Senior cats start to show signs of their advancing years. They’re less interested in playing games, find it harder to jump on tables, and start to struggle with their overall mobility. Once cats reach senior status, arthritis of the joints becomes a problem for a higher percentage of felines.
We will look at the signs of feline arthritis, and explore medically proven ways to keep your cat more comfortable. It may not be possible to stave off the ravages of time, which can include stiff back legs in cats. You can, however, prevent the condition from ruining your pet’s quality of life.
- 1 What is Arthritis in Cats?
- 2 What Causes Arthritis in Cats?
- 3 Will My Cat Develop Arthritis?
- 4 What are the Symptoms of Feline Arthritis?
- 5 Arthritis Treatments for Cats
- 6 Can Feline Arthritis be Cured?
What is Arthritis in Cats?
Four forms of arthritic conditions could leave your cat in pain. Osteoarthritis is by far the most common. For the avoidance of doubt, future references to arthritis will refer to the condition osteoarthritis unless specified.
The forms of arthritis that can affect a cat are as follows:
- Feline chronic progressive polyarthritis
- Calicivirus arthritis
- Bacterial arthritis
1) Feline Chronic Progressive Polyarthritis
This is a nasty condition that, unlike osteoarthritis, targets young cats. Feline chronic progressive polyarthritis typically impacts male cats below the age of 5.
It’s a sudden-onset medical complaint, resulting from your pet’s immune system attacking their muscle joints. The result will be that all four of the cat’s limbs become arthritic at the same time.
A cat living with feline chronic progressive polyarthritis will quickly become very stiff. As the condition progresses, visible mutations in the bones will appear.
Feline chronic progressive polyarthritis is particularly horrific as there is no cure. Unlike other forms of arthritis, it’s also challenging to manage. Even with medications and anti-inflammatories, very few cats make a recovery. The cat is looking at a lifetime of severe pain and restricted mobility.
This may leave an owner with a heartbreaking, but ultimately humane, decision to make. Thankfully, the condition is also very rare.
2) Calicivirus Arthritis
As the name suggests, calicivirus arthritis is a side effect of the feline calicivirus. This disease is passed between infected cats that share close proximity. It can be vaccinated against, however.
Most of the symptoms of calicivirus are similar to the common cold. Your pet cat will have streaming eyes, and frequently sneeze. However, it can also cause a cat’s joints to stiffen. This means that they’ll struggle to move, and potentially experience pain.
Thankfully, calicivirus is not a permanent problem. It usually clears itself from your cat’s system within two weeks. When your cat has banished the infection, their arthritic symptoms will also clear up. Any discomfort can be managed with medication during the recovery period, too.
3) Bacterial Arthritis
This form of arthritis will usually follow a bite. If your cat gets involved in an altercation, teeth and claws will fly. As a result, they will likely experience an open wound. If this cut is not cleaned appropriately, bacteria may enter your cat’s body.
Bacterial arthritis occurs when the wound is found on, or very close to, your cat’s joints. This will result in the joint swelling, and growing very painful. Your cat will also show other signs of bacterial infection, such as running a fever.
Bacterial arthritis is temporary – if it is treated quickly and efficiently. A vet will drain the impacted area, flush out any bacteria, and administer antibiotics. If ignored, however, the bacteria can spread. This will potentially leave your cat’s other limbs permanently arthritic.
Osteoarthritis in cats has only recently risen to prominence. This does not mean that felines have only just started to suffer from this condition. A cat’s natural instinct to disguise pain, and more sedentary nature, just made it trickier to acknowledge and diagnose.
It’s older cats that will struggle with arthritis. This is because wear and tear take its toll on a senior pet’s joints over time. According to International Cat Care, over 90% of cats ages 12 or over show signs of osteoarthritis.
If your cat is living with this condition, they will become stiff and immobile. Also, any attempt at movement will be very painful for your cat. This because joint-cushioning cartilage has worn away, leaving bones to rub against each other.
What Causes Arthritis in Cats?
Feline chronic progressive polyarthritis, calicivirus arthritis, and bacterial arthritis are medical ailments. These conditions are caused by attacks to the immune system. As a musculoskeletal condition, however, osteoarthritis is usually an unavoidable result of old age.
Your cat had cartilage between all their joints. This cartilage is a form of padding, and simultaneously lubricant. It keeps your cat’s limbs moving without pain.
As your pet ages, however, they stop producing cartilage, and what they have is worn away. The result is arthritis, as the bones in your cat’s joints grind against each other.
Although old age is the most common explanation, there are other factors to arthritis. These include:
- Weight. Heavier cats place more pressure on their joints.
- Exercise. The more a cat moves, the more supple their joints will remain.
- Injury. If your cat’s joints have experienced trauma, they’ll be weakened.
- Genetics. Some cats are more prone to arthritis than others thanks to congenital weaknesses and skeletal defects.
Some breeds of cat may also be more prone to arthritis. Maine Coons, Himalayan, Siamese, Scottish Fold and Persian cats are most at risk. These breeds have unique skeletal structures, often leading with abnormalities around the hips.
Will My Cat Develop Arthritis?
It is not certain that your cat will develop arthritis. It comes down to the luck of the draw. Even if your feline lives to 20 or older, they may not experience arthritic pain.
In addition to good fortune, there are steps to minimize the risk of arthritis. Weight plays a significant role. Keeping your cat active into their senior years will also keep their joints supple.
Sometimes, there is no avoiding arthritis in cats. It’s just a natural progression, and part of the aging process. All you can do is look out for the symptoms, and make your pet comfortable.
Taking your pet for regular check-ups will also help. By the time you have a senior cat, they should be assessed by a vet twice annually. A vet can run tests and scans, and detect any early warning signs of arthritis in older cats.
What are the Symptoms of Feline Arthritis?
Cats are very adept at hiding any pain due to their survival instincts. In the wild, predators will quickly pick off a sick or injured cat. They could even be usurped in a colony hierarchy by other felines. This means that cats will rarely announce their discomfort.
Keep a close eye on your pet, and look out for these symptoms of arthritis:
- Limping, especially when your cat first starts moving
- Strange posture, caused by problems in the neck and spine
- Reluctance to jump on tables or run
- Sleeping more regularly, as though any kind of movement is exhausting
- Irritability, especially when it comes to being handled. Your cat will be pain, and resistant to anything that may aggravate that discomfort
- Atrophied muscle, made obvious by some legs looking thinner than others
- Constant licking, chewing or biting of the paws. This is common for pained cats that are attempting to self-soothe
You may also see visible swelling in your cat’s joints, and elimination outside the litter box. The latter can be explained by difficulty climbing in and out of the box.
Is My Cat in Pain with Arthritis?
If your cat has arthritis, they are almost certainly in pain. Exactly how much depends on how much it’s progressed. Even the earliest onset of arthritis, however, can be extremely tender.
If your previously playful cat loses all interest in mobility, it will likely be pain-related. Your pet has assessed the risk/reward of physical activity, and prefers to remains sedentary. The same applies if your cat no longer wants to be held. Remember, their joints will be extremely sore to the touch.
The good news is that this pain can be managed. As soon as you suspect that your cat is struggling with arthritis see a vet. Don’t expect miracles – your cat may sadly never be devoid of discomfort. You can, however, take steps to reduce the impact that arthritis has on their life.
Arthritis Treatments for Cats
Does your cat have feline chronic progressive polyarthritis, calicivirus arthritis, and bacterial arthritis? If so, the underlying cause will need to be treated as a priority.
In the event of osteoarthritis, there are procedures to ease your cat’s pain. These will likely be a combination of medical treatments and lifestyle changes.
Medical Treatments for Feline Arthritis
If your vet prescribes medication for your cat’s arthritis, it will usually be a painkiller. Never give your cat human medication – even aspirin. Most human remedies are toxic to cats. Speak to your vet about a long-term painkiller prescription.
Another approach that your vet may recommend is anti-inflammatory treatment. This could take the shape of injecting a drug named Adequan, or cold laser therapy.
Both of these methods will reduce inflammation in your cat’s joints. As a result, they’ll be considerably suppler. High quality, protein-rich cat foods, and fish oil are also natural anti-inflammatories.
You can also pick up supplements from a pet store that will help, with no prescription necessary. Look out for glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and Omega-3. Each of these will rebuild damaged cartilage, and lubricate joints. This will reduce the pain that your cat feels when they move.
Lifestyle Treatments for Feline Arthritis
In addition to medicine, there are numerous ways you can treat your arthritic cat at home. Subtle changes to their lifestyle may be the most impactful treatments of all.
Watch your cat’s weight. Overweight cats are not more prone to arthritis. However, once it strikes, a fat feline will struggle much more. Excess weight means excess pressure on their joints, after all.
You should also keep your cat active. Arthritic joints will seize up if not exercised appropriately. You will have to be careful with the exercise regime of a cat with arthritis.
They should not attempt any jumping, as this hurt. However, a regular, light playtime will keep pain at bay. Keep it short, though. An arthritic cat will tire much sooner. If your cat won’t move to play, get creative. Place their food in different rooms, so they have to walk toward it.
Your cat’s comfort is paramount. Ensure that their litter tray has low sides, so they can get in and out. If necessary, invest in a raised feeder for their food and water to avoid back pain.
Fill their bed with thick, fluffy blankets. Some arthritic cats also enjoy heated cushions, or hot water bottles. You can even offer your cat a massage, or look into feline acupuncture.
Can Feline Arthritis be Treated Through Surgery?
In some instances, surgery may be necessary to treat your cat’s arthritis. This will always be a last resort for a vet. They will always aim to treat the condition with lifestyle and medication first. If none of these treatments work, though, your pet may need to go under the knife.
In most cases, arthritis will be surgically treated using arthroscopy. This is better known as keyhole surgery. It involves making a small incision in your cat’s body, and inserting an endoscope.
Your vet will then explore the impacted area, using a camera mounted on this endoscope. If at all possible, damaged joints will then be repaired to reduce the impact of arthritis. A metal plate may also be applied, if necessary.
In chronic cases, your cat may need to have a joint replaced. This can be performed on the hip and elbow, for example. Unfortunately, this procedure is very expensive and can only be performed by specialist vets. Expect to be quoted up to $5,000 for this.
Speak to your insurer to see if they will cover the cost, but it’s unlikely. Arthritis treatments are rarely covered by insurance policies, as the problem is commonplace in senior cats.
Of course, there is always a risk involved with surgery. These perils are only magnified when a cat is older. If your cat’s condition is manageable, surgery may not be advisable.
Can Feline Arthritis be Cured?
Arthritis is not a condition that can be cured – only managed. No amount of medications will rid your cat of the condition. This doesn’t mean that you should neglect any treatment, though. Take steps to make your cat as comfortable as possible, and minimize any pain.
Arthritis is not a life-threatening condition. It’s painful, and it’s difficult for your cat to live with, but it’s not lethal. This means that your pet can still live a long and contented life if it’s managed. Lifestyle changes associated with arthritis treatment may even extend and improve your cat’s life.
Early action is pivotal with arthritis pain in cats. The sooner you discover the onset of the problem, the sooner you can ease their pain. Once your pet is older, have them checked by a vet regularly. You shouldn’t wait for your cat to tell you that they’re struggling. By then, they will likely be in agony.
Once you have the appropriate diagnosis, however, you can adjust your pet’s circumstances accordingly. A cat with arthritis will have particular needs, and will need some special care.