You may know that dogs commonly develop arthritis, but did you know that cats also experience this degenerative joint disease? Historically, veterinarians rarely diagnosed or treated cats’ arthritis, likely because feline arthritis signs tend to be more subtle than canine arthritis signs, making the condition challenging to recognize. In addition, because cats are experts at masking their pain, pet owners generally don’t seek veterinary care for their cats as frequently as they do for their dogs.
Veterinarians now know that arthritis is actually common in cats, but pet owners continue to misunderstand feline arthritis signs or how to identify their cat’s condition. To help pet owners become more aware of feline arthritis, our Juanita Hills Animal Hospital team is separating feline arthritis fact from fiction.
Falsehood #1: Arthritis only affects dogs
As we discussed earlier, arthritis does not discriminate by species, and impacts between 70% and 90% of cats older than 12 years of age. Osteoarthritis (OA)—in which a joint’s cartilage can degenerate totally—is the most common arthritis type cats and dogs develop. When a joint’s cartilage cushioning wears away, your pet experiences a reduced range of motion, and joint inflammation, pain, and swelling. Arthritis generally occurs in the spine, hips, knees, and elbows, and multiple joints are commonly affected.
Falsehood #2: Arthritis is a senior cat condition
Similar to humans, cats commonly develop arthritis as they get older, which is attributable to general wear and tear on their joints. However, the condition can affect cats of all ages, and cats as young as 6 months of age can exhibit arthritis signs. Some factors may increase a cat’s arthritis risk, including:
- Breed — Certain breeds have an increased joint problem risk, including Maine coons, Persian cats, Siamese cats, and Scottish folds.
- Injury — Fractures, dislocations, and other joint injuries may cause abnormal joint conformation, which can cause a cat to develop OA.
- Obesity — Extra weight can worsen arthritic changes by increasing the weight-bearing demand on affected joints—especially the hips, knees, elbows, and spine.
- Acromegaly – This condition, in which—because of a tumor—the pituitary gland secretes too much growth hormone, most commonly affects older cats, causing them to also develop diabetes and secondary arthritis in their joints.
Falsehood #3: Feline arthritis signs are easy to identify
Cats are masters at hiding their pain, tending to self-limit their actions and movements to minimize sore joints’ use. Affected cats may appear to sleep more or be less active, but this behavior change can be difficult to detect and is often wrongly attributed to natural age-related decline. While cats generally avoid overtly showing pain signs, such as limping or crying out, vigilant cat owners can learn to recognize subtle feline movement and behavior changes to identify their cat’s arthritis pain before it becomes unbearable. Feline arthritis signs may include:
- Difficulty jumping up or down — Cats may struggle, fall, or take multiple smaller jumps to avoid putting excessive force on their sore joints.
- Difficulty using stairs — Cats may bunny hop with their back legs, angle their body, or rest halfway when going up or down the stairs.
- Slower movements — Cats may walk or run more slowly or with an abnormal gait (e.g., hopping, arched back) and may be stiff after rising from a resting position.
- Decreased interest in play — Cats may not engage with their favorite toys, or play only for brief periods.
- Increased isolation — Cats may hide and sleep more frequently throughout the day and avoid social interactions.
- Altered grooming habits — Cats may neglect painful or difficult-to-reach areas, so their coats become matted, unkempt, or greasy.
- House soiling — Cats with painful hips and knees may avoid stepping in and out of a high-sided litter box and eliminate near or beside the box.
Falsehood #4: Feline arthritis doesn’t need to be treated
OA causes chronic pain and left untreated, greatly reduces a cat’s quality of life. A cat with arthritis pain struggles to get around, play, eat, groom themselves, use their litter box, and sleep. Living in constant pain takes a tremendous toll on a cat’s energy, comfort, and emotional wellbeing.
Fortunately, numerous safe and effective feline arthritis treatment options are available to help manage your cat’s pain, slow the condition’s progression, and improve your feline friend’s quality of life. Weight control and low-impact exercise are crucial to help diminish your cat’s arthritis pain, along with one or more of the following therapies:
- Pain medication — Pain medications, including gabapentin and sometimes opioids, can be used for pain control when nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are not sufficient.
- Supplements — Glucosamine and chondroitin have been proven to spare further cartilage damage.
- Injectable joint protectants — This treatment involves monthly pain-relieving injections. For pet owners who do not want to administer daily medications, this therapy is ideal.
- Rehabilitation — Physical rehabilitation can improve an arthritic cat’s muscle mass and mobility.
- Alternative therapies — In addition to medication and supplements, an arthritic cat may benefit from alternative therapeutic modalities such as acupuncture or cold laser therapy.
If you notice any arthritis signs or changes in your cat’s behavior, contact our Juanita Hills Animal Hospital team to perform your furry friend’s comprehensive exam and to discuss potential feline arthritis treatment options.