Question: How many cats (over the age of 12 years) show evidence of arthritis? (*)
According to International Cat Care, one study showed 90% of older cats had radiographic evidence of arthritis.
OK, perhaps this is a trick question because the key word is “radiographic”. In this study, it was x-rays of older cats, analyzed for boney arthritic joint changes. It is true that not all of these cats were symptomatic (i.e. limping), but nonetheless the statistic is an eye-opener.
Since arthritis in cats is such a common condition, the caring cat guardian should be watchful for signs of a problem.
Which raises another question:
When a senior cat with stiff joints becomes uncomfortable, how do you recognize she’s in pain?
This is down to vigilance for tell-tale signs such as altered habits, limping, or changed behavior. Remote monitoring through wearable devices also offer an invaluable option for identifying early physiological signs of pain, before the appearance of symptoms, and then monitoring response to arthritis treatment.
10 Signs of Arthritis in Cats
You’re concerned about your senior cat and want to know what to look out for. A good starting point is to watch for any of the nine cat symptoms listed below, as a red flag that something isn’t right.
- Using a chair as a staging post to jump up
- Abandoning a favorite snoozing spot because it’s too high
- Sleeping more than previously
- Stiffness on rising
- Moving awkwardly on the stairs
- Messing outside litter box
- Reluctance to play
- Grooming less, so her coat becomes dull and matted
- Uncharacteristic short temper
Cats being secretive creatures, the only clue your fur-friend gives might be a change of behavior. So if you notice something is amiss, get the cat checked by a vet.
5 Risk Factors for Arthritis in Cats
We know being aged 12 or over is a major risk factor for developing arthritis in cats. What can make kitty prone to creaky joints? Let’s take a look.
- Age: With around 90% of older cats having radiographic evidence of arthritis, it’s important to watch for signs of soreness
- Obesity: Unfortunately a kitty carrying too many layers of love, places extra strain on her joints
- Trauma: A previous accident involving a joint can set the scene for early arthritis
- Genetics: Sadly, some breeds seem more prone to arthritis than others, such as the Maine Coon with a tendency to hip dysplasia and the Scottish Fold with her distorted legs.
- Poor Diet: The cat that mainly chows down on an all meat diet is at risk of nutritional imbalances leading to poor quality bones, joint problems, and premature arthritis.
Is Your Cat Pain-free or Suffering in Silence?
How many arthritis risk factors is your cat juggling?
Perhaps your older, Maine Coon seems just fine…but a small voice nags “Could she have joint pain?”
Instead of worrying, be proactive and find out the answer with a PetPace collar. This allows you to monitor how active she is (arthritic cats are less active), along with her body position (stiff cats stay in one position for longer), and measure subtle indicators of pain such as increased heart rate and lower Heart Rate Variability (HRV).
Better still, you can easily share this information with your vet. This allows them to assess how effective a prescribed treatment course is at reducing discomfort and whether further action is required.
Cat Arthritis Treatment
Knowing your cat is arthritic isn’t just an academic exercise. Once you recognize cat arthritis symptoms this empowers you to put strategies in place to improve your fur-friend’s quality of life. There are several options for cat arthritis treatment, including pain-relieving medications, home help, or alternative strategies.
#1: Pain-relieving Medications
Fortunately, vets have an armory of drugs to ease the discomfort of arthritis in cats. Topping the list of arthritis medications for cats is a licensed drug, meloxicam, from the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory group of drugs. When given with food and used correctly, this drug has the potential to make a big difference in mild to moderate arthritic pain.
For more severe discomfort, the vet may add in tramadol, an opiate drug that packs more punch against pain than meloxicam alone. And if the vet suspects arthritis is pinching nerves and causing nerve-induced discomfort then gabapentin can help. [Note: Tramadol and gabapentin are not licensed for use in cats and are used off-label.]
A word of caution, however. Always follow your vet’s instructions regarding drugs and dosages, and never give human medications to your cat unless explicitly directed to do so by your vet. Cats lack some of the enzymes necessary to detoxify human medications, which can rapidly reach toxic levels and cause harm to the cat. For example, one tab of Tylenol (Acetaminophen) may kill a cat.
#2: Home Help for Arthritic Cats
Simply by thinking about the problems arthritis poses for your cat, you can make changes for the better. This could be something as simple as giving the cat a larger litter box (as she’s less able to squat and more likely to miss the tray), a litter box with an easy entrance so the cat does not have to climb over it, or providing steps up onto a favorite sunny spot.
Other top tips for stiff joints include providing a heated cat bed and covering the cat with a blanket at night to keep the heat in round those sore joints.
A stiff cat is also less likely to get up to drink, which in turn isn’t healthy for her kidneys. Simply placing a water bowl near to her bed can solve two problems in one by encouraging her to keep drinking.
Don’t overlook practical considerations such as clipping her claws once a month, and daily brushing. A cat that’s too stiff to groom will really appreciate having some of the burden taken out of coat care.
#3: Other Therapies
Whether it’s a traditional therapy such as massage or the application of heat to ultra-modern therapies such as laser treatment or stem cell medicine, speak to your vet about all the additional ways to help your cat.
Some suggestions to pursue include:
- Laser therapy
- Stem cell
- Heat therapy
Don’t forget to keep the cat at an optimal weight and avoid obesity to reduce the load from those aching joints.
How Do I Know What Works?
Good question! Is your cat in a contented sleep or a pain-induced ‘freeze’?
The answer lies in her heart rate and HRV.
A relaxed cat has a slower heart rate and higher HRV than a tense painful one…and the way to tell this can be by using a PetPace collar.
With vital biological data stored and shared with your vet, the cat herself will tell you what works and what doesn’t, to make her as comfortable as possible for a long and happy life, to take the guesswork out of knowing if your cat is in pain or not.
(*) Arthritis and degenerative joint disease in cats. International Cat Care