Cats are masters at pretending they are perfectly healthy—especially when they notice the carrier coming out for a veterinary trip. This incredible skill is the reason why scheduling—and attending—annual wellness visits for your cat is so important. Wellness visits not only prevent disease in your cat, but also provide an opportunity to spot early stage health issues. 

Osteoarthritis is a common health problem in cats. This degenerative joint disease causes significant pain, but your cat likely won’t tell you that they are suffering until their disease has advanced, when signs become noticeable.

Arthritis causes in cats

When arthritis develops in cats, the normal cartilage that provides a protective cushion to the joints degrades, and the joints become inflamed and painful. While the cause of feline arthritis is not entirely clear, mechanical wear and tear, or development following a joint injury or abnormality seem to be the cause. Joint issues that can predispose your cat to arthritis include hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, fractures, or dislocations.

Arthritis signs in cats

Arthritis signs in cats become visible when spurred by joint pain. You may notice:

  • Lethargy
  • Increased sleeping
  • Decreased appetite
  • Muscle mass loss
  • Refusal to jump or climb
  • Neglecting overall grooming
  • Overgrooming of affected joints
  • Irritable behavior
  • Decreased interaction
  • Inappropriate elimination

Surprisingly, lameness is not a common arthritis sign in cats, unlike dogs. The same joints on each side of the cat’s body are often affected, and cats can compensate for their pain and decreased mobility and typically appear to walk normally.

Arthritis diagnosis in cats

Diagnosing arthritis in cats can be challenging, because they are difficult to examine in a veterinary hospital. Most dislike being handled during physical examinations, and become anxious and stressed, and then rarely will move the same way they do at home. Cats also show fewer arthritis signs than dogs on physical examination, and may not show any orthopedic changes on X-rays.

In fact, one study determined that pain and radiographic changes do not necessarily match. Only 10% of arthritic joints exhibited clinical pain and radiographic changes, highlighting how difficult diagnosing arthritis in cats can be.

Arthritis treatment in cats

Unfortunately, cats do not tolerate a great deal of arthritis treatments. They do not metabolize pain-relieving medications as well as dogs, and they generally are not fans of various therapies that require frequent veterinary visits. Despite these limitations, a multitude of treatments are available to help alleviate your cat’s arthritis pain, such as:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — NSAIDs are typically the first line of defense in arthritis pain and inflammation management. While long-term use can adversely affect organ health, many cats tolerate the two FDA-approved NSAIDs for cats (i.e., meloxicam, robenacoxib) fairly well. The lowest possible effective dose helps minimize potential side effects while keeping your cat comfortable, and these drugs can help keep your pet mobile.
  • Analgesic medications — Cats with arthritis pain that overwhelms NSAID treatment can benefit from “pain killers.” These medications include the drugs tramadol, fentanyl, and buprenorphine from the opioid class, or gabapentin and other drugs that focus specifically on nerve pain. Amantadine is another analgesic medication that works to block pain receptors from continuing a pain signal, but is most effective when used with other medications.
  • Injections — Injections can be given in the hospital as needed to alleviate your cat’s arthritis pain. Solensia, a monoclonal antibody, binds a substance called nerve growth factor (NGF) that elevates in response to injury, disease, and painful stimuli. Adequan, another injectable medication, stimulates cartilage and joint fluid production to help repair damaged joints.
  • Joint supplements — A variety of joint supplements will ensure your cat receives the joint-protective benefits of glucosamine, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, green-lipped mussels, and other inflammation-reducing, cartilage-improving ingredients.
  • Acupuncture — Although no pet likes being poked with needles, acupuncture needles are hair-thin, and insertion into specific body points provides inflammation and pain relief. Many cats tolerate this therapy well, and can generally relax comfortably on their owner’s lap once the needles are placed.
  • Laser therapy — Laser therapy uses specific lightwaves to trigger biochemical processes in the cells to reduce inflammation and pain. These treatments can generally be performed quickly and easily, which means your cat can experience the most benefit with the least stress.

Numerous other arthritis treatments are available for cats, and your cat’s health status and personality will dictate their best multimodal treatment plan. You can also take steps to manage your cat’s arthritis at home, in addition to their veterinary treatment plan.

Arthritis prevention in cats

While you cannot completely prevent your cat from developing arthritis, you can minimize their risk and preserve their joint cartilage as much as possible with the following methods:

  • Staying lean — Keep your cat at a healthy body weight to reduce extra pressure on their joints.
  • Exercising regularly — Encourage daily activity to keep muscles strong and joints limber.
  • Joint supplements — Begin a joint supplement regimen early, before arthritis signs appear.
  • Veterinary visits — Schedule regular veterinary exams to ensure an early diagnosis and treatment regimen that will keep your cat comfortable.

Help keep your feline friend mobile and comfortable for years to come through annual preventive care. Give our Terra Linda Veterinary Hospital Inc team a call to schedule your cat’s wellness visit, or if you notice obvious arthritis signs.