Many pet owners believe that arthritis is an old dog issue, but this inflammatory joint disease is equally common among cats. Unfortunately, because cats don’t express their pain in classic ways, their suffering often goes unnoticed and untreated.

Is your cat struggling with chronic joint pain? Find out in this Neighborhood Veterinary Centers guide to feline arthritis and learn how we can help put the pounce back in their step.

What is feline arthritis? 

Arthritis, which is synonymous with age-related aches and pains, is actually a degenerative condition in which the cartilage in one or more joints wears away because of injury or age. Cartilage is the smooth material that covers the ends of bones where they articulate. When the cartilage erodes, the painful bone-on-bone grinding that occurs with each movement sparks additional inflammation, pain, and reduced mobility.

Feline arthritis can affect any joint, although the shoulders, elbows, knees, and hips create the most noticeable discomfort. 

What are feline arthritis risk factors?

Although arthritis is most common among older felines, the condition can affect young cats only a few years old. Early-onset arthritis is typically caused by an injury (e.g., broken bone, patellar luxation), while general wear-and-tear is the culprit for older cats. The disease also does not show gender or breed preference, although a few factors can increase your cat’s risk, such as:

  • Inherited orthopedic conditions (e.g., hip dysplasia, patellar luxation)
  • Obesity 
  • Injury
  • Poor nutrition during development
  • Body structure (e.g., chondrodystrophic or short-legged cats, such as the Scottish fold, can be predisposed to joint problems)

How do cats express arthritis pain?

Despite being domesticated pets, cats instinctively conceal pain and weakness to protect themselves from predators. They may not display any obvious arthritis signs, such as limping or crying out, but changes in behavior can reveal their hidden discomfort. These changes include:

  • Hiding 
  • Increased sleeping
  • Decreased interest in play or social interactions
  • Decreased appetite
  • Difficulty jumping up or down
  • Difficulty going up or down stairs (i.e., the cat may pause to rest)
  • Abnormal litter box habits
  • Increased or decreased grooming
  • Increased irritability or reactivity to pet or human family members

If your cat is acting differently, contact Neighborhood Veterinary Centers. In addition to pain, these behaviors can signal serious illness, so prompt assessment and diagnosis are critical.

How is feline arthritis diagnosed in cats?

Cats can’t tell us where they hurt—and if they could speak, they probably wouldn’t—so your veterinarian will rely on several factors to determine whether your cat’s discomfort is caused by arthritis or another issue. 

Your cat’s arthritis assessment will include a review of their daily habits (e.g., eating, drinking, mobility, energy, and rest), as well as a full physical examination to palpate each joint.  The veterinary team will try to encourage your cat to move across the room or climb up on the furniture to assess their posture, willingness, flexibility, and range of motion.

If necessary, we may recommend additional diagnostic testing, such as X-rays, to visualize arthritic changes in the joints, and blood work to rule out other conditions and to ensure your cat’s liver and kidneys can safely metabolize pain or anti-inflammatory medications.

How is arthritis managed in cats?

In the past, options for managing chronic pain in cats have been limited, because of the unique feline metabolism and the challenge of administering daily medication. Fortunately, recent advances in feline pain management have led to a new monthly injectable medication that disrupts pain signals and allows for more comfortable movement.

In addition to medication, your veterinarian may recommend rehabilitation, laser therapy, weight loss, and dietary supplements to support healthy cartilage.

How can I support my cat’s mobility and comfort at home?

In addition to the care your cat receives at Neighborhood Veterinary Centers, you can make a few simple at-home modifications to support your cat’s joint health, such as:

  • Providing a low-sided litter box 
  • Ensuring all resources are easily accessible (e.g., food, water, toys, litter box) on each home level
  • Feeding a portion-controlled diet 
  • Installing pet ramps to your cat’s favorite perches
  • Visiting Neighborhood Veterinary Centers every six months to reassess your cat’s pain 

With feline arthritis, the cat’s out of the bag. If you recognize pain signs in your cat, contact the nearest Neighborhood Veterinary Centers location and let our expert teams put the pounce back in their step.