Unfortunately, arthritis is a common ailment in older cats. While there can be challenges distinguishing arthritis from other ailments via x-ray, studies have estimated that 60-90% of cats over age 12 have some form of degenerative joint disease.
There are two types of arthritis common in cats. The first, osteoarthritis, occurs when the cartilage that cushions the joint wears away, resulting in discomfort, inflammation, and ongoing changes in and around the joint. This can occur as part of the normal aging process, or be brought on by a joint abnormality or injury. The second type, rheumatoid arthritis, is an auto-immune disease.
It can be difficult for you to see if your cat is showing signs of arthritis. Due to an instinctive response crucial to felines in the wild, even an indoor-only cat will avoid showing pain or injury so they will not appear vulnerable to predators. The following are symptoms you may notice.
- A reduction in activity, such as more time sleeping or less time actively playing.
- A change in grooming, such as focusing on a particular joint, reduced grooming, or a reduction in claw sharpening.
- Changes in temperament, especially spending more time alone and avoiding contact with others.
- Reduced mobility, including difficulty using the litter box, struggling on steps, and reluctance to jump up or down.
If you notice your cat exhibiting any of these symptoms, it is time to visit your veterinarian for an official diagnosis. This will involve an examination of your cat’s joints, as well as possible x-rays and blood and urine tests.
While there is no cure for arthritis, your cat’s pain can be managed with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. If your cat is overweight, your vet may recommend a special diet to help your cat lose weight and thereby decrease pressure on the joints. Finally, you can take steps at home to make your cat more comfortable, such as moving their bed, food, water, and litter box to a location they can access easily.