Arthritis (osteoarthritis) is a degenerative joint disease, where the cartilage within the joint is worn away, leading to inflammation and painful, aching joints.
You may notice that as your cat gets older, they aren’t as nimble as they once were. It’s easy to assume this is just a natural part of ageing; however, just like humans and dogs, cats can suffer from arthritis.
Cats are usually active and agile, and over time this will cause wear and tear of the joints. This wear and tear on the joints is the most common cause of arthritis. Other factors that may increase the risk of arthritis include injury and trauma to joints, such as a sprain or fracture, an infection, genetics and obesity. Senior cats (over 7 years old) are the most likely to be affected by arthritis, but arthritis can also be seen in younger cats. . If an older cat experiences arthritis it tends to be generalised, but often it affects the hips, elbows and spine.
As cats naturally disguise pain and discomfort, arthritis can be very difficult to spot. It is important to learn to recognise subtle signs that may be caused by arthritis, as it can be managed with appropriate treatment and simple changes to your cat’s home and lifestyle.
Symptoms of arthritis
Cats are very good at hiding their pain so even in later stages of osteoarthritis, the signs may be very subtle.
Problems and behaviour changes that may be seen in cats with degenerative joint disease include:
- Decreased activity – eg, sleeping more, not moving around as much, playing or hunting less
- Decreased mobility – eg, reduced willingness to jump, not jumping as high, difficulty using the litter tray, stiffness, and sometimes obvious lameness
- Decreased grooming – reduced time or difficulty grooming, a poor coat, overgrown claws
- Altered personality – less keen to interact with people or pets, seeking solitude, "grumpier"
Other signs – may include aggression or vocalisation when touched and loss of appetite
Understanding these changes helps alert you and your vet to the possible existence of pain and DJD, and will help you monitor whether therapy is helpful or not.
Diagnosis is often made based on the history and the vet's examination, although x-rays usually confirm the condition.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis, but early intervention means we can make a management and treatment plan that ensures a comfortable and happy lifestyle for your cat.
There are a number of treatment options available for cats including Pentosan injections, anti-inflammatory medication, nutritional supplements, and other pain relief options. Weight loss is also very important if cats are overweight. (It is important to note that you should only ever use a drug that has been specifically prescribed for your cat by your veterinarian. Many human drugs such as anti-inflammatory drugs and Panadol can be highly toxic to cats – administering these is life-threatening. )
Simple changes can also be made at home to help your cat cope with arthritis.
If your cat is showing any of the signs described above (even if very subtle), make an appointment to see one of our vets. If we think arthritis is likely, we will discuss the treatment options available and help make a plan that is suitable for your cat, to ensure they are as comfortable as possible.