Ask A Vet: How Can I Tell If My Cat Has Arthritis?

| Published on March 11, 2017

Arthritis (more accurately, osteoarthritis or OA) is irritation of the joints and is a painful and common disease. Any creature with bones and joints is at risk. There is even more risk in cases where there have been bone and joint injuries or excessive use.  Normal wear and tear and aging changes can lead to osteoarthritis.  Ask any person older than 40 and you will probably hear reports of joint popping and stiffness.  The fact is…arthritis seems to be very common.  But we may not think of it as a problem for our cats.

Osteoarthritis is a problem for our feline friends, and even though they are masters at hiding their pain, an attentive owner can tell if their cat is in pain by being aware of the warning signs.


Not Just Getting Older

People think that older cats who are showing less energy are just “getting old”, but the truth is that it could be due to arthritis pain. Cats are typically active at least some of the time, and although they love to nap, if you notice that your cat is doing nothing but lying around or hiding a lot, she could be suffering from OA.

Not Jumping Up

Cats love to be above the fray and will often select resting spots that are elevated. But if your cat has always liked to lie on a window ledge and now she isn’t, this might be your warning sign that she is uncomfortable climbing or jumping. I had a patient that loved to stand on the top edge of an open door and look down on the family as they passed. When she stopped doing this interesting behavior, her owner knew to see me. We were able to help her return to quality of life by treating her pain and making the high spots just a little easier to get to with carefully placed chairs.

Sensitive to Petting

Some cats react poorly to being petted in certain ways and always have, but if you notice that your cat has any changes in petting preference, it could be an alert to you.  For example, if your cat always loved for your to stroke down his back and now he bites or just leaves when you do, don’t ignore it. Chances are, he is not just suddenly grumpy. He might have discomfort when you touch his back or legs.

Osteoarthritis is diagnosed by physical exam findings with radiographic evidence to attempt to stage severity. Osteoarthritis can be managed and the goal of treatment is reducing pain and inflammation, minimizing the continued damage to the cartilage, and preserving the remaining cartilage. It is not curable or reversible at this time, but your vet can help make a treatment plan and maybe even devise ways to make your cat’s activities easier for her.

Be sure that your cat is not overweight, as excessive weight puts stress on joints. Keep her moving, too. Joints that are not used become stiff and painful to move, so make sure that you devise ways to keep your cat doing the things he likes. Just like us, cats with sore joints love to have warm places to lay, so when you are reclining by the fire, be sure to lift Kitty up to join you. Keep a careful eye on any behavior changes she may show and mention them to your veterinarian.

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