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Stiff, achy joints are a fairly common problem for all animals as they age. But what’s normal achiness and what’s a sign of a bigger problem? Arthritis in older cats is a common problem. What’s more difficult, a lot of time during the early stages of arthritis your cat won’t seem like they’re in pain. Here’s a bit of information on what cat arthritis is, the symptoms and what you can do to help your furry friend deal with their pain.
What is arthritis?
To put it simply, arthritis is an inflammation of the joints. Arthritis can strike cats at any age, but it’s very common in older cats. In younger cats arthritis is typically the result of an illness or injury, whereas in older cats it’s just something that can spring up out of nowhere. After years of regular use, the cartilidge in a cat’s joints, especially larger joints, wears away. While the body can repair this damage, the repairs are often imperfect, with bumps and ridges that rub against each other and cause inflammation.
Obese cats are at greater risk for arthritis, but cats of a healthy weight can also develop it.
What are symptoms of arthritis in a cat?
- Limping. Favoring certain legs or stiffness in one of the legs is an obvious first sign of arthritis. You might notice your kitty limps immediately after getting up from a nap, but as they walk around the limp becomes less noticable. People often brush off this symptom in the beginning thinking the cat just needs to stretch or had a leg fall asleep.
- Spinal issues. You might notice your cat isn’t bending as well as it used to, or might have a hunch in its neck or back that wasn’t there before. Arthritis in the spine can also cause general movement issues, like issues jumping or walking. While your cat might have previously jumped on the bed every morning to wake you up, he or she might suddenly stop and just meow next to your bed.
- Loss of energy. While this can just be attributed to general aging, arthritis can cause a cat to tire more easily and lose interest in toys or games it used to enjoy. You might notice your cat napping more or lose interest in playing.
- Crankiness. The pain and exhaustion arthritis causes can make a previously loving cat very grouchy and angry. Your cat might snap at you if you try and pick him or her up, or hiss at you as you walk by. Just like you and I would be cranky if we were in pain, it’s understandable your cat would be too!
- Biting, chewing or licking parts of the body. Cats have an urge to bite or lick areas that are painful, like scratches or sores. Joint pain is no different. If you notice your cat biting or licking their paw or leg frequently when there seems to be no other reason to, this is a sign that your cat might have joint pain.
- Muscle loss. The lack of activity might cause your cat to lose muscle mass. If your cat’s legs look thinner while the rest of their body doesn’t seem to be losing weight, that’s a sign they’re not as mobile as they once were and it might be a good idea to be checked out by a vet.
- Clumsiness. Stiff joints make it more difficult to move, making a previously very agile cat a lot more clumsy than they once were. For example, you might notice them struggling to keep their balance while grooming, or while playing they might fall over or trip more often.
If you notice these symptoms in your cat, a visit to the vet should be in order. When you see your vet, they will likely diagnose simply based on a visual exam. Unlike dogs, arthritis in cats is not visible on x-rays, so they are often not useful. Your vet will rely on a full symptom history from you as well as their experience to make a diagnosis, so make sure to take notes on what symptoms you notice in your cat.
How can I help my arthritic cat?
Unfortunately there is no cure for cat arthritis. What you and your vet can focus on instead is reducing inflammation and reducing pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are a common treatment of arthritis in cats and need to be prescribed by your vet.
[icon name=”paw” class=”” unprefixed_class=””] Warning
Never ever give your cat a medication intended for humans! While the medication might be similar, dosages can be very different. If you have human arthritis treatments on hand don’t give them to your pets unless your vet says it’s ok. This includes aspirin as well, which can be dangerous to cats when improperly dosed.
There are also over-the-counter treatments you can get your cat. A popular choice is Cosequin, a supplement that many arthritic cat owners find helps treat their cat’s inflammation. It comes in a capsule you break apart and sprinkle into your cat’s food. Always check with your vet before giving your cat a supplement, especially if they’re already on medication, but Cosequin is safe for most arthritic cats and is very affordable.
There are also plenty of alternative treatments that people find helpful for their cats. One option is accupuncture. There are accupuncurists who specialize in treating animals. Of course, some cats might not put up with this kind of treatment. Massage is another popular treatment. This is a great option because you can do it yourself, and most cats enjoy getting massaged. Just pay attention to your cat’s behavior while you’re massaging them, don’t overwork the muscles and if your cat tries to nip or scratch, avoid that area or stop the massage. The following video shows you a few massage techniques:
A heated blanket or heating pad wrapped in a towel is also a nice option if your cat seems to be feeling sore.
If your cat is having trouble jumping up onto a couch, bed or cat tree, a ramp or stairs are another option. Pet ramps take less strain off the back, hips and leg joins since the cat will land without as much pressure. There are plenty of ramps and stairs that you can get that will fit your cat’s needs. One I’ve used and personally have good experience with is the Solvit PupSTEP Plus Pet Stairs (to the right). The stairs have a lot of depth and aren’t too high, so your cat can comfortably navigate his or her way up the stairs without any issue. This still gives your cat plenty of mobility and allows them to perch higher up, which many cats find more safe than being on the ground.
You can also build stairs yourself if you have the skill and ability. Just make sure the stairs aren’t too high and aren’t too narrow – a clumsy cat in pain could easily fall off too-narrow stairs. Also, a soft cushion on each step, such as a strip of carpet, will add needed traction and take some pressure off painful joints. While cats are normally graceful, arthritic elderly cats typically are not, so you’ll want to take some precautions if you’d like to build them stairs or a ramp.
What can I do for an old cat with arthritis? ›
- Joint supplements containing glucosamine and/or chondroitin can help some cats.
- Omega-3 fatty acids can help relieve pain from arthritis and other causes.
- Adequan is an injectable product that can be used to help relieve arthritis pain and is effective for many cats.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (like meloxicam and Onsior) are great at relieving pain and inflammation. ...
- Gabapentin is used for many purposes, and its pain-reliving properties make it a good option for painful, arthritic cats.
Cats with managed arthritis can and do live a long, enjoyable life with a normal life expectancy. We may also suggest some of the following as treatments depending on different factors such as age, co-existing health problems, severity and disease progression: Medications. Joint supplements.How do I know if my cat is in pain from arthritis? ›
- Changes in Behaviour. Hiding, not wanting to be petted, irritability or crankiness can be changes caused by pain. ...
- Change in Movement. ...
- House Soiling. ...
- Changes in Grooming. ...
- Changes in Vocalization.
- Giving your cat a soft, warm bed that is easy for your cat to get into and out of.
- Providing a ramp up to places they like to rest — such as your bed, a couch, or a window seat.
- Providing a litter box with one low side for easy access.
Joint supplements and Nutraceuticals
Diet – Therapeutic diets for arthritis in cats have become available (Royal Canin mobility support and Hill's j/d) that contain omega-3 fatty acids as well as glucosamine and chondroitin. The Royal Canin diet also contains green lipped mussel extract.
Only two NSAIDs are FDA-approved for cats: meloxicam (sold under several brand and generic names) and robenacoxib (sold under the brand name ONSIOR). Meloxicam is approved for cats as a one-time-only injection to control pain and inflammation after spaying, neutering, and orthopedic surgery.Does a heating pad help a cat with arthritis? ›
Many arthritic cats love and benefit from having a heated pad or bed to lay on, and this one is inexpensive, doesn't get too hot, and provides plenty of comfort and "coziness" for achy cats. ONLY use heating pads or mats meant for animals.Can I give my cat baby aspirin for arthritis pain? ›
Acetaminophen causes extensive damage to a cat's red blood cells and liver and should never be used to treat cat pain. Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like Advil (ibuprofen), Aleve (naproxen), and aspirin can also be dangerous for cats.What causes arthritis flare ups in cats? ›
The conditions (cold weather, rainy days, etc.) that trigger arthritis flare-ups in humans also cause them in cats. Senior cats can be given an arthritis supplement. You may notice a stiff gait and difficulty getting around their own home, or a pet that cannot jump like they used to.
Does cosequin relieve pain in cats? ›
Cosequin is considered a joint supplement with nutritional benefits, which is a fantastic approach to reducing joint pain and relieving your cat of his or her discomfort.Does weather affect cats arthritis? ›
Just like us, arthritis in cats can be exacerbated by many things, cold weather being one of them. As the weather starts to change in East Renfrewshire, it is important to start observing your cat for any changes in their health and implement things to support them through the winter months.How do cats show they are in pain? ›
Behaviour signs of a cat in pain
Decreased interest in positive things like playing, social interaction and exploring outside. Being withdrawn and hiding away. Appearing lame and experiencing increased sensitivity to touch in specific areas of their body. Reduction in movement and activity.
Learning and performing the techniques of cat massage for arthritis not only helps your cat's pain, interacting with them in this intimate and healing way expands and strengthens the bond with your cat.What can I give my elderly cat for pain? ›
- Opioids. These include codeine, fentanyl, hydromorphone, morphine, and tramadol and are used for severe discomfort. ...
- Corticosteroids. ...
- Gabapentin. ...
- Amitriptyline.An antidepressant in humans, it can help with nerve pain in cats.
- Buprenorphine HCl.
The most common cause of rear limb paralysis in cats is a blood clot that goes to the back leg, called a saddle thrombus or arterial thromboembolism (ATE). This clot blocks blood flow to the affected limb(s). A clot in the back leg suddenly causes the cat to be unable to put full weight on the affected leg.Can I give my cat aspirin for arthritis pain? ›
Acetaminophen causes extensive damage to a cat's red blood cells and liver and should never be used to treat cat pain. Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like Advil (ibuprofen), Aleve (naproxen), and aspirin can also be dangerous for cats.What human painkiller can you give a cat? ›
“Ibuprofen and aspirin are occasionally prescribed for cats, but only in occasional circumstances and in different doses to those you would use for humans,” says Dr. Woodnutt. It's also important that your vet checks your cat for signs of underlying disease.How do you know if your senior cat is in pain? ›
Cats who are painful may withdraw from their usual family interactions, may become less engaged in their surroundings, and may start hiding. You may notice decreased eating and/or drinking. You may also notice changes in sleeping patterns. Some may sleep more, while others may sleep less.