Joint Swelling in Cats

Key Takeaways

Joint swelling in cats is the enlargement of one or more joints. 

• Possible causes of joint swelling in cats include injury, disease, or congenital malformation

• Commonly, osteoarthritis causes joint swelling in older cats

• In most cases, swelling of joints causes pain, limits the cat’s mobility, and causes lameness

• Observation of the cat’s movement and behavior is the first step to diagnosis and resolution

• Mild, acute joint swelling in cats is commonly resolved with rest and time

• Diagnosis and treatment of underlying causes is needed to resolve more severe cases

• Diagnostic tools include physical examination, bloodwork, and imaging

• Treatments include pain management, anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, or surgery

• In rare cases chemotherapy or amputation is required

• Outcomes are difficult to generalize due to the variety of possible underlying causes

A Closer Look: What is Joint Swelling in Cats?

Joint swelling in cats is uncommon and is most often a symptom of a minor injury such as a sprain or a strain. In these cases, there is no cause for concern as long as symptoms improve. Ongoing joint swelling, joint swelling in more than one limb, or joint swelling that affects the cat’s behavior and mood require prompt veterinary attention. Cats that are unable to use a limb at all require immediate veterinary care.

Possible Causes

Underlying causes of joint swelling include:

• Injuries such as bite wounds, abscesses on or near a joint, fractures, ligament tears, or dislocation

• Diseases such as immune-mediated polyarthritis or osteoarthritis 

• Tumors, such as osteosarcoma • Septic arthritis or joint infections • Malformation of the bone, joint, or cartilage

Risk Factors

Joint swelling in cats varies in severity. Careful observation of the cat by the pet parent gathers an accurate picture of the problem. Considerations include:

• Age of onset • Acute or chronic (sudden or ongoing) • Consistent or intermittent symptoms

• Progression of symptoms • Number of joints swollen • Apparent severity of pain

• Limited mobility caused by the swelling

Testing and Diagnosis

In cases where joint swelling is mild and acute, rest and time are sufficient for healing. In cases where swelling does not resolve on its own in a few days or is severe, veterinary attention is necessary to diagnose underlying causes. Diagnostic tools include:

• Physical exam •  Bloodwork •  Diagnostic imaging such as X-rays or CT scan • Joint fluid analysis   Treatment options depend on the underlying cause. Possible treatments include:   • Antibiotics • Surgery • Casts or slings • Chemotherapy • Amputation

• Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as prescribed by a veterinarian.

Note: Over-the-counter NSAIDS are not recommended as they are potentially toxic and can mask important symptoms, leading to misdiagnosis. Pain killers should only be administered to animals under the guidance of a veterinarian.

Similar symptoms

• Masses over a joint • Bruises • Swollen soft tissue

Associated Symptoms

Joint pain • Vocalizing when touched or during specific movements • Reluctance to be cuddled or pet

• Lameness (limping) • Limited mobility • Exercise intolerance • Aggression

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