Arthritis in Cats Causes, symptoms and treatment

Arthritis (osteoarthritis) is a very common condition that causes painful and swollen joints and makes moving uncomfortable.

Sometimes the reluctance to move can be mistaken for a cat that “slows down” due to old age.

Although there is no cure for arthritis, there are many steps you can take to help your cat feel better. Treatment for arthritis can make a big difference in your cat’s quality of life.

However, until recently, arthritis in cats was not diagnosed or treated. This may be due to cats’ ability to hide signs of pain and a lack of recognition of the condition by owners and veterinarians.

What is feline arthritis?

Arthritis is usually the result of continuous wear and tear and instability in the joints, although other factors such as injury, genetic makeup, infection, immune diseases and cancer can also cause its development.

Arthritis can affect one or more joints in the body. However, the most common joints affected in cats are the elbows, hips, and spine.  Most of these joints rely on cartilage that acts like a cushion that also provides a smooth surface for adjacent bones to move over each other. This movement is facilitated by the lubrication provided by the synovial fluid in the joints.

With arthritis, the cartilage deteriorates and the synovial fluid loses its lubricating properties, causing the movement of the bones to become less fluid, causing discomfort and reduced mobility 

What Causes Arthritis in Cats?

Arthritis, also known as osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease, causes pain and inflammation in a cat’s joints. Arthritis can be primary (due to mechanical “wear and tear” on the joints) or secondary  (an injury or abnormality of the joint). The other major form of arthritis seen in humans is rheumatoid arthritis , which is (at least in part) an autoimmune disease.

At present it is not entirely clear what causes arthritis in cats . More studies are needed to determine if this is similar to OA in humans, for which mechanical damage to the joints may be critical in the development of the disease, or if other factors are involved. Currently, most cats with arthritis do not seem to have an obvious cause .

Some factors can increase the risk of arthritis in cats:

  • Genetics –Certain breeds are at increased risk due to various underlying joint problems. This would include:
    • Hip dysplasia (abnormal development of the hip joints) seen especially in Maine Coon, Persian, Siamese and other breeds.
    • Patella luxation that has been most frequently described in Abyssinian and Devon Rex cats.
    • Scottish Folds are prone to severe arthritis affecting multiple joints due to a cartilage abnormality that occurs in the breed.
  • An Injury or trauma: for example, fractures, dislocations, and other joint injuries. These can cause an abnormal conformation of the joint that can lead to secondary osteoarthritis.
  • Obesity: There is no evidence that this causes arthritis, but it is likely to make an existing condition worse.
  • Acromegaly:This is an unusual condition in older cats, in which a tumor in the pituitary gland generates too much growth hormone. Affected cats generally develop diabetes mellitus, but some also develop secondary arthritis in their joints.


Symptoms of arthritis in cats

Cats are adept at hiding discomfort and pain, so they often show no obvious signs of illness. They limit their own activity to minimize use of sore joints, and therefore tend not to show the same signs of arthritis as other animals. In particular, cats do not usually show obvious signs of lameness or pain associated with arthritis.

The main symptoms of arthritis in a cat are:

  • Reduced mobility
    • Jump less frequently and at lower heights than before.
    • Difficulty going up or down stairs.
    • Stiff legs, especially after sleeping or resting for a while; occasionally it may show an obvious limp.
    • Difficulty using the litter tray and may urinate or defecate out of it.
  • Reduced activity
    • More time to rest or sleep.
    • He doesn’t hunt or explore the outdoor environment as often.
    • Pain resulting from arthritis can cause a decreased appetite in some cats.
    • Try to sleep in places that are easier to access.
    • Reduce interaction and play less with people or other animals.
  • Changes in grooming routine
    • Less time spent grooming.
    • Dull and disheveled coat.
    • Overgrown claws due to lack of activity.
  • Temperament changes
    • More irritable or grumpy when held or stroked.
    • Less confident in contact and relationship with other animals.
    • He is alone more time.


How is arthritis in cats diagnosed?

According to current research, arthritis has been found most often in cats older than 7 years. Therefore, it is important to take your cat’s general physical health into account to determine if she is displaying any signs or symptoms indicative of this painful condition. If you notice any changes as I have indicated above, be sure to take your cat to the vet as soon as possible.

When your vet examines your cat, they may be able to detect pain, discomfort, swelling, or other changes that affect certain joints in your cat. If the diagnosis is unclear, the vet may suggest an X-ray of the joints, but this is not always necessary, and in some cases, if the diagnosis is uncertain, a simple treatment with anti-inflammatory drugs can be used.

Although blood and urine tests are not usually necessary to investigate arthritis, the vet may suggest them if he thinks there may be another problem as well (which is not uncommon in older cats), or before starting some medications.


Treatment for arthritis in cats

There are three options you can adopt to improve the quality of life of your cat with arthritis:

Create a comfortable environment for your arthritic cat

Modifying the environment in many ways can go a long way toward maintaining an arthritic cat’s quality of life. Things to consider include:

  • Use of soft and comfortable beds placed in places that are easily accessible, quiet and free from drafts.
  • Use a ramp to allow cats access to higher places (eg, sofa, windowsill).
  • Always have a litter box indoors and one that is at least low for easy access.
  • Make sure food and water are easily accessible, at floor level.
  • Make sure your cat doesn’t have to go up or down stairs to access food, water, or the litter box.
  • Spend time grooming and cleaning an arthritic cat as this can be difficult for them.
  • Cut nails regularly for you.

Weight control and dietary supplements

This is an important aspect in the care of any animal with arthritis. Overweight animals will bear more weight on their joints and thus suffer more localized inflammation and irritation in the joints, which in turn can accelerate the progression of arthritis. Cats need to lose weight more gradually to prevent metabolic problems.

There are several dietary supplements and diets for cats with arthritis. They generally contain combinations of essential fatty acids (EFAs) designed to reduce inflammation, and glycosaminoglycans (such as glucosamine and chondroitin) that serve to improve cartilage quality. These diets and dietary supplements are generally very safe to use (but should only be used when recommended by a veterinarian); however, its effectiveness in the management of arthritis in cats is uncertain. If they do have an effect, it is likely to be relatively mild and therefore will help in early cases of arthritis or as part of a combination plan with other medications.

Cat Arthritis Medications

Medications can be very effective in controlling pain and inflammation associated with arthritis, but they should only be used under the direct supervision of a veterinarian, as any medication can have side effects

Although there are several medications on the market that can offer your arthritic cat great relief, be sure to weigh the pros and cons of each treatment with your vet, as any medication has potential side effects.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the most commonly used to control arthritic pain . A number of different NSAIDs are licensed for use in cats in different countries, but the safety of these drugs varies, and care is especially needed when choosing a drug for long-term treatment. To minimize the risk of side effects, the drug should be chosen and used with care (using the lowest effective dose for the cat).

The first NSAID to be licensed for long-term use in cats was meloxicam (Metacam; Boehringer Ingelheim), and there is now extensive information on the use of this drug showing that it is effective in the management of arthritis in cats, and When used properly and in appropriate doses, significant side effects are rare.

In some cats, alternative pain reliever or pain relief medications may be needed in cases where NSAIDs are not adequate or insufficient. Medications that have been suggested (all of which should only be used under vet supervision) include:

  • Buprenorphine
  • Amantidine
  • Tramadol
  • Gabapentin

Additional treatments

Acupuncture has been used in other species to treat chronic pain from arthritis. The efficacy of acupuncture is still debated and this treatment has not been tested in controlled studies, but some reports suggest that it might be a useful adjunct therapy for some cats. It should always be performed by a specially trained veterinarian and should not be used as a substitute for medications in severe cases.




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