Osteoarthritis in Cats

cat steps

Osteoarthritis is easily recognised in humans and also well know in dogs, but in cats it is not so commonly diagnosed or treated as cats tend to hide any signs of pain (their survival instinct). Fortunately, very recently, new research has been carried out with the aim to improve the diagnosis and treatment of feline osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis frequently affects cats’ elbows, backs and hips and joints in the back limbs, and it is more common in older cats.

What causes feline osteoarthritis?

It is a type of arthritis in which the normal cartilage that cushions the joint is worn away, exposing the bone resulting in discomfort. The illustration below shows a healthy knee joint on the right, and a worn out, eroded knee on the left:

arthritis knee

Signs of osteoarthritis to look out for

The most common sign of osteoarthritis is joint pain, most commonly affected are the elbow, stifles (knees) and hips.

Cats don’t always show obvious signs of pain, but some common signs that our pet owners observe include:

  • Reduced mobility – this is normally observed by the cat’s reluctance to jump up or down from furniture. The cat may sleep in different, easier access places. He or she may have difficulty using the cat flap. There may be litter tray accidents, such  as not wanting to climb into high-sided trays or even missing the tray altogether or More obviously, the cat may show lameness or a stiff/stilted gait.
  • Changes in grooming behaviour – the cat’s coat may become matted and scruffy, especially at the hips and places they are unable to reach. Some cats begin grooming painful joints too much.
  • Temperament changes – the cat may become less interactive and no longer respond to petting. He or she may show a dislike of handling, children or other pets.
  • Changes in activity level – he or she may stop going outside, or go outside less often. You may notice overgrown claws due to lack of activity.

Management of osteoarthritis in cats

Arthritis in cats can be treated but unfortunately it does not simply start and finish with pills or potions. You can improve the quality of life in your cat by making some home adjustments as well as treating with medication.

Home adjustments

Below is a list of easy home adjustments you can make to make your cat’s life a bit easier and more comfortable:

  • Soft beds for sore joints, in easily accessible, quiet places
  • Make sure beds are in draft free quiet areas around the house
  • Tie the cat flap open so the cat does not have to push through the cat flap
  • Provide steps to higher places
  • Use low sided litter trays and always have one inside
  • Use a softer litter that is soft on sore feet
  • Put food, water and litter trays all on the same level to reduce you cat having to go up and down the stairs
  • Do some extra grooming because your cat may not be able to get to certain areas, such as their eyes and perineal region
  • See your vet for regular claw clipping to prevent them from getting too long and uncomfortable – contact us to make an appointment

Nutritional management

It is important to ensure that your cat does not put on too much weight – having extra weight on their sore joints will not help your cat’s osteoarthritis. If your cat is overweight then you should help him or her lose weight slowly, over several months. Often metabolic problems can occur if weight is lost too quickly.

Chondroitin and glucosamine supplements are available for cats to help their joints and also can be found in special diets for cats with arthritis. Please contact us at Shepperton Veterinary Clinic if you suspect your cat has osteoarthritis and needs a change in diet or some additional support.

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