Arthritis in Cats – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Picture of an old cat

Arthritis is a disease that commonly affects geriatric cats, although some of its symptoms can show up in younger animals that might have congenital disabilities.

Unfortunately, until recent times, osteoarthritis in cats remained something that was either ignored or less diagnosed and treated. This is in part due to the fact that cats tend to live longer nowadays when they get better care from their owners and veterinarians.

In this article, we’re looking at the causes of arthritis in cats, its symptoms, how it is diagnosed and treated, and whether or not it can be prevented.

Causes of arthritis in cats

Osteoarthritis has a number of causes, so it is one of those medical conditions that isn’t determined by just one specific thing. Most cats can develop it either due to the way they are built, either as a result of injuries or because they have undergone orthopedic operations that haven’t been successful.

In general, though, arthritis is caused by old age. As we, humans, and our pets grow older, the cartilages in our joints become less and less flexible. Osteoarthritis is a progressive health problem, and the cartilages can become so damaged to the point that they’re so thin that the tips of bones get to touch each other instead of being protected by the joints.

As you can imagine, if your cat has severe osteoarthritis in one of her leg joints, she will be in pain each time she wants to walk.

Even though arthritis statistically affects geriatric cats more than it does young ones, old age isn’t the only factor that determines its development. Nutritional deficiencies and the other causes we have mentioned often contribute besides the animal’s old age.

Genetics also has a say in whether a cat ends up suffering from arthritis or not. For example, the Maine Coon, the Persian, and the Siamese tend to have more joint problems than other breeds.

Symptoms of arthritis in cats

Here are some of the typical signs you can notice in a cat that has arthritis:

  • Stiff walking (and reduced mobility)
  • Reluctance to climb stairs or jump on or off the couch
  • Inflammation in one of the joints
  • Pain in some areas
  • Lack of grooming
  • Limping
  • Aggression or grumpiness when humans or their feline companions try to touch them

In general, cats that have severe arthritis in one or more of their joints will avoid the company of their human counterparts for the sole reason that they might ache when being touched.

They’ll also tend to sleep more, spend more time by themselves, and experience changes in eating or drinking, especially if their bowls are located in places they can hardly reach.

Diagnosis

Arthritis can sometimes be diagnosed by accident, especially if you are the guardian of a senior cat and you take her to the vet at least once or twice a year to make sure that no health problem goes undiagnosed.

Typically, imaging diagnostic methods are utilized to tell whether your feline friend has arthritis or not. X-rays can be particularly useful as they can reveal just the amount of damage that the joints have sustained.

Besides the imaging tests, the vet will most likely recommend a complete blood count as well as biochemistry, just to check whether something else isn’t at the root of the disease. Some health problems might not even have anything in common with arthritis, but they can still show up in geriatric cats simply due to old age.

Treatment of arthritis in cats

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative and progressive disease, so there isn’t a miracle treatment that can make it completely disappear. However, there are several therapies available, and they all focus on making your cat’s life better to the point that the symptoms almost fail to show up.

If your cat is overweight or obese, the vet will prescribe a diet or even medication so that she loses weight. Unfortunately, excess weight puts even more pressure on an animal’s joints, so it is imperative for the cat not to be overweight.

There are a variety of pain medications available, and all of them can decrease the pain for a variable period of time. Corticosteroids are extraordinarily effective, but they aren’t as recommended in senior cats as they can be in young and healthy adults simply because they have a myriad of side effects (prolonged exposure can even cause high blood sugar to the point that the pet ends up suffering from diabetes).

NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can also be used to manage the pain. Although they are safer than corticosteroid medications, they also have their share of side effects in both people and animals. One of the most common ones is that they can cause gastrointestinal distress (and even ulcers, in some cases).

Nowadays, there are a number of less conventional therapies that you can try, and that can provide variable results. Physical therapy can be effective, although it can be difficult for cats to stand. Laser therapy also offers good results, and so do some nutraceuticals.

These days, you can even opt for CBD oil or CBD products in the form of treats. Just talk to your veterinarian about what choices you have available to make sure that the one you choose is safe for your feline friend.

What else can you do?

Arthritis in cats can be managed using other methods, not just medications, physical therapy, or whichever treatment you end up choosing.

You can make your feline friend’s life better by making sure that she sleeps on soft and warm surfaces. If your cat tends to sleep outdoors even in the autumn and winter, despite her arthritis, you can get her a heated cat house that will protect her from the elements and also keep her warm and cozy.

Installing a ramp on your sofa so that your cat manages to go up or down easier rather than having to jump on and off it can be another option. Some cats can have a hard time feeding or drinking water if their bowls are too low, so you can pick an inclined or raised one or even a water fountain. This would allow them to drink water without having to bend their necks.

If your cat seems to want to groom but can’t because of the pain, you can use a waterless shampoo for the purpose and also give your cat regular brushings.

You can even replace your cat’s litter box if she’s supposed to jump in or out. Some litter boxes resemble cat carriers, so your cat will merely step into it instead of having to put pressure on her joints unnecessarily.

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