Arthritis (Osteoarthritis) in Cats

Key Takeaways

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease where the joint cartilage is destroyed over time. 

• The major risk factors for osteoarthritis are obesity, structural abnormalities, and injuries

• Most senior cats have some degree of osteoarthritis

• Symptoms include reduced activity, unkempt coat, and difficulty accessing the litter box

• Diagnosis primarily involves diagnostic imaging to identify the bony changes characteristic of arthritis

• Treatment focuses management strategies such as weight loss and medications such as anti-inflammatories

• Some cases may benefit from surgical intervention

• With appropriate management, most cats have a good quality of life with reduced symptoms and pain

A Closer Look: What is Osteoarthritis in Cats?

Osteoarthritis is common in cats, affecting up to 90% of senior cats. The disease is progressive and incurable, so early identification and appropriate management are the best strategies for reducing the severity of symptoms. There is no cure for osteoarthritis. The disease is progressive and worsens over time. Most treatments focus on slowing the progression of disease and alleviating pain.

Risk Factors

There are two major risk factors for developing osteoarthritis in cats: obesity and structural abnormalities, such as hip dysplasia or patellar luxation. Joint injury also increases the risk of osteoarthritis developing.

Possible Causes

Osteoarthritis occurs when the joint cartilage degenerates over time. Anything that increases the wear and tear on a joint hastens the development of osteoarthritis. As the joint cartilage begins to degenerate, an inflammatory process begins that causes further tissue destruction. This tissue destruction results in the reduced joint mobility and pain characteristic of arthritis.

Main Symptoms

Symptoms of osteoarthritis in cats are often subtle, due to cats’ nature to hide signs of pain. Symptoms include:

• Reduced activity  • Limited mobility • Exercise intolerance • Unkempt hair coat • Irritability

• Difficulty accessing the litter box • Hiding behaviors

Cats with severe arthritis may show more obvious symptoms, such as: 

Lameness, ranging from stiffness to complete disuse of the leg • Muscle loss • Swelling of joints

Joint pain when the limb handling or moving the limb • Reduced range of motion in the affected limb(s)

Testing and Diagnosis

Diagnostic testing includes:

• Physical exam • Ultrasound • CT scans • Sampling joint fluid

• X-rays, including specialized tests to highlight any joint instability

Steps to Recovery

The goal of treatment is to reduce pain and delay the impact this progressive condition has on quality of life.  Treatment typically starts conservatively, and progresses as needed. 

Treatment options include:

• Weight loss • Veterinary-approved joint supplements • Anti-inflammatory medications • Pain control medications

• Rehabilitation and physical therapy

A recently-released medication that targets a protein involved in pain signaling is now available for cats. Frunevetmab shows promising results in managing osteoarthritis pain in cats.  Some types of arthritis benefit from surgical intervention. Surgical options include: 

• Re-alignment of bony structures to restore joint function • Joint removal • Joint replacement • Joint fusion

Osteoarthritis is a life-long, progressive disease with no definitive cure. Appropriate management helps reduce symptoms and pain, allowing for improved quality of life. Routine physical examinations help monitor response to treatment and allow for small adjustments in treatment strategies if necessary. Any changes in symptoms require prompt follow-up with a veterinarian to ensure appropriate management.

Prevention

Prevention of osteoarthritis primarily focuses on maintaining a healthy weight. The added body weight in obesity causes additional wear and tear on the joints, increasing the likelihood of cartilage damage and arthritis. Routine wellness check-ups with a veterinarian help identify signs of weight gain early, allowing for management strategies to be implemented.

Is Osteoarthritis Common in Cats?

Osteoarthritis is common in cats, with up to 90% of cats over the age of 12 having some degree of osteoarthritis. Identifying symptoms of osteoarthritis is often difficult in cats, due to their natural instinct to hide signs of pain.

Typical Treatment

• Anti-inflammatories • Pain control • Physical therapy • Oral supplements

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