Cats are agile creatures. They love jumping up onto high places to survey their surroundings or watch the world through the window. It can be difficult for a pet parent to imagine a time when their cat might struggle to get to the top of their cat tower or leap onto the sofa. However, as cats age, the likelihood of these situations increases.
Like humans, cats can develop problems with their joints. Over time, performing their typical behaviors can become a challenge. Unfortunately, there’s no cure for these issues. Even so, pet parents can improve their cat’s quality of life with joint health support.
What Is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint condition that occurs gradually, and it’s one of the most common chronic conditions that affects cats. Pet parents may also hear it referred to as degenerative joint disease or simply arthritis. Over time, the cartilage in the joints wears away. The condition can also lead to:
- Changes in the bones involved in the affected joint
- Deterioration of connective tissues
- Inflammation in the lining of the joint
- Joint stiffness
Signs and Symptoms
About 60% of cats over the age of 6 and 90% over the age of 10 have radiographic signs of arthritis. However, cats are near-perfect masters of hiding when they’re in pain, so pet parents might not immediately notice something’s wrong. There are a few signs that could point toward a potential joint issue, which include:
- Hesitancy or refusal to jump up or down
- Jumping shorter heights
Sleeping more than usual
- Sleeping in lower, easier to access locations
- Spending less time grooming
Spending less time with people/other pets (more time alone or hiding)
- Not playing as much
- Weight gain
- Loss of appetite
- Irritability when picked up or pet in certain spots
- Trouble using the litter box/eliminating outside of the box
Causes of Osteoarthritis
As cats age, their joints undergo regular wear and tear, leading to the thinning of the cartilage. There are a few other factors that can contribute, too:
Joint injuries or fractures: These issues can cause abnormal joint conformations.
Hip dysplasia: The abnormal development of the hip joints. The joints don’t move properly, which can lead to deterioration.
Ligament issues: Injuries or damage to the cranial cruciate ligaments (ligaments that prevent overextension/rotation in the knee joints) can lead to cartilage deterioration.
Overweight/obesity: Excess weight places additional stress on the joints, which accelerates wear and tear.
Genetics: Some breeds are more prone to developing joint issues, including Siamese, Maine Coons, Persians, and Scottish Folds.
Supporting Cat Joint Health: What Pet Parents Can Do
There isn’t a cure for osteoarthritis. Pet parents can take several measures to ease the pain and help their cats live happier, more comfortable lives.
Maintain a Healthy Cat Weight
Being overweight can worsen joint issues. Joint issues can also lead to weight gain as a cat moves around less. Pet parents can work with a professional vet to formulate a plan that helps their cat maintain a healthy weight as they get older. That may involve changing food portion sizes and encouraging gentle activity.
Feed a High-Quality Diet
A complete and well-balanced diet of meals rich in antioxidants and fatty acids can help support a cat’s overall health, including the health of their joints. Pet parents can consult with a vet for the best diet for their cat. In some cases, vets may prescribe a diet that’s specifically formulated for joint health.
Osteoarthritis can make activity more difficult and painful. However, a complete lack of movement may only make a cat feel worse. Gentle exercise in short sessions can help support joint health and help a cat maintain a healthy weight. Pet parents can use a laser or feather toy with their cat or hide treats around the house to encourage hunting. Some cats, especially those that are overweight, may benefit from hydrotherapy.
Pet parents can make small adjustments within their home to make it more comfortable and easier to navigate for their cat. Modifications may include:
- Area rugs with grip pads underneath on hardwood or tile surfaces
- Soft, comfortable, easy to access bedding
- Steps or ramps that allow the cat to reach higher areas like the sofa or a windowsill
- Keep food and water on the first floor
- Have a litter box with at least one low side
Joint Supplements for Cats
Some supplements can help support a cat’s joint health:
Omega-3 fatty acids: Control joint inflammation and block enzymes that promote cartilage breakdown.
Glucosamine/chondroitin: May help some cats.
Avocado and soybean unsaponifiables: May help reduce joint inflammation and complement the effects of glucosamine/chondroitin.
Microlactin: Inhibits inflammation and can counteract the side effects of NSAIDs (in some cases, pet parents may be able to reduce or eliminate the use of NSAIDs under the direction of their vet).
Supporting Cat Joint Health for a Better Quality of Life
Osteoarthritis may be a common issue, but that doesn’t mean pet parents have to sit back and watch their cat suffer. Weight management, gentle exercise, home modifications, and dietary supplements can help support a cat’s joint health, allowing pet parents to improve their cat’s overall quality of life as they age.