How can I help my cat with arthritis and joint pain?

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How can I help my cat with arthritis and joint pain? - gray cat laying down

Joint pain in cats can be caused by a variety of underlying conditions, including illness, injury, or simply old age. It’s important for cat owners to be able to recognize signs of painful joints and arthritis in order to give their feline friends the care they need. Continue reading to learn:

  • What causes feline arthritis
  • The signs of arthritis in cats
  • How arthritis is diagnosed in cats
  • How veterinarians treat cats with joint pain

Feline arthritis is painful and can inhibit your cat’s movement and affect quality of life. Veterinary care is needed to diagnose what type of arthritis your cat has and the underlying cause. Once a diagnosis is made, a treatment plan can be created to help make your cat more comfortable in their day-to-day life.

What causes arthritis in cats?

There are multiple types of arthritis in cats that stem from a variety of causes. Arthritis is a general term that refers to inflammation of a joint. This can be caused by injury, infection of the joint itself, illness, or the degeneration of the joint. Types of arthritis in cats include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Septic arthritis or joint infections
  • Immune-mediated arthritis
  • Joint injury or trauma

Some types of arthritis are temporary and are resolved by treating the underlying condition, such as an  injury or a tick-borne illness. Other types, like osteoarthritis, are degenerative conditions that cannot be cured or reversed but can be slowed and managed.

What is osteoarthritis?

When pet owners think of cats with arthritis, they may imagine an older cat walking stiffly or having joint pain in its old age. Often, this is caused by osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a type of degenerative joint disease that usually affects older cats. The loss of cartilage and joint synovial fluid over time allows the bones of a joint to rub together, causing this painful form of arthritis. Obesity and prior injuries are risk factors that increase the likelihood for developing this particular kind of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a chronic disease and cannot be cured, but it can be slowed and managed effectively with the help of a veterinarian.

What are the symptoms of feline arthritis?

Though there are multiple types and underlying causes of arthritis, most cases have similar symptoms. Cats with arthritis or joint pain may:

These signs of pain may be subtle, as cats have a tendency to hide their pain. “Most cats don’t demonstrate pain like we do. You can’t count on them to hold up a paw or cry out when they move in a way that hurts,” says Vetster vet Dr. Jo Myers. “They’re more inclined to hide or simply avoid activities that cause them pain.”

How is arthritis diagnosed in cats?

While arthritis is common and can be caused by many different conditions, not all mobility issues are caused by arthritis. Always consult a veterinarian if your cat begins displaying these symptoms to diagnose the cause of joint pain and mobility issues and recommend proper treatment. Your vet may recommend X-rays to check for broken bones and signs of osteoarthritis. Blood work can also help rule out other medical conditions. A video of the symptoms your cat shows at home could be helpful to your vet, so plan ahead and bring that with you to your appointment if you can. If your cat displays sudden signs of arthritis, especially after an injury, consult with a veterinarian immediately to rule out septic arthritis.

How do veterinarians treat joint pain?

Once a diagnosis identifying the cause of your cat’s joint pain is made, a treatment plan can be created to relieve the symptoms. Treatment options for feline joint pain may include:

  • Weight loss for overweight cats
  • Antibiotics for infections
  • Pain management, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Steroids
  • Surgery for broken bones or severe osteoarthritis
  • Acupuncture
  • Laser treatment therapy
  • “Arthritis proofing” your home to help older cats with osteoarthritis

For any cat suffering from joint pain, but especially cats with osteoarthritis, creating a home environment that accommodates their needs is a great way to support them. Heated beds may help ease joint pain, as will a curated exercise regimen to help your cat stretch and move in a healthy way. Your cat may have trouble getting in and out of the litter box, jumping on the couch or bed, or eating and drinking from low bowls. A litter box with lower walls, cat ramps to their favorite spots, and elevated food bowls may make day-to-day life easier for them. Even placing grip tape or non-stick mats on slippery surfaces, such as hard floors, can help. Finally, supplements such as glucosamine, omega fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), or eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) may be worth trying. Keep in mind that supplements and nutraceuticals are not regulated by the FDA, so always consult your veterinarian before trying a new supplement or brand.

Can cats live a long time with arthritis?

Cats can live long, happy lives with the proper management of their osteoarthritis. Overall, arthritis and osteoarthritis can be either treated or managed successfully at home. If your cat is showing signs of joint pain at home, you can connect with an online vet and discuss the underlying cause and how to best support your furry friend.

FAQ - How can I help my cat with arthritis and joint pain?

How can I tell if my cat is experiencing joint pain or discomfort?

Cats tend to hide signs of pain as part of their survival instincts. Your cat may not give you many clues at all, or they may show only subtle changes like hesitating to jump up or down from furniture and cat trees or avoiding them altogether. Due to high litter box walls, a cat experiencing joint pain may also miss the litter box entirely. Cats in pain also have a tendency to hide more or become more irritable than normal. Contact a veterinarian if your cat shows any changes in their normal behavior.

Will joint supplements help my cat’s arthritis?

There is currently not sufficient evidence confirming that joint supplements are effective for relief of arthritis, but they might be. Always check with your veterinarian before adding them to your cat’s diet. In addition, arthritis can be caused by more than just old age. If your cat is experiencing symptoms of joint pain, always consult with a veterinarian to rule out any other diseases or conditions.

Can cats live a long life with arthritis?

There are multiple types of arthritis. Some types that are caused by injuries or illness can be cured entirely. Osteoarthritis, which is a common condition in elderly cats, cannot be cured. With proper care and accommodation, however, an arthritic cat can be kept as comfortable for a period of time. How long it is possible to maintain a quality of life depends on how advanced the disease is, how soon treatment is started, and overall health of the cat.