Osteoarthritis in Cats

Posted by Dr. Roth on

Osteoarthritis in Cats

Pet parents may notice changes in their cat’s behavior as they age. There can be many causes for decreased activity by a cat, including osteoarthritis. Unfortunately, there is no cure for osteoarthritis; however, there are many ways a pet parent can maximize their cat’s quality of life.


What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is one of the most common conditions to affect senior cats. It is a degenerative condition that causes the cartilage in the cat’s joints to break down. Cartilage is the tissue that provides a cushion for the joints and separates them. When the cartilage breaks down, the joint bones rub together, causing irritation, inflammation, and pain.

Joints in cats most commonly affected by osteoarthritis include:

  • Elbows
  • Hips
  • Ankles
  • Spine
  • Sternum 

    Diagnosing Osteoarthritis in Cats

    Diagnosing osteoarthritis can be difficult for even the most experienced vet because cats often mask the problem until the condition is in its advanced stages. The key to diagnosing the problem early is the pet parent’s keen observations. 

    Signs of osteoarthritis in cats that pet parents should look for are:

    • Loss of appetite
    • Hiding 
    • Weight loss
    • Inactive or lethargy
    • Depression
    • Negative changes in behavior
    • Poor grooming
    • Not using the litter pan
    • Inability to jump or difficulty climbing

    The most common sign of osteoarthritis in cats that pet parents are likely to observe is an unwillingness to jump. Cats feel safer in an elevated place and seek out resting areas in high places such as a cat tree, counter, or the back of a sofa. Therefore, if a cat begins to prefer lowered resting areas such as the floor, they could have osteoarthritis and should be evaluated by a veterinarian. 

    Radiographs, or X-rays, are often performed by the vet to see if there are any changes in the cat’s joints over time. Unfortunately, radiographs can be very unreliable at diagnosing osteoarthritis in cats. 


    Treatment for Osteoarthritis in Cats

    There aren’t many options available to treat cats with osteoarthritis. A vet may prescribe painkillers, joint protectants, and/or anti-inflammatory medication. Unfortunately, these medications are not recommended for long-term use and can have harmful side effects. 

    Supplements can help reduce pain and inflammation without the detrimental side effects. These supplements include:




    At home, there are several things a pet parent can do to make their cat more comfortable:

    • Weight-loss program if the cat is obese
    • A low-sided litter pan to make getting in and out easier
    • Elevated food and water bowls so the cat doesn’t need to crouch down to eat or drink
    • Extra-soft bedding in lower elevated areas
    • Steps to help the cat get on and off furniture

      Managing Osteoarthritis in Cats

      Pet parents can use joint health supplements to help prevent and slow the progression of osteoarthritis. Early diagnosis of the condition will also allow the pet parent to make accommodations in their home to help reduce pain and inflammation in the cat’s joints. Maintaining a healthy weight and exercise program will also help prevent a cat from developing osteoarthritis. With proper care, a cat can have a long and high-quality life while living with osteoarthritis.

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