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Guest post by Lorie Huston, DVM

Living with a senior cat has rewards as well as challenges that are a bit different than those encountered when living with a younger cat. Pain is, of course, something we don’t want to see in any of our pets. However, senior cats are more likely to develop conditions and illnesses that create pain and discomfort. Arthritis is a common but often unrecognized disorder in older cats. In one study, 90 percent of cats over 12 years of age showed radiographic (X-ray) evidence of arthritis*.

Unfortunately, recognizing arthritis in cats is challenging at best. Many of our cats hide their pain very effectively. While we may sometimes see our older cat limping or favoring one leg or another, more often than not our arthritic cats simply become less active. They spend more time sleeping and resting. They may be reluctant to jump onto surfaces that were easily accessible previously. In fact, many of us mistake these symptoms of arthritis for normal aging. Too often, we simply assume that it’s normal for an older cat to sleep more and be less active without ever wondering whether pain may be playing a part. We may even assume that our arthritic cat is learning manners or displaying better behavior because he no longer jumps onto the countertops. What should we do about this? Firstly and most importantly, if in doubt about whether your cat is hurting, assume that he is and take appropriate measures.

  • Joint supplements containing glucosamine and/or chondroitin can help some cats.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids can help relieve pain from arthritis and other causes.
  • Adequan is an injectable product that can be used to help relieve arthritis pain and is effective for many cats.
  • Other medications are available to help relieve your cat’s pain as well, and may be necessary if the previous products are ineffective or do not sufficiently relieve your cat’s pain. These include tramadol, gabapentin, Fentanyl, and others. Your veterinarian will help you determine which medication is best suited for your cat.
  • For some cats, alternative therapies such as acupuncture, hydrotherapy, and even massage can help ease the pain of arthritis.
  • Weight loss, if appropriate, can help relieve stress and pressure on sensitive joints and help make arthritic cats more comfortable. Consult your veterinarian to establish a safe and effective weight loss plan for your overweight arthritic cat.
  • Exercise can also keep joints and muscles supple. Exercise can also be effective in burning calories and helping with weight loss where necessary.
  • Provide your cat with soft bedding in the form of a pet bed or blanket on which to sleep and/or rest.
  • Make sure your cat’s litter box is in an easily accessible location and is easy for your cat to enter and exit. Do not place your cat’s only litter box in a basement or attic far from where your cat spends most of his time. Consider using a litter box with low sides for easy access.

Though arthritis is not a curable condition, the pain it causes can be controlled. However, the first step is recognizing that it exists. Do you have a senior cat that could be suffering from arthritis?

Lorie Huston has been practicing veterinary medicine for over 20 years. Besides a successful career in a busy small animal hospital in Providence, RI, Lorie is also a successful freelance writer specializing in pet care and pet health topics. 

This article has previously been published by PetMd and has been republished with permission.

Photo: morguefile

* Source: Hardie EM, Roe SC, Martin FR. Radiographic evidence of degenerative joint disease in geriatric cats: 100 cases (1994-1997). J Am Vet Med Assoc2002;220:628-632.

12 Comments on Living with an arthritic senior cat

  1. what dosage of omega-3 would you recommend for a cat is approximately 13-14 pounds? I took in a 13 year old cat that has some arthritis in her back leg; have gotten her weight down and have her on a daily glucosamine pill; she’s moving around much better. Would like to try natural remedies before any prescription meds. Thank you

    • Linda, the dose will vary depending on the product. I like the Nordic Naturals Omega 3 Pet, and the recommended dose for a cat weighing 10-14 pounds is 0.75ml a day.

  2. This makes me think of, and miss, our sweet, beloved Little White Paws… She had arthritis in her late years. She went to the Bridge at age 18 1/2, I still miss her so much!!!

  3. Thanks for the arthritis in older cats pain medication recommendations. My 11 year old tabby is in so much pain we have honestly thought of putting her down. At least now we have a few more medications we can try for her pain. She is our oldest baby and I am not ready to live my life without her in it yet. I have no human children, but I have had her since she was 4 weeks old and love her like a daughter!

    • I hope the medications mentioned in this article can help your kitty, Kim. A few of my senior cat clients have had very good success with Adequan injections.

  4. wish had known all that when our sweet Tasha had it so bad in her back. She lived to be 17, OTRB last Sept 2011. But our vet did prescribe an injectable mild pain med that made her last couple of years so much better, she could play again.

  5. Thanks for the informative article. My baby, Queenie, is almost 13. I give her Cosequin For Cats every day. She has arthritis in her rear legs. Since I have been giving it to her she is much happier and jumps on more things. She doesn’t jump on the bookcase anymore but will jump on my desk. She had stopped jumping on everything before the Cosequin!

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