Osteoarthritis in Cats - Signs and Treatment for Stiff Joints (2022)

Just like humans, as cats get older they can suffer from degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis. Arthritis in cats is surprisingly common. In one research study, osteoarthritis was shown to affect 90% of cats over 12 years of age and in another study 61% of cats over six years old.

Feline osteoarthritiscauses reduced mobility and flexibility of joints, joint swelling, bony changes around the joints and subsequent muscle loss due to reduced movement of the affected body part/s. Because it is a degenerative disease, the prevalence increases with age.

You may notice that your cat is sleeping more than usual, happier to hang around inside, no longer running through the house at 3am. As a vet, I hear many people say “they are just slowing down with age” but why do cats slow down as they age? Often it may be because everything starts to hurt and stiffen up. The energy and spirit are still there, the body just isn’t quite as willing as it used to be.

Rather than accepting that this is just a fact of life as our cats get older, we can intervene to reduce this stiffness and soreness and provide a better quality of life for our cats in their advancing years.

Osteoarthritis in Cats - Signs and Treatment for Stiff Joints (1)

(Video) The PetHealthClub - Arthritis in Cats Explained (including symptoms and treatment options)

Image: Tambako the Jaguar via Flickr

Signs of Osteoarthritis in Cats

Cats often don’t show the classical clinical signs of osteoarthritis. Instead, they adapt their lifestyle and behaviour to cope. This makes arthritis in cats very hard to diagnose, with the associated changes being extremely subtle. Despite being sore, your cat may still run in short bursts without obvious pain, lameness or change in gait which may give the impression that everything is fine.

Some behaviours give us a clue that our cats are hurting:

  • Changes in jumping behaviour
    Rather than jumping straight up to the table top, your cat may use intermediate objects to get up in steps. They may not jump up as high or as frequently; you may notice them considering or hesitating before jumping. They may misjudge the effort required to jump up on something and end up scrambling, pulling themselves up or falling. They may also be more reluctant to jump down from objects and walk their front legs down the table leg rather than just leaping off.
  • Reluctant to use stairs or slower going up and down stairs
  • Choosing to rest in lower or easier to access spots
  • Change in temperament – aggression when patted in certain areas or when being picked up, increased vocalisation
  • Reduced grooming activity because of the pain associated with their usual grooming contortions
  • Changes in toileting behaviour because it may hurt getting into or out of the litter tray or squatting to go to the toilet
  • Muscle loss over the hind legs because they are not using the muscles as much – not as active and smaller steps.

Osteoarthritis in Cats - Signs and Treatment for Stiff Joints (2)

Image: Glenelg Vet

(Video) Top 10 Symptoms of Arthritis in Cats + Signs of Pain

The clinical signs will vary considerably between different cats and older cats may have other age-related diseases that complicate the diagnosis of osteoarthritis.

If you think your cat might be suffering from osteoarthritis, the first stop is a thorough checkup by your veterinarian. X-rays can help with the diagnosis but because of the typically subtle changes associated with feline arthritis, I believe that the information provided by an attentive owner is probably the best means of diagnosis – if you think there is a problem, there probably is. You know your cat best and know what’s normal and what isn’t.

Treating Osteoarthritis in Cats

Feline osteoarthritis is a chronic disease and as such, treatment is usually life-long. Treatment of arthritis in cats requires both lifestyle changes and combinations of medications to minimise side effects and maximise benefits.

Lifestyle Changes

Probably the biggest factor in management is weight control – every extra 100g is putting excess strain on already sore joints. Moderate activity should be encouraged, to maintain flexibility and movement in joints and to prevent muscle loss. Physiotherapy in cats is challenging – although you can try encouraging play activity or throwing treats across the room to make them run. Make sure they have sleeping places lower down that they don’t have to jump up to get to and provide ramps.

Medications for Cats with Arthritis

There are a number of different classes of medications used to control chronic pain in cats. The best response is to a combination of different treatments. Before starting medications, it is advisable to check for any concurrent diseases, especially kidney disease, since this can influence treatment considerably.

Check out the short video below:

(Video) Vet Guide | Signs of Arthritis in Cats and Dogs & 4 Key Factors to Prevent Any Lameness or Stiffness

Joint Protectants

Safe, cheap and easy to give, they are useful for early or mild disease and in combination with pain relief. They increase the lubrication and therefore flexibility of joints and many animals respond very well to these medications. Joint protectants include fish oil, glucosamine, chondroitin and specially formulated arthritis diets. I have also found pentosan injections to be very useful, so it is worth discussing this option with your vet.

Osteoarthritis in Cats - Signs and Treatment for Stiff Joints (3)

Image: Cinque Ports Vet

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

These are the mainstay of arthritis treatment in cats – they provide excellent pain relief and also reduce swelling and inflammation in diseased joints. However they have the potential for serious side effects (including kidney damage, ulceration in the gut and bleeding tendencies) if not used correctly, especially if concurrent disease such as kidney disease is present. It is worth being aware of these side effects but this should not discourage their use.

(Video) Arthritis in Cats

The use of NSAIDs in chronic kidney disease is controversial, but many feline specialists are now comfortable using these drugs in cats with stable disease and at reduced doses. I personally do not believe that the presence of kidney disease is justification for leaving a cat in chronic pain from osteoarthritis. As a general rule, it is best to be conservative with NSAIDs and gradually reduce the dose to the lowest effective dose. NSAIDs should not be given if your cat is unwell and accurate dosing is critical. They should be given with a full meal to reduce the risk of gut ulceration and cats on chronic treatment should receive regular check ups and monitoring from your veterinarian, both by examination and blood and urine tests. The frequency of check ups varies depending on whether your cat has concurrent disease.

Other Medications

Other pain relief medications are also available for more severe disease, such as opiates (similar to morphine) and others. These medications can also have side effects, especially drowsiness, and are not formulated properly for cats so can be fiddly to give and bitter tasting. It is best to discuss these options with your vet and use them in conjunction with lifestyle changes, joint protectants and NSAIDs.

So what’s the short answer?

Osteoarthritis is common in cats and difficult to diagnose. I personally believe that since we can’t ask our cats if they’re in pain, we are best erring on the side of caution and providing pain relief on any suspicion of pain (if in doubt, do a short-term treatment trial). Imagine being constantly in pain with no way to communicate that and never getting any relief.

However I know that other vets disagree with this opinion and think NSAIDs should only be used when obvious pain exists. Osteoarthritis should be treated from multiple angles, including weight loss, moderate activity, joint protectants and NSAIDs if suitable.

Older cats should receive regular check ups from their veterinarian and if on any long-term medications, should additionally have regular monitoring via blood and urine tests. Pay attention to what your cat is telling you and know that there are options available to manage this insidious condition and maintain your cat’s quality of life through their senior years.

Osteoarthritis in Cats - Signs and Treatment for Stiff Joints (4)

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(Video) How to recognize Feline Osteoarthritis (OA) Pain in your cat

Related

FAQs

How can I help my cats stiff joints? ›

Home Remedies for Cat Arthritis

Providing a ramp up to places they like to rest — such as your bed, a couch, or a window seat. Providing a litter box with one low side for easy access. Keeping everything your cat needs — like the litter box, food, and water — on one floor of your house. Using soft brushes for grooming.

How do you treat osteoarthritis in cats? ›

Treatment options for cats with osteoarthritis are limited. Non-drug treatment options include weight loss for overweight cats, increased exercise, and environmental accommodations, like using litter pans with lower sides for ease of entering and exiting, elevating food and water bowls, and providing soft bedding.

Can osteoarthritis be cured in cats? ›

Medical treatment of DJD is designed to control the signs and symptoms of the osteoarthritis in cats, as this disease cannot be cured. In some cases, surgery may help alleviate symptoms and slow the disease's progression.

What is the best treatment for arthritis in cats? ›

Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are generally used as the first line of defense against the pain of OA. Your veterinarian will determine if your cat is a good candidate for this class of medication. Occasionally, a corticosteroid anti-inflammatory drug will be prescribed instead of a NSAID.

What can I give my elderly cat for joint pain? ›

Joint supplements containing glucosamine and/or chondroitin can help some cats. Omega-3 fatty acids can help relieve pain from arthritis and other causes. Adequan is an injectable product that can be used to help relieve arthritis pain and is effective for many cats.

Does CBD oil help arthritis in cats? ›

CBD oil for cats helps kitties that have developed arthritis by decreasing pain sensations, restoring their energy, and helping to improve mobility. Cats that refuse to eat can get into big trouble rather quickly. CBD oil for cats is great for helping to restore their appetite, so he can keep his good health.

Why is my cat stiff and not moving? ›

With lower blood potassium levels it will be obvious that the muscle weakness will be affecting other areas of the body too – the limbs will become weak, the cat may be reluctant to walk and move, the cat may appear stiff and/or wobbly.

How do you massage a cat with arthritis? ›

How to Massage your Arthritic Cat
  1. Ensure that both you and your cat are in the mood for the massage. ...
  2. Lay your kitty down on a comfortable surface or your lap.
  3. Start to rub her legs concentrating on the joints and the surrounding areas.
  4. Start gently with slow circular motions.
  5. Your cat should stay relaxed the whole time.
6 Jul 2021

Does glucosamine work for cats? ›

One of the most well-known pet and human supplements is glucosamine. It has been proven and tested for arthritis and joint inflammation in dogs and cats. In cats, it has been a life saver since there are few safe alternatives and pharmaceuticals that work on painful kitties.

How do cats get osteoarthritis? ›

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association notes that the most common form of feline arthritis is caused by the degenerative process of aging, often in association with genetic diseases, like hip dysplasia.

How is osteoarthritis diagnosed in cats? ›

Diagnosis of OA in cats is made by a combination of physical examination and imaging modalities such as x-rays. Due to their reluctance to be manipulated and held, cats may be challenging to examine; therefore, different types of activity evaluations may be used to assess your cat's mobility.

Can I give Omega 3 to my cat? ›

Omega-3 supplements have many of the same benefits for cats as they do for their human owners, including: Healthy skin. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, making them a great choice for cats who have allergies or suffer from dry skin or hotspots.

Are there joint supplements for cats? ›

Cats of all ages can benefit from joint support—not just elderly or arthritic pets. Help your feline friend maintain flexibility through every age and stage with these hip and joint cat chews from Pet Naturals. Ingredients include glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, and perna canaliculus for improved comfort and mobility.

Do joint supplements help cats? ›

Joint Supplements for Cats

Only use veterinary-formulated joint supplements for your pet. Supplements such as Cosequin for Cats and ArthriEase-Gold, can be a good “drug-free" way to help in the management of your cat's arthritis pain.

Does prednisolone help cats with arthritis? ›

While not necessarily a pain medication, corticosteroids help reduce inflammation which can aid in pain management for arthritis or severe allergies. Examples of corticosteroids used at Just Cats Clinic include prednisolone, triamcinolone, and methylprednisolone.

Are Heating Pads good for senior cats? ›

An electric heating pad with moist heat is a great thing to place on your cat's bed. They are drawn to the warmth from it and the moist heat will nicely help ease the inflammation of sore and aching joints and muscles.

Does heat help arthritis in cats? ›

One of the most significant uses of heating pads is for arthritic cats. Senior cats who have arthritis will find relief on the warm surface. It will help boost the circulation in their joints, thus less pain and inflammation.

Does catnip help cats with pain? ›

For cats that have a positive experience with catnip, it can help reduce anxiety and even relieve pain. Some veterinarians have recommended using catnip to help with separation anxiety if your cat will be home alone for an extended period of time.

Do vets recommend CBD oil for cats? ›

CBD Oil is Completely Safe for Cats

While CBD might not cure these ailments, it will ease their discomforts. Bear in mind that cats are unique animals. In other words, their reaction to CBD might differ. Many vets have agreed that CBD does not harm cats and might not trigger any side effects.

What are the side effects of CBD oil for cats? ›

Over 1,100 adverse events occurred in the cats following administration of the CBD-infused fish oil including:
  • Licking (476)
  • Head shaking (339)
  • Pacing (150)
  • Chomping (88)
  • Gagging (29)
  • Salivating/drooling/foaming (16)
  • Vomiting (15)
30 Sept 2020

Can I give my cat CBD every day? ›

Our pets can't tell us when something's wrong, so it's important that you're around to monitor their behavior when giving them CBD. You can give your cat CBD multiple times a day if it helps provide them with comfort.

Why is my cat getting stiff? ›

Feline arthritis can be caused by injury, infection, an autoimmune disorder, or degenerative problems involving the joints. If a cat seems stiff or painful, has swollen joints, loses muscle mass, or has a hard time moving around, it might have arthritis.

Why are my cats back legs so stiff? ›

Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of back leg stiffness in cats aged 10+. Cats can also develop weak and wobbly legs due to injury/trauma or falling from a height. Diabetes, organ failure, and neurological problems can cause the gradual weakening of a cat's rear legs.

What is stiff legged gait in cats? ›

When they run into lameness, they simply stop doing the activities they normally do, like jumping or climbing. Another sign might be a stiff-legged gait. They look like they're just getting old but in fact they could be suffering from arthritis. And in fact, in a recent study of adult cats, 90% had arthritis.

How can a vet tell if a cat has arthritis? ›

Diagnosing Cat Arthritis

Your veterinarian will examine your cat thoroughly and look for signs of pain, including swelling or sensitivity in the joint areas. Arthritis can occur in the knees or “elbows” of a cat, as well as the hip joints, jawbone, and upper or lower back.

At what age do cats develop arthritis? ›

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.

Do cats like vibrating massagers? ›

But it seems like it's not just humans who enjoy a soothing massage. It turns out, cats love them too!

Can too much glucosamine hurt a cat? ›

It's highly improbable as glucosamine has few side effects. The only real risk of overdose is if you give your cats a huge serving or if they break into the bag. This can lead to diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting. Please take your pet to the vet if you suspect an overdose.

How quickly does glucosamine work in cats? ›

Give this medication for at least 2-6 weeks to evaluate how well it may work in your pet. This medication can take up to a few weeks before full effects are noted, but gradual improvements are usually noticeable after a few days.

When should I give my cat joint supplements? ›

Joint supplements are best as a preventative to nourish the joints and to slow deterioration, so you should start giving your cat supplements before they begin to show signs of lameness or pain. Talk with your vet about the options and what will be best for your cat and their health needs.

How do you massage a cat with arthritis? ›

How to Massage your Arthritic Cat
  1. Ensure that both you and your cat are in the mood for the massage. ...
  2. Lay your kitty down on a comfortable surface or your lap.
  3. Start to rub her legs concentrating on the joints and the surrounding areas.
  4. Start gently with slow circular motions.
  5. Your cat should stay relaxed the whole time.
6 Jul 2021

Why are my cats back legs stiff? ›

Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of back leg stiffness in cats aged 10+. Cats can also develop weak and wobbly legs due to injury/trauma or falling from a height. Diabetes, organ failure, and neurological problems can cause the gradual weakening of a cat's rear legs.

How do you exercise a cat with arthritis? ›

Swimming is one of the best forms of exercise for cats because the cool water helps take pressure off the joints while still activating their muscles. Feather chase: A simple feather tied to a string can create excellent physical activity for cats with aching joints.

At what age do cats develop arthritis? ›

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.

Does heat help arthritis in cats? ›

One of the most significant uses of heating pads is for arthritic cats. Senior cats who have arthritis will find relief on the warm surface. It will help boost the circulation in their joints, thus less pain and inflammation.

Does catnip help cats with pain? ›

For cats that have a positive experience with catnip, it can help reduce anxiety and even relieve pain. Some veterinarians have recommended using catnip to help with separation anxiety if your cat will be home alone for an extended period of time.

How can a vet tell if a cat has arthritis? ›

Diagnosing Cat Arthritis

Your veterinarian will examine your cat thoroughly and look for signs of pain, including swelling or sensitivity in the joint areas. Arthritis can occur in the knees or “elbows” of a cat, as well as the hip joints, jawbone, and upper or lower back.

Why is my cat stiffening up? ›

Feline arthritis can be caused by injury, infection, an autoimmune disorder, or degenerative problems involving the joints. If a cat seems stiff or painful, has swollen joints, loses muscle mass, or has a hard time moving around, it might have arthritis.

What is stiff legged gait in cats? ›

When they run into lameness, they simply stop doing the activities they normally do, like jumping or climbing. Another sign might be a stiff-legged gait. They look like they're just getting old but in fact they could be suffering from arthritis. And in fact, in a recent study of adult cats, 90% had arthritis.

Why is my cat stiff and not moving? ›

With lower blood potassium levels it will be obvious that the muscle weakness will be affecting other areas of the body too – the limbs will become weak, the cat may be reluctant to walk and move, the cat may appear stiff and/or wobbly.

Does glucosamine work for cats? ›

One of the most well-known pet and human supplements is glucosamine. It has been proven and tested for arthritis and joint inflammation in dogs and cats. In cats, it has been a life saver since there are few safe alternatives and pharmaceuticals that work on painful kitties.

Can cats joints crack? ›

It is important to get your cat checked out by a vet. It may be that your cat is beginning to have joint changes, although there are other conditions that could cause this noise.

Can cats get arthritis in their back legs? ›

All these studies show that arthritis is actually very common in cats, that it is much more common (and more severe) in older cats, and that the shoulders, hips, elbows, knees (stifles) and ankles (tarsi) are the most commonly affected joints.

Is Omega 3 fish oil good for cats? ›

Omega-3 fish oils for cats have been found to keep the heart rate regular, lowering the heart's risk of atrial fibrillation, a fluttering of the heart's rhythm. Fish oil is thought to decrease triglyceride levels in cats, and can also act as an anti-coagulant, preventing blood clots in cats with heart disease.

How much turmeric can I give my cat? ›

How Much Turmeric Should I Give My Cat? Start with 1/4 teaspoon per day for cats and, and increase gradually. However, make sure to not give more than 1 teaspoon each day.

How do I know if my cat is in pain? ›

Behaviour signs of a cat in pain
  1. Reduced appetite.
  2. Lethargy.
  3. Decreased interest in positive things like playing, social interaction and exploring outside.
  4. Being withdrawn and hiding away.
  5. Appearing lame and experiencing increased sensitivity to touch in specific areas of their body.
  6. Reduction in movement and activity.

Videos

1. Osteoarthritis in Cats: Pain Management and Integration
(Assisi Animal Health)
2. Osteoarthritis and Degenerative Joint Disease in Cats
(VetVine Hub)
3. Top 5 Ways to Treat Arthritis in Your Cat or Dog (Without Surgery)
(Bob & Brad)
4. Limping Cat? Try this Holistic Antibiotic and Natural Pain Killer
(Veterinary Secrets)
5. Old Cat In Pain? 5 Natural Options
(Veterinary Secrets)
6. The Solensia injection for CATS. Dr. Dan covers Cat Arthritis and the Solenisa option.
(Dan The Veterinarian)

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