By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 6 December 2011)
Arthritis is more likely to occur when a cat is over 9 years old, or as a result of prior injuries such as dislocations and fractures. Cats are quite stoic about pain, so if a cat begins to show signs of arthritis, the problem is usually quite advanced.
Arthritis Symptoms in Cats
Arthritis symptoms are variable, depending on whether the limbs or the spine are afflicted. Common symptoms include:
- Moving stiffly
- Unusual irritability
- Avoiding being handled
- Reluctance to jump
Symptoms are usually worse when the cat first wakes up and diminish somewhat over the course of the day. They are also worsened by damp or cold environments. In some cases there may be swelling around the affected joint, but often the damage is so advanced that swelling doesn’t occur.
Because pain in or around joints may result from other medical conditions such as soft tissue infections or tumours of the cartilage or bone, a veterinary check-up is necessary to rule out more serious problems. Cats tend to hide their pain until the situation is quite serious, so owners should seek medical attention for cats showing signs of pain as soon as possible.
Arthritis treatments fall into six categories: weight loss, supplementation, physical therapies, heat, medication, and surgery.
Weight Loss: Dietary changes can help to mitigate the symptoms of arthritis. First and foremost, if the cat is obese, a weight-loss program must be implemented immediately to reduce strain on the affected joint. Switching to a premium, low-carbohydrate, high-protein wet cat food and cutting calories by approximately 20% per day will often take care of the problem. A veterinarian may also recommend a particular weight loss diet.
Supplementation: Ask a veterinarian to recommend a vitamin and mineral supplement. Vitamins C and E are particularly beneficial, and supplementing with essential fatty acids can also help to reduce the inflammation that causes arthritis pain. Additionally, many pet owners have had good results using glucosamine-chondroitin supplements. If giving supplements, only use those that are specially formulated for cats – human medications and supplements can be extremely harmful to cats.
Physical Therapy: Many cats with arthritis benefit from massage or other physical therapy, and for cats that don’t mind water, hydrotherapy shows some promise. Encouraging cats to get moderate exercise is also beneficial, though arthritic cats should avoid excessive exercise.
Heat: As with arthritic people, warmth is also helpful. Providing a small heating pad or placing a cat bed in a sunny spot enables a cat to warm his joints. Electric heating pads shouldn’t be left on when owners are out of the house or asleep.
Medication: A relatively new anti-inflammatory medication called Metacam (meloxicam) is quite effective against arthritis. However, this should not be used with cats that suffer from kidney problems, a common affliction among senior felines. A veterinarian should perform a urinalysis and blood test before prescribing Metacam, and cat owners should keep in mind that this medication may have serious side effects. Corticosteroids have also been widely used for arthritic pets, but concerns about their side effects have led to a decline in their popularity. In cases of extreme pain, analgesics may also be prescribed, though these can cause sedation and dependence. Do not give your cat human medications such as Aspirin or Tylenol – these are highly toxic to cats.
Surgery: In extreme cases, surgery on the afflicted joint may be prescribed, but this is more common for dogs than cats. Luckily, most cats can be treated with dietary changes, anti-inflammatory supplements, heat, and/or physical therapy, and should not require more serious medications or surgery.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for veterinary consultation and care.
- Eldredge, D.M.,DVM, Carlson, D.G., DVM, Carlson,L.D., DVM & Giffin, J.M., MD. (2008). Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, Third Edition. Wiley Publishing, Inc.
- Hogkins, E.M., DVM, Esq. (2007). Your Cat: Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger Life. Thomas Dunne Books.