Feline arthritis is more common than many cat owners realize, but the condition can be difficult to detect because cats often mask pain signs. Our Walnut Creek Vet Hospital team knows you want the best for your whiskered friend, so we answer frequently asked questions about feline arthritis.

Question: What is feline arthritis?

Answer: Feline arthritis refers to joint inflammation that leads to pain and stiffness. Numerous conditions affect the joints and lead to arthritis, but osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common. OA is a degenerative condition where the cat’s joint tissue, including the cartilage and joint capsule, break down, causing the bones to rub together, and leading to inflammation, swelling, and pain.

Q: Is feline arthritis common?

A: Feline arthritis is extremely common. Many studies suggest that the condition is greatly underrecognized—one study of cats older than 6 years of age found that 61% had OA X-ray changes and 48% had changes in multiple joints, but only 13% of cat owners noticed lameness. Another study demonstrated that 90% of cats older than 12 years of age had OA X-ray changes, yet only 4% of these cat’s owners or veterinarians suspected arthritis.

Q: What causes feline arthritis?

A: While feline arthritis isn’t as well understood as canine arthritis, the condition is likely most commonly caused by joint wear and tear. Other contributing factors include:

  • Age — Cats can develop OA at any age, but senior felines are at higher risk.
  • Orthopedic developmental issues — Cats affected by developmental issues, such as hip dysplasia and luxating patellas, are at increased OA risk.
  • Scottish Folds — Scottish Folds are prone to a condition that causes a cartilage defect, which leads to severe arthritis in multiple joints.
  • Injury — Injuries such as fractures, dislocations, and soft tissue injuries can destabilize a joint and lead to OA.
  • Obesity — Cats who carry excess weight not only place added strain on their joints, but the extraneous adipose tissue also produces inflammatory cells that worsen joint inflammation.
  • Infection — Joint infections can lead to OA, and some systemic infections can cause joint inflammation that triggers OA.

Q: What are feline arthritis signs?

A: In many cases, especially in the early stages, cats show no signs. Remember—cats are predator and prey animals, and they instinctively hide vulnerabilities to protect themselves. Arthritis signs cats do exhibit rarely include overt lameness, but cat owners may notice the following:

  • Stiffness after resting
  • Difficulty or using an odd gait when navigating stairs
  • Hesitancy when jumping on or off an elevated surface
  • Choosing to rest in areas where they don’t have to jump high
  • Sleeping more
  • Decreased interest in playtime
  • Hiding
  • Avoiding interaction with people and other pets
  • Increased irritability or aggression
  • Eliminating outside the litter box
  • Matted or unkempt hair coat
  • Weight gain because of decreased activity

Q: How is feline arthritis diagnosed?

A: Signs exhibited by arthritic cats can also indicate other serious health issues, so you should schedule an appointment with our team if your cat’s behavior or activity changes. After taking a detailed history and performing a thorough physical examination, diagnostics we may recommend include:

  • Blood work — Blood work, such as a complete blood count (CBC), biochemistry profile, and potentially a thyroid panel, helps us rule out other potential health problems and determine if your cat can benefit from medications to address their joint pain.
  • Urinalysis — A urinalysis provides valuable information about your cat’s overall health and is another test that can rule out other health problems.
  • X-rays — We may need to X-ray your cat to evaluate their joints and determine their condition severity.

Q: How is feline arthritis treated?

A: Feline arthritis can’t be cured, but various strategies can manage the condition and improve your cat’s quality of life. Potential treatments include:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) — We commonly prescribe NSAIDs to help manage feline arthritis.
  • Monoclonal antibody treatment — A relatively new monoclonal antibody treatment is available that can help alleviate your cat’s joint pain.
  • Laser therapy — Our team may recommend non-invasive, drug-free laser therapy.
  • Weight control — Keeping your cat slim and trim is important to alleviate joint strain, and we may devise a safe weight loss program if your cat is overweight.
  • Joint supplements — We may recommend chondroprotective supplements to help support your cat’s joint health.
  • Home management — Changes to your home, such as providing ramps to elevated resting areas, offering a low-sided litter box, and keeping resources, such as food and water bowls and litter boxes, on your home’s main level can help your arthritic cat. 
  • Surgery — In severe cases, we may recommend surgery to alleviate your feline friend’s joint pain.

Q: How is feline arthritis prevented?

A: Not every feline arthritis case can be prevented, but you can take steps to reduce your cat’s risk, including:

  • Keeping your cat at an ideal weight — Cats who maintain a healthy weight are less likely to develop arthritis.
  • Scheduling regular wellness visits — Regular wellness visits help our team detect conditions, such as arthritis, in their early stages before they cause your cat mobility issues. 

If you would like to schedule a wellness examination, or you are concerned that your feline friend has arthritis, contact our Walnut Creek Vet Hospital team.