Cats are incredible creatures, from their ability to—almost—always land on their feet, to the healing power of their purr. Their ability to hide any signs of pain, such as arthritis pain, is another exceptional trait that is extremely useful in the wild, but hinders veterinary care, because disease often goes undiagnosed. By learning about common conditions that may affect your cat, and how to spot them, you can help them live a longer, healthier, happier life. Here are five key facts you need to know about feline arthritis.

#1: Feline arthritis is more common than you think

Cats never seem to admit their health issues until the problem has progressed. Because of this particular feline skill, you may not realize how many cats suffer from arthritis. New studies show that around 60% of cats have arthritis signs by age 6, and 90% of cats older than 12 show evidence of degenerative joint disease.

#2: You may not notice your cat developing arthritis

Many cat owners believe their arthritic pet would visibly limp, but obvious limping is much more common in dogs, while cats, because they are exceptionally skilled at hiding pain, may not show signs of arthritis development until the disease has advanced. Additionally, because the same joints are often affected on both sides of the cat’s body, they can compensate well for arthritis and appear to walk normally.

However, despite your cat’s talent at hiding pain, you may notice some arthritis indicators, including:

  • Reduced mobility
  • Reluctance or refusal to jump
  • Jumping onto lower surfaces 
  • Jumping shorter distances
  • Difficulty using stairs
  • Stiffness, especially after resting
  • Difficulty using the litter box
  • Reduced interaction
  • Poor grooming habits
  • Overgrooming painful joints
  • Irritability when handled or interacting with others
  • Appetite and weight loss

An unwillingness to jump or a shortened jumping distance are the most obvious visible arthritis signs, but any behavior or activity changes, especially in your older cat, could mean arthritis has developed.

#3: Arthritis can be difficult to detect on your cat’s veterinary exam

Diagnosing arthritis in cats is more difficult than in dogs for several reasons, including:

  • A cat’s size — Their small size and natural flexibility and agility give cats the tools they need to compensate well for their joint pain and hide any discomfort and lameness.
  • A cat’s dislike of being handled — Few cats enjoy veterinary visits and typically crouch down on the exam table, or hide under chairs or benches. During an orthopedic exam, your cat may pull their leg away, not because they are hiding their joint pain, but because they do not want to be touched. 
  • Subtle physical exam changes — Arthritis signs commonly seen in dogs, such as a decreased range of motion and crepitus (i.e.,  a grinding, crunching feeling in joints), are typically not evident in cats. However, we may notice thickened tissues around and inside affected joints on a thorough physical examination.
  • Minimal radiographic changes — Again, cats with arthritis show fewer and less severe signs on X-rays than dogs, and may show no radiographic changes in some cases.

Without a comprehensive orthopedic examination and the opportunity to see your cat move normally, arthritis can be difficult to diagnose. However, your cat’s behavior at home and their response to treatment can help diagnose—or rule out—the disease.

#4: Many treatments are available to ease your cat’s arthritis pain

A variety of treatments can help soothe painful joints and restore mobility, and therapy is customized to your cat’s response and temperament. For example, some cats tolerate acupuncture well, whereas others need laser therapy’s hands-off approach. 

Arthritis treatment for your cat may include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — Meloxicam and robenacoxib are two NSAIDs that work well in cats and cause minimal side effects when administered at a low dose.
  • Analgesic medications — Several analgesic medications, including buprenorphine, tramadol, and gabapentin, given to your cat as needed or regularly can help reduce joint pain.
  • Solensia Solensia is a monoclonal antibody that reduces the body’s response to painful stimuli. 
  • Adequan — Adequan is an injectable medication that is used off-label to stimulate cartilage and joint fluid production. 
  • Alternative therapies — Alternative therapies, which may include acupuncture, chiropractic care, laser therapy, hydrotherapy, and rehabilitation therapy, pair well with medicinal treatment.

#5: You can help manage your cat’s arthritis at home

In addition to veterinary treatment, you can help manage your cat’s arthritis at home in many ways, such as:

  • Encouraging weight loss — More than half the U.S. feline population is overweight, which puts excessive pressure on already sore joints. Help your cat lose weight by feeding them the correct amount for a healthy body condition.
  • Increasing low-impact exercise — Much of a cat’s exercise regimen consists of jumping and climbing, which can be stressful for arthritic joints. Yet, exercise is important for maintaining muscle mass and joint function, so get your cat moving with more gentle activities, like chasing a feather wand.
  • Modifying the environment — Support your cat with low-sided litter boxes, elevated food and water dishes, and orthopedic bedding, and place all their resources on the same floor so they can avoid stairs. 

If your cat is less inclined to leap and climb, or has difficulty using the litter box, they may have arthritis. Schedule an appointment with our Family Veterinary Care of Oakdale team to diagnose the cause of your cat’s impaired mobility.