Most cats develop arthritis to some degree as they age, but many compensate for or hide their pain so well that caregivers miss the changes. Sixty percent of cats show arthritis evidence on exam or X-ray by 6 years old, and 90% by 12 years old. This highly prevalent disease is a degenerative, chronic, progressive, condition that cannot be cured, although many treatment options can improve comfort and mobility and slow disease progression. 

Arthritis—more specifically osteoarthritis, the “wear-and-tear” type—occurs in joints when cartilage breaks down, and the area is invaded by inflammatory substances that cause further joint breakdown, swelling, and pain. The joint can become unstable, weak, or stiff, and result in impaired mobility. Thankfully, University Veterinary Hospital offers many feline arthritis treatment options that can reduce inflammation, pain, and dysfunction. 

Early detection is key to successful arthritis treatment, so regular wellness examinations are important to help your veterinarian detect joint swelling, pain, or range-of-motion changes that may not be apparent at home. You know your cat best, and you can help with early arthritis detection by scheduling a veterinary visit if you notice any of these eight signs:

#1: Your cat is limping or seems stiff after waking up

Cats with arthritis pain often will favor the affected limbs, which causes limping and subsequent muscle atrophy that can worsen arthritis signs. Joint inflammation and swelling tends to worsen during rest but improve after moving around, so your cat may be stiff when they get up, but improve with activity.

#2: Your cat’s joints feel swollen or pop, crack, and grind

Breakdown inside joints leads to abnormal joint motion, instability, and sometimes bone-on-bone rubbing. You may hear a grinding noise (i.e., crepitus) when your pet’s arthritic joints move, and pops or cracks during activity. Swelling is often difficult to appreciate because of cats’ fluffy fur, but may be noticeable at home.

#3: Your cat is hesitant to jump or falls more often

Jumping up or down may be painful for arthritic cats, or they may lack the strength to jump because of their weakened muscles. Your cat may also avoid stairs, countertops, or high furniture that they used to love, or seem less agile with more frequent “misses.”

#4: Your cat is less playful

Arthritic cats are painful, so will likely spend more time resting than playing, which can involve quick movements that tax their joints and increase their pain.

#5: Your cat is over- or under-grooming

Reaching every nook and cranny during grooming requires extreme flexibility, but arthritic cats have stiff, painful joints that prevent them from reaching these areas. Your cat may look greasy, flaky, or matted if they cannot groom themselves adequately. Alternatively, cats may lick painful joints excessively trying to feel more comfortable, creating bald spots or inflamed, red skin.

#6: Your cat changes sleeping habits

Most cats curl tightly into a ball during sleep, often choosing interesting, enclosed spaces such as baskets or boxes. Suddenly changing sleeping position, sleep patterns, or sleeping area can indicate that your cat’s arthritis pain is prompting them to choose a more comfortable, easy-to-reach location.

#7: Your cat stops using the litter box reliably

Getting into and out of a high-sided litter box requires a small jump, which may be challenging and painful for arthritic cats, and many will choose a more comfortable area, often—but not always—near the existing box. Urinary accidents have many possible medical and behavioral causes, but may be an early arthritis sign.

#8: Your cat becomes withdrawn or irritable

Pain makes cats—and most other species—grumpy and irritable. Some arthritic cats seek extra attention, but most choose to hide and withdraw from social contact. They may also lash out uncharacteristically at people or other household pets.

Arthritis in cats is more common than many pet owners realize, but early intervention can significantly slow progression and improve quality of life. Our hospital offers multiple treatment options, which may include:

  • Pain or anti-inflammatory medications for short-term use
  • Joint health supplements in injectable or oral forms
  • Monthly injections to target inflammation
  • Regenerative medicine with stem cells or platelet rich plasma
  • Cold laser therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Surgery

Contact University Veterinary Hospital to schedule a visit with our primary care team if you are concerned that your cat is suffering from arthritis, or for a wellness exam, so we can detect early changes. You can also schedule a visit with our rehabilitation or orthopedic teams if your cat already has an arthritis diagnosis and you’d like to learn more about advanced treatment options.