxygen. However, do massage wrong and you can do harm. Therefore, find a veterinary physiotherapist and have them teach you what to do.
- Nail Trim: Watch out for overgrown nails that can dig into the pad. When an arthritic cat is less active, those nails can grow surprisingly fast.
Arthritis In Cats Is More Common Than You Think
Thanks to advancements in medicine and nutrition, as well as important improvements in the way we view and look after our cats, our feline friends are living longer, fuller lives these days.
However, as cats progress into their senior years, its common for many of them to develop joint pain and problems, such as arthritis. And it’s actually not all that uncommon even for younger cats to develop and suffer from arthritis.
One study found that roughly 30% of cats over the age of 8 suffer from arthritis and eight isn’t very old for a cat! Another study found that 90% of cats aged 12 and over showed radiographic signs of arthritis that’s 9 out of every 10 cats over the age of 12! These are very significant numbers, especially when we also take into account that the pain and suffering of these cats often goes undetected and therefore untreated, even by the most caring and attentive of cat owners.
Wondering if your cat might have arthritis? Have a look at and complete this helpful “Does My Cat Have Arthritis” questionnaire from the cat pain gurus at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Share your results with your veterinarian so they can help you interpret them and determine if your cat is likely to be suffering from arthritis.
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What Causes Cat Arthritis
Unfortunately, the cause of arthritis is nearly impossible to pinpoint in a cat. The disease takes such a long time to develop that you will find it very difficult to definitely determine the cause. In older cats, the joint disease can be attributed to aging.
However, the disease can also spontaneously occur in younger cats who are otherwise healthy. If arthritis is triggered by a one-time event like inflammatory medication, then the cause can be identified. Otherwise, you may never know what caused this disease in your cat.
Even though it is very difficult to get to the actual cause of arthritis in a cat, there are some factors that increase your cats chances of catching the disease.
Managing Arthritis In Cats
Many options should be considered when managing a cat with arthritis, and it is not just about finding the right tablet to control the disease!
Environmental enrichment for arthritic cats
Modifying the environment in many ways can greatly help to maintain quality of life for an arthritic cat. Things to consider include:
- Use of soft, comfortable beds placed in easily accessible, quiet, draft-free locations use of igloo beds can make an older cat feel warm and secure
- Provision of a series of steps or a ramp to allow cats to access favoured higher sites
- Make sure the cat flap is very easy to open, and if necessary tie it open so the cat doesnt need to push through
- Always have a litter tray inside and one that has at least one low side for easy access
- Make sure food and water are easily accessible, at floor level or with steps up to higher levels
- Make sure the cat doesnt have to go up or down stairs to access food, water, or litter trays
- Spend time grooming and cleaning an arthritic cat as this may be difficult for them
- Overgrown claws need regular cutting
Diet and dietary supplements
Obesity or being overweight will exacerbate arthritis and so should be avoided. Careful weight management is therefore very important for older cats. If your cat is overweight, they will benefit from carefully controlled weight loss, supervised by your vet. Your vet may also recommend a special diet to help achieve this safely and effectively.
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Use Raised Food Bowls
- Make sure your cats food and water bowls are somewhere they can easily get to.
- Raising food and water bowls can help because bending down can be painful when you have arthritis. You can buy special raised bowls, or alternatively just place something solid underneath your cats bowl the lift it up to a height so they dont have to crouch to reach it. A pint glass full of water can be used as a water bowl.
Best Steps For Cats With Arthritis In 2021 Reviews & Top Picks
Its a sad fact that when our beloved feline friends get older, they dont have the same spring in their step that they had when they were younger. When theyre suffering from arthritis, that change is even more noticeable. Thats why its crucial to get them the best possible cat steps. Not only does this give them access to more locations, but it also enables them to get to those places with less pain. Since we want your cat to enjoy their golden years as much as you do, we decided to track down and review the 10 best steps for cats with arthritis. When youre serious about giving your aging cat extra comfort, these are the products that you want.
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At What Age Do Cats Develop Arthritis
According to Cats Protection, more than 80% of cats over the age of 10 suffer from arthritis, but it often goes undiagnosed. This common problem refers to inflammation of their joints, causing pain, discomfort and stiffness.
Inside their joints, the surface of the bone is usually covered with a thin layer of smooth cartilage and lubricated with a small amount of fluid, which allows the joint to move freely and without friction.
Arthritis occurs when the joint is damaged or its naturally smooth surface changes, resulting in the rough bone rubbing together. Not only is this very painful for your cat, but it also further damages the cartilage and causes new bone to form around the joint, making it stiffer and limiting movement. This is called osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease.
Lifestyle And Home Changes
These are the mainstay of arthritis treatment. There are many easy ways to alter your cats home to help reduce arthritis pain:
-cut a low opening in the litterbox so your cat doesnt have to jump in or out
-litterboxes should be as spacious as possible
-distance to the litterbox should be minimal
-make or buy a set of steps or ramps for your cat to get to their favourite spots
-move food and water dishes to a more convenient location
-elevate the food and water dishes to allow for a more comfortable eating position
-provide soft, well-padded beds in your cats favourite spots
-many arthritic cats love heating pads, set on low with a blanket covering them. Dont leave them unattended to prevent fire.
-for cats that go outdoors, building ramps, steps or outdoor enclosures can allow cats to continue to enjoy the outdoors
-weight loss is probably the single most important part of managing arthritis in overweight cats. Increased body weight stresses the arthritic joints even more and contributes to the pain. Weight loss alone will decrease the amount of pain that the arthritic cat is experiencing.
-moderate exercise has benefits in maintaining normal range of motion in arthritic joints and also in maintaining/building muscle mass. In acute flare-ups, restricting exercise may be warranted.
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Can Complementary Treatment Help Arthritis In Cats
As arthritis is a very long-term problem, many owners are keen to try complementary treatments for their pets. This is fine providing that a vet has given the all-clear to use them. Acupuncture may well be of value, and there are some vets around the country who specialise in offering that type of care to cats, although it does need to be one that is amenable to that sort of handling!
The Problem With Conventional Treatments For Arthritis In Cats
Veterinarians often prescribe a variety of medications to treat arthritis, but these often arent well tolerated by cats. These include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, acetaminophen, and aspirin, as well as anti-inflammatory medications like corticosteroids. Using these medications long-term can contribute to more serious health problems later on, in addition to side effects in the short term as well.
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Treatment Of Arthritis In Cats
The goal of treatment is to manage your cats pain, improve activity, limit the progression of OA, and improve her quality of life. The following treatments are available for osteoarthritis in cats:
- Weight loss is key to improving your senior cats discomfort with OA. If your cat is overweight, talk to your vet about specific diet and exercise plans to fit your senior cats needs.
- Nutraceuticals, also called supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, omega-3 fatty acids, and more. Always check with your vet before giving your cat any supplement. Some can be dangerous or potentially interact with other medications. Follow this link for more information about supplements!
- Pharmaceuticals or prescription medications and injectable medications including anti-inflammatory drugs and pain management drugs. These medications must be given under the supervision of your vet as they are not risk-free and need close and continued monitoring.
- Surgical intervention depends on the specific diagnosis of OA and should be discussed thoroughly with your vet, including what to expect during recovery and long-term goals.
- Other options such as acupuncture and cold laser therapy are often used together with the above options. Again, its important to discuss these therapies in addition to more traditional therapies with your vet to meet your cats specific needs.
- A multimodal approach involving a combination of the above treatments
Signs Of Arthritis In A Cat
A cat that is arthritic may show many different symptoms. Essentially, arthritis causes pain. The symptoms that result from arthritis are a result of that pain.
Any change in your cat’s behavior may be a result of pain. Each cat reacts to pain in a different manner. These are some examples:
- Some cats become less active and may sleep more than normal.
- Other cats may become anxious and restless.
- Some cats have difficulty finding a comfortable place to rest or a comfortable position in which to sleep.
- Some cats become irritable and begin to avoid contact with family members.
- Other cats become more social, seeking out more interaction with family members.
- Cats with arthritis may be painful when handled.
- Arthritic cats may have difficulty accessing the litter box and may urinate or defecate outside of the litter box.
- Some cats with arthritis will stop grooming themselves, resulting in an unkempt haircoat.
- The pain resulting from arthritis may cause a decreased appetite for some cats. This, in turn, may result in weight loss.
- Lameness may be present but is often difficult or even impossible to notice. Some cats become quite good at hiding the symptoms of their pain.
The symptoms of arthritis in cats can be gradual and insidious in onset. Knowing the behaviors that are normal for your cat and monitoring for changes in those behaviors will provide a good base for determining whether your cat is painful.
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Alternative Treatments For Arthritis In Cats
Some cats with arthritis benefit from non-medical therapies including:
- Laser therapy
These alternative methods carry minimal risk for your cat, though they can be costly. The combination of medication and non-medical therapies can provide more effective pain relief for an arthritic cat.
For older cats, a heated bed or blanket or even a hot water bottle may provide relief from the pain and stiffness of arthritis. It may take some coaxing, but once your cat is acclimated to the heated bed, it should be a source of comfort.
I Think My Cat Has Arthritis What Now
Have you noticed that your cat is no longer jumping up on their favorite couch, is less interested in chasing their catnip mice, or has difficulty getting in or out of the litter box? You’ve unlocked a new badge of cat ownership one earned when an observant cat owner notices these subtle, yet possibly very painful, signs. While many cat owners may attribute these signs to slowing down with age, they may be a sign of osteoarthritis , which affects nearly 40% of all cats.
Osteoarthritis can be a result of poor joint structure from birth, a traumatic injury, or, most commonly in cats, normal wear and tear on their joints as they age. Surprisingly, one study showed that by the time cats reach the age of 12, more than 90% of them have bone changes visible on x-ray, yet few are diagnosed or treated before these irreversible changes have occurred.
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How Is Arthritis Diagnosed
Arthritis is mainly diagnosed on history and physical examination. In the history, we’re looking at age, signs and previous reports of injury/trauma.On physical examination, we’re looking for:
- visible joint deformity
- grating detected with joint movement
- increased fluid in the joint
- thickened joint capsule
- joint instability
We make suggest taking some X-rays. These help rule of other causes of joint pain and assess the degree of bony changes in the joint. It should be noted that the severity of changes on X-ray doesn’t necessarily match the severity of clinical disease. We may see lots of degenerative change on X-ray but have a cat that’s walking around pretty well.Blood and urine tests are not usually needed to diagnose or investigate arthritis. But we may recommend them if we’re concerned about other conditions or to check for contraindications before starting medications.
How To Spot Arthritis In Cats
Arthritis is one of the most common ailments seen in middle-aged to older pets. Even younger cats, under the right circumstances, can suffer from arthritic changes. Arthritis causes changes within the affected joints that are painful for the affected pet. This pain is responsible for many of the signs associated with arthritis in cats. Here are seven of those common signs.
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Risk Factors For Feline Arthritis
There are a number of factors that make arthritis more likely for your cat:
- Feline arthritis is more common in middle-aged and older cats.
- Cats that are obese are more likely to be affected by the signs of arthritis than a cat that is lean.
- Joints that have been injured in the past are also more prone to becoming arthritic later in life.
- Congenital abnormalities that result in abnormalities within a particular joint can make your cat more likely to suffer the effects of arthritis. Hip dysplasia is an example of a congenital abnormality that can lead to arthritis.
How Long Will A Cat With Arthritis Live
Your cats arthritis will continue to progress over time. Although theres 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.
With long-term management, most cats will have a good quality of life for many years and for a lot of cats, well controlled arthritis wont shorten their lives.
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