Arthritis in Cats: Everything You Need To Know

By Chelsea Hunt-Rivera / November 29, 2018

Arthritis is one of the most common physical ailments plaguing humans. In fact, over 350 million people worldwide suffer from arthritis. However, did you know that arthritis is the most prevalent condition amongst middle-aged felines? Cats are famously agile and nimble creatures, so naturally, the debilitating onset of arthritis can be heartbreaking to witness as a pet parent. So, what can you do to treat and prevent your cats aching joints? Buckle in, because you are about to learn everything you need to know about arthritis in cats.

arthritis in cats

What is Arthritis? 

Interestingly enough, “arthritis” is not a single disease, rather an umbrella term referring to joint pain and inflammation. In fact, there are over 100 types of arthritis. More commonly thought to affect older people or animals, arthritis can actually occur in bodies of all ages. However, in the case of felines, 90% of cats over the age of twelve display symptoms of arthritis.

Joints are connected by a layer of cartilage that cushions the bones and allows for comfortable movement. Arthritis is the deterioration of that vital cartilage. Without it, the movement becomes difficult and painful.

Arthritis cases vary dramatically in severity. Sometimes, cats only experience symptoms in one concentrated part of the body. Conversely, in more severe cases, cats can experience arthritis throughout the body. In felines, the elbows, spine, and hips are the most often affected.

Signs of Arthritis in Cats 

Admittedly, cats can be difficult to read in terms of joint pain. You would perhaps expect a cat suffering from arthritis to limp, when in fact, that is not the case at all. Rather, cats will display a change of behavior when experiencing arthritic pain. Signs to look out for may include:

Changes in Grooming Habits

Grooming is a natural habit in healthy cats. However, when their joints are in pain from arthritis, cats are less likely and able to act on this instinct. Therefore, a matted or especially dirty coat may indicate your cat is unable to groom his or herself and is in pain.

Conversely, sometimes cats over groom themselves in areas that are hurting. This often results in hair loss, redness, or inflamed skin in a concentrated area.

arthritis in cats causes lack of grooming

Reduced Movement

Cats are notorious creatures of habit. They often always sleep in the same places, perhaps snuggled on top of the back of the couch or in the laundry bin. However, a cat in pain will likely stay closer to the ground, seeking easier places of rest to get to. This change, especially when sudden, is cause to question the health of their joints.

Additionally, you may notice your cat suddenly having bathroom accidents. This is likely stemming from their inability to move comfortably in and out of their litter box.

Some cats will display noticeable stiffness, especially after sleeping. Furthermore, sometimes cats will have trouble walking regularly.

Changes in Usual Activity Level

Does your cat usually jump at the opportunity to chase a laser pointer? Or cherish time outside to hunt and explore? Perhaps suddenly your typically active cat shows little interest in playing or going outside. This change is a big sign that your cat isn’t feeling well and is likely experiencing joint pain. Ailing cats will often sleep more than normal, and commonly spend more time alone.

Changes in Personality

As arthritis typically affects older cats, you as their owner likely have a good grasp on their usual temperament. However, cats in pain tend to alter their personality. Therefore, a usually good-natured feline may suddenly become aggressive. Perhaps a usually snuggly cat is less interested in being pet or held. These changes are signs that your cat is feeling differently in his or her body.

Arthritis Causes 

As is the case with most conditions, certain breeds are more prone to arthritis than others. Burmese, Maine Coons, Abyssinians, and Scottish fold cats have the highest rate of arthritis diagnosis. Simply put, the leading cause of arthritis is the inevitable: age. However, other factors contribute to the progression of arthritis. Factors may include:

  • Genetics (how your cat is uniquely built)
  • Abnormal joint development
  • Overall health and weight (obese cats are especially prone to arthritis)
  • History of injury or disease (fractures, infection, muscle issues)
  • Orthopedic surgery
  • Any type of cancer or immune suppressing illness

injury can cause arthritis in cats

Clearly, many of the factors leading to arthritis are beyond your control as a cat owner. However, there is one thing we can absolutely control: obesity.

Obesity: A Big Problem in Cats

An overwhelming 58% of cats suffering from obesity. Admittedly, fat cats can be hilarious and adorable. However, obesity is no laughing matter. The long-term side-effects of obesity are severe and can be deadly. Obesity can cause:

  • Diabetes
  • Increased risk of cancer (i.e. malignant tumors)
  • Weakened immune system
  • Decreased Stamina
  • High blood pressure
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Arthritis (ehem, the subject of this article)
  • Liver disease
  • and more

Fortunately, obesity is a completely treatable condition. Better yet, obesity can and should be avoided before it is an issue. Fortunately, this is easier than you may think. We will discuss healthy diet and lifestyle habits for you and your cat later in this very article.

Types of Arthritis

As previously mentioned, arthritis is not a single disease, but a catch-all term for over 100 types of joint diseases. In terms of feline arthritis, there are two main types: Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis. Currently, there are five known types of arthritis affecting cats specifically.

Osteoarthritis (OA)

Arguably the most common type of arthritis affecting felines, Osteoarthritis is more complex than other types. Cases vary wildly in severity from mild discomfort to inflammation and noticeable swelling.  Osteoarthritis typically results in the painful degeneration of cartilage surrounding the joints. When this happens, the existing bones begin to rub together which is painful and makes it harder to move. In particularly severe cases, the rubbing of bones can lead to bone spurs.

While osteoarthritis is a progressive disease, it is completely manageable. With the proper treatments and an early diagnosis, the disease can be slowed, leaving as much joint function intact as possible.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Considered an autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis is the result of an over-active immune system. While an over-active immune system sounds like it would be a good thing, it is actually very bad indeed. Basically, sometimes the immune system is doing such a good job patrolling for bad bacteria and proteins, that it actually mistakes its own healthy protein for a villain. When this happens, the body produces antibodies to combat these allegedly foreign proteins. Finally, these antibodies fuse with the protein to create immune complexes that deposit in and around the joints. Therefore, inflammation and bone degeneration begin in the form of self-perpetuated rheumatoid arthritis.

Septic (Bacterial) Arthritis

A rare form of arthritis in cats, septic arthritis is caused by a bacterial infection. Often times, this is the result of a bite or injury. When this occurs, bacteria will enter the wound and attack the joints. The result: joint inflammation (aka arthritis). On even rarer occasions, the infection will spread into the bone itself. This is referred to as osteomyelitis.

Progressive Polyarthritis

Simply put, polyarthritis is when a cat experiences arthritis in multiple joints at once. Typically, it affects older cats and gets worse over time.

Arthritis Caused by Calicivirus Infection

Typically linked to respiratory disease, the calicivirus is a result of a viral infection. Fortunately, the antibodies are administered in a vaccine required by vets for all kittens. However, many strays or rescues do not get the vaccine and therefore contract the virus. Arthritis is one of the many symptoms of the calicivirus.

Diagnosing Arthritis in Cats

Even experienced veterinarians agree arthritis is incredibly difficult to diagnose in cats. Considering cats are famously independent, it is often times hard for a vet to tell if they are pulling away during an examination due to pain or the simple dislike for being handled. Furthermore, cats, unlike dogs, are much more tolerant to orthopedic pain. Cats are highly agile and do not tend to voluntarily show signs of physical pain.

Therefore, your observations as a cat owner are invaluable to a vet’s proper diagnosis of arthritis. Be sure to diligently note any changes in your cat’s behavior, and report unusual activity or symptoms (listed earlier in this article) to your vet.

Arthritis Treatment 

Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis. However, there are a number of treatment options that can help your cat feel good as new. Naturally, every cat is unique and will require an accordingly fitting regime of treatment. Before starting any sort of supplement or medication, always consult your vet first. Make sure they have detailed information regarding your cat’s medical history, as well as their current symptoms.

Prescription Arthritis Meds for Cats 

Considering the high frequency of arthritis cases amongst cats, there are a number of medicinal treatment options available.

Osteoarthritis Injections

In particularly severe cases of arthritis, your vet may recommend a regime of Pentosan Polysulfate shots. This drug is given as a series of four injections, one a week for four weeks. Typically, this is repeated every six to twelve months depending on the needs of your cat. These shots help repair cartilage and improve ease of joint movement. This is a preferred treatment for arthritis patients amongst vets because it has minimal side effects.

Anti-Inflammatory Medications

Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly prescribed by vets to treat mild to moderate cases of feline arthritis. It is important to note, some NSAIDS do not sit well with certain cats, so you should only use them under strict vet supervision. Your vet will monitor your cat’s kidneys and liver while on the medication and determine the best dosage for your particular cat. These medications reduce joint inflammation and lead to more comfortable movement.

Side Effects of NSAIDs in Cats

If you have ever seen a commercial for any kind of medicine, you know that the list of side effects is often far longer than the list of benefits. Well, NSAIDs for cats are no exception. First of all, older cats (who are typically the ones being treated for arthritis) are more susceptible to adverse side-effects. Particularly, older cats with a history of disease. They have weaker immune systems and often have trouble processing the chemicals in the medicine.  Possible side effects of NSAIDs in cats include:

  • Upset stomach or vomiting
  • Diarrhea and/or black feces
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Yellowing of the skin, gums, or whites of the eyes

Furthermore, long-term use of prescription medication makes matters even worse. Considering there is no cure for arthritis, many cats are saddled with their prescription drugs for years on end.

Natural Remedies for Arthritis 

Here at SimpleWag, we always encourage a natural, holistic approach to the wellness of your beloved pet. With some of the alarming side-effects listed above, it is clear that sometimes prescription medications cause more harm than good. Fortunately, we live in a time where homeopathic wellness is not only celebrated amongst pet parents, but a proven way to cultivate a long, healthy life for your pet.

Healthy Diet

First and foremost, with the rampant issue of feline obesity, we need to address the importance of a healthy diet. A well-balanced diet of proteins, fats, vitamins, and fatty acids in moderation, is vital to your cat’s longevity.

Dry cat food has, on average, a whopping 400 calories or more per cup. Considering cats at a healthy weight should only eat about 250 calories a day, no wonder cats everywhere are so fat! One of the best things you can do for your cat’s weight is to simply measure out the food you give them. It is common for some pet parents to leave a bowl full at all times, but this makes it easy for cats to overeat.

Furthermore, wet food tends to be much fresher and less calorically dense than dry food. Better yet, we advise introducing a raw food diet into your cat’s wellness plan.

CBD for Cats 

A healthy diet and consistent physical activity are imperative to a long, healthy feline life. Additionally, proper implementation of certain holistic supplements can work wonders on cats of all ages. If you keep up with homeopathic remedies, you have undoubtedly heard of the so-called “miracle” herb CBD Oil. Derived from the hemp plant, CBD oil is making a positive impression on human, canine, and feline holistic wellness. Benefits of CBD oil for cats include:

  • Reducing inflammation (thus, treating arthritis)
  • Easing body pain (even tricky nerve-related pain)
  • Suppressing seizures and epilepsy
  • Calming anxiety
  • Preventing and curing cancer
  • Promoting overall homeostasis in the body
  • and more!

cbd fo cats

Just to be sure, you saw curing cancer in there, right? So, on top of treating your cat’s arthritic joints, you can actually treat, heal, and prevent a host of other issues as well. CBD is a wonderful alternative to many prescription meds because it has virtually no side effects for cats.

Where to get CBD Oil for Cats

With the ever-flourishing popularity of CBD oil, there are dozens of products available on the market today. However, it is important to note that all CBD oil is not created equally. With the demand so high, many brands are cutting corners and racing to get products on the shelf. It is vital to only purchase CBD oil that is organic, all-natural, lab-tested, non-GMO, and designed specifically with pets in mind. We recommend Honest Paws because their products meet these qualifications beautifully.

Acupuncture for Cats

The needle-nervous pet owner may be a little freaked out by acupuncture, but it actually is less painful than you may think. In fact, humans and cats alike often fall asleep during the procedure because it is so relaxing. Furthermore, acupuncture is a proven way to naturally relieve the pain of arthritis.

Going back centuries, the ancient Chinese healing method of acupuncture is the process of inserting tiny needles strategically on the body. The body is thought to be made up of flowing energy cycles. When the body is diseased or injured, these cycles become blocked. Acupuncture unblocks these cycles by triggering specific pressure points on the body.

Whether you are considering acupuncture for yourself or your cat, always seek the hands of well-trained and licensed therapists. For your cat, be sure to consult your vet first and use a therapist experienced in animal-specific acupuncture practices.

acupuncture for cats

Turmeric for Cats

A staple in ancient Chinese and Indian medicine, turmeric is a powerful holistic remedy. Known best for its anti-inflammatory qualities, turmeric has also been known to aid digestion and promote healthy heart circulation. In terms of arthritically inclined felines, turmeric can be especially helpful due to its natural joint lubricating, anti-inflammatory tendencies.

Like with any new medicine or supplement, be sure to consult your vet before introducing turmeric into your cat’s diet. Turmeric has been known to react poorly when combined with other medications in cats.


Simple Environmental Changes

No matter what treatment plan you and your vet choose for your arthritic cat, there are a number of simple adjustments you can make to maximize your cats comfort.

  • Place ramps or steps by couches or beds to simplify access and prevent the stress of jumping
  • Provide a warm, low to the ground place for your cat to sleep
  • Ensure easy access to litter boxes
  • Assist your cat in grooming since they may not be able to as frequently (aka brush your cat regularly)
  • Putting rugs over slippery floors to prevent sliding
  • Raising food and water bowls to elbow height to prevent hunching to eat/drink

Well-rounded treatment of any ailment is based on the sum of the parts. A healthy diet, proper medication and/or supplements, combined with simple and effective environmental changes can lead to impressive results.

Arthritis in Cats: Final Thoughts 

Considering arthritis is an incurable condition, the best course of action is determining the best treatment plan for your individual cat. While prescriptions have been known to calm symptoms, we recommend a more holistic approach to wellness. Luckily, homeopathic remedies are not only ever-growing but a proven way to treat and prevent a number of feline ailments. Finally, be sure to consult your vet to best determine the most effective path for your unique cat. Now, go and give your beloved cat a snuggle!


Natural remedies for arthritic cats 

Arthritis in Cats & Natural Remedies

About the author

Chelsea Hunt-Rivera

Chelsea Rivera is a Dedicated Pet Parent who loves to create amazing content for pet owners and is helping change pet wellness as the Head of Content for