Studies show that up to 90% of cats have arthritis. While it’s more common in cats over the age of 12, many younger cats are affected by it too (as many as 2/3 by the age of 6). Because arthritis is a progressive, incurable condition, it is a source of chronic pain for cats, but with the proper treatments, its progression can be slowed down, and you can alleviate much of the pain, greatly improving a cat’s quality of life.
What is arthritis?
Arthritis, also known as osteoarthritis or OA, is a degenerative condition that affects the joints.
It occurs when cartilage wears away within a joint and the bones rubs against each other, causing inflammation.
Most commonly, it affects the elbows and hips, but other areas can be affected too, such as the low back, knees, shoulders, and hocks.
What causes arthritis?
Arthritis is typically caused by aging but other factors include being overweight or obese, injuries, surgeries, infections, breed, hereditary defects, and diet.
Can you prevent your cat from getting arthritis?
While there are some factors you can’t control (such as aging), making sure your cat maintains a normal weight, gets regular exercise, and receives good nutrition are the best ways to prevent them from getting arthritis.
What are the symptoms of arthritis?
The signs of arthritis in cats are often hard to detect. Cats are also very good at hiding their symptoms. This is why it’s so important for owners to keep track of changes. You know your cat better than anyone else so tell your vet right away if you notice any changes in their personality, routines, and activities because even small changes can be a sign of an underlying problem.
Some commons symptoms of arthritis include:
- Stiffness upon rising
- Not jumping as much or as high up
- Avoiding places they used to enjoy that require them to jump (e.g. furniture, counters, window sills)
- Reluctance to go up stairs or being slower when going up/down them
- Being more nervous around people or activity in your home
- Irritability or aggression (especially when being handled)
- Being less active and/or playful
- Wanting more attention
- Not grooming as much or grooming too much in one area
- Weight loss
- Using the bathroom outside of the litter box or no longer covering their urine or feces with litter
How is arthritis diagnosed in cats?
To determine whether your cat has arthritis, your vet will collect their medical history and do a physical exam. If necessary, they may also take x-rays or perform other tests.
What are the treatments for arthritis?
While there is no cure for arthritis, there are many things you can do to slow its progression and alleviate pain, improving your cat’s quality of life.
If your cat is diagnosed with arthritis, you and your vet can work together to make a treatment plan for them. This usually involves supplements and/or medications, weight loss (if necessary), and accommodations in your home.
Note: Never give any supplements or medications to your cat without speaking to your vet. (Many common things such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and aspirin are toxic to cats.)
Treatment options include:
- Supplements and/or medications
- Weight loss
- If your cat is overweight, working with your vet to get them back to a healthy weight greatly decreases the amount of stress on their joints.
- Proper nutrition
- Encourage them to exercise, even as they get older. This usually involves gentle exercises for short periods of time, but talk to your vet about what’s best for your particular situation.
- Litter boxes
- Make sure you have enough litter boxes (at least 1 box per cat plus 1 extra box) and that they have shallow entrances so your cat can easily climb in and out of them.
- Place the litter boxes in areas that are easy to access. For example, if you have more than one floor in your home, place at least one litter box on each floor.
- Provide warm, thick beds that are easy to access, and place them on each floor of your home.
- Help them groom if they can’t reach certain areas.
- Make sure they have access to floor surfaces where they won’t skid.
- Physical therapy
- Chiropractic care