Arthritis, a condition that affects as many as 1 in 3 adults, also affects our pets.  It is a condition in which an animal’s joints become inflamed.  It is accompanied by pain, heat, and swelling in the joints, and it usually results in increasing stiffness and immobility.   Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, is the most common type of arthritis in animals as well as in humans. Over time, the cartilage that cushions joints wears down and bones start rubbing against each other. As the condition progresses, the friction can wear down and damage the bones themselves. This kind of arthritis is most common and causes the most pain in the weight-bearing joints like the shoulders, hips, elbows, knees, and ankles.

Osteoarthritis is a common, but under-recognized condition in senior cats.  The signs are often subtle, and can can be hard to distinguish – cats can’t complain about their aching joints, so all that pet owners see is a response to pain.   Cats with arthritis might avoid the activities they used to enjoy, some may become depressed or change their eating habits, others may simply seem grumpier than usual.  Since these symptoms can also indicate other very serious problems, a veterinary visit is imperative to ensure proper diagnosis.

There is no cure for arthritis, but it can be managed holistically: 

  • Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements such as Cosequin and omega-3-fatty acids can be useful in cats with mild to moderate disease. 
  • Adjust your cat’s environment – add steps or ramps to allow easier access to favorite sleeping areas, use litter boxes with a low entry for easy access and high sides for cats that can no longer sqat, use a fine consistency litter that’s easier on the paws.
  • Manage obesity to reduce additional stress on your cat’s joints.
  • Gently massage the large muscles around joints if your cat will tolerate it.
  • Acupuncture can be an affective treatment if your cat tolerates the visits to the acupuncturists’s office and the needles.
  • I’ve found Reiki to be a wonderful modality to help alleviate the pain and stiffness that can come with arthritis, especially in advanced cases when massage can be too painful. 
  • I recently started Amber, who has some mild arthritis in her hindlegs, on a Flower Essence Blend called “Run and Play.”  She seems to be a bit more playful since I started her on it, so I’m going to keep going with it. 
  • For severe cases, your veterinarian can prescribe anti-inflammatory or pain medications.

By being aware of subtle changes in your cat and making the necessary adjustments, arthritis does not need to become a debilitating condition, and you can do much to keep your arthritic cat comfortable.

6 Comments on Arthritis in Cats – How to Recognize and Manage It

  1. I had a cat with moderate to severe arthritis. Both front legs were twisted to some degree, she limped and occasionally bit at her front legs. Oral glucosamine, chondroitin and msm supplements did nothing. My vet, who also happened to be a friend told me about Adequan, an injectable Form of glucosamine used in horses and dogs. I did lots of research on this, even contacting the company and talking to them. For no good reason, they had done only extremely limited testing on cats and at the time had no plans to conduct more even though they found no adverse results. I decided to give it a try and it made a HUGE difference! Eventually I gave her the shots at home whenever I noticed her limping increase, which was about every 2 weeks. As she aged, I gradually had to give the injections more frequently, about once a week. The bad part was it was an injection in the muscle, which I did not like to do, even though my cat did not seem to mind much. My cat has since died (17 years) but I would definitely consider this medication again if arthritis was an issue for any of my cats.

    • My feline vet swears by Adequan for arthritic cats, Allison. She’s seen some amazing results with it. One of my Reiki clients is a 17-year-old cat with severe arthritis who also gets regular Adequan injections. The combination of Adequan and Reiki has kept him pretty comfortable so far.

  2. Thank you for this post on kitty arthritis, Ingrid. I believe my cat, Cinnamon has it to a degree. She can still jump up on bed and counter with a lower table to help, but her movement is slowed. I massage her but she doesn’t like it much. I plan on acupuncture when we return from our camping trip. Reiki is a great idea, too. Thanks for mentioning the Flower Essence — I will get some to take with us for her.

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