Is your feline friend more irritable than usual? If your cat has been in a bad temper, arthritis pain may be the cause, but you may not realize that your cat has this common condition. To help you learn to recognize feline arthritis signs and ensure your cat gets the care they need, our Tennessee Avenue Animal Hospital team reveals the truth behind this condition’s common misconceptions.

Misconception: Feline arthritis is uncommon

Truth: Veterinarians are increasingly recognizing that arthritis, specifically osteoarthritis (OA), is extremely common in cats. One study has reported that 61% of cats older than 6 years of age have OA. Another study found that 90% of cats older than 12 years of age suffer from the condition. The chronic pain OA causes can significantly impact your cat’s quality of life and also increases their obesity risk, predisposing them to health issues such as diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, and cancer. Joint wear and tear most commonly cause OA, but other factors can also increase your cat’s disease risk, including:

  • Age — Senior cats (i.e., older than 10 years of age) have a high OA risk, but cats of any age can develop the disease.
  • Weight — If your cat is overweight, those extra pounds constantly cause excess joint strain, predisposing them to OA.
  • Breed — Cat breeds, such as Maine coons, Persians, Siamese, Abyssinians, and Devon rexes, have a high orthopedic developmental issue risk, including OA. In addition, Scottish folds often have a cartilage abnormality that can lead to arthritis in multiple joints.
  • Trauma — Fractures, dislocations, and tendon or ligament injuries involving a joint can lead to arthritis. 

Misconception: I would know if my cat has arthritis

Truth: Cats haven’t been domesticated as long as dogs, and they retain their ancestors’ instincts to hide vulnerabilities to protect them from predators. This means cats hide pain signs when their joints hurt, which can make recognizing arthritis difficult. If you suspect your feline friend has OA, consider these questions:

  • Has your cat stopped jumping up to high positions to rest?
  • Does your feline friend hesitate when considering jumping to an elevated place?
  • Does your cat seem more irritable than usual?
  • When jumping down from an elevated area, does your whiskered pal jump directly to the floor or find an intermediate place on which to step down?
  • Does your cat exhibit an odd gait when navigating stairs or have they stopped going up and down the stairs?
  • Does your feline friend move stiffly after resting?
  • Is your cat eliminating (i.e., urinating or defecating) outside their litter box?
  • Has your feline friend been resting more often?
  • Has your whiskered pal been hiding more often?
  • Does your cat avoid interaction with you or other household pets?
  • Have your cat’s grooming habits decreased?
  • Does your feline friend excessively lick one area?
  • Has your cat started exhibiting aggressive behavior such as scratching or biting?
  • Does your feline friend rest in a hunched position?
  • Is your cat less interested in play?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, your cat may have arthritis, and our Tennessee Avenue Animal Hospital team should evaluate them. Videos showing your cat’s gait and movements at home are helpful because cats often refuse to move around freely in a veterinary examination room. Other tools our team uses to diagnose feline arthritis include:

  • Physical examination — In some cases, palpating your cat’s limbs and manipulating their joints can help us appreciate OA-associated changes.
  • Blood work — Blood work helps our team rule out other conditions that could be responsible for your cat’s signs. In addition, blood test results help ensure certain OA medications are appropriate for your feline friend.
  • X-rays — X-rays are often necessary to assess your cat’s joints and determine disease severity.

Misconception: Feline arthritis is untreatable

Truth: Some medications commonly used to treat canine arthritis are contraindicated in cats. However, many treatment strategies are available to alleviate your cat’s OA pain, including:

  • Medications — In some cases, our team may prescribe medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) or nerve pain drugs, to address your cat’s OA pain.
  • Monoclonal antibody treatment — We can administer a monthly monoclonal antibody injection to help manage your feline friend’s joint discomfort.
  • Laser therapy — Our team proudly offers laser therapy, a noninvasive technique to reduce joint pain and inflammation.
  • Environmental management — Home modifications can also improve your cat’s quality of life. Consider these modifications:
    • Provide orthopedic bedding, preferably in warm areas where your feline friend can comfortably rest their tired, painful joints.
    • Help your cat access favored elevated spots by providing ramps or stairs.
    • Place resources, such as food and water bowls, litter boxes, and scratching posts, in easily accessible locations.
    • Switch to a low-sided litter box to ensure your arthritic cat can easily access their toilet.
    • Provide raised food and water bowls to prevent uncomfortable crouching.
  • Weight management — Help your cat maintain a healthy weight to lessen joint strain. If your whiskered pal is overweight, contact our team so we can devise a safe weight loss strategy. Never change your feline friend’s diet without veterinary advice, because sudden caloric restriction can lead to hepatic lipidosis, a serious liver issue.
  • Surgery — In certain cases, we may recommend surgery to help reduce your cat’s OA pain.

Now that you know the truth behind these common feline arthritis misconceptions, you can monitor your cat for OA signs. Contact our Tennessee Avenue Animal Hospital team if your feline friend is demonstrating signs that could be related to OA.