Arthritis is a very common condition seen in cats that causes painful, swollen joints and can make moving around uncomfortable. Often times this reluctance to move is mistakenly assumed to be part of a cat slowing down or simply “getting on a bit” in their senior years. It has been shown in recent years that between 60-90% of cats over 12 years old suffer with some form of degenerative joint disease and being able to recognise the signs of early Osteoarthritis is important as it allows you to make a couple of environmental adjustments in order to help your cat feel more comfortable and free from pain.
It goes without saying that should you notice your cat slowing down, or any change to their sleeping patterns, gait or a reluctance to jump up or down, you should take them to the vet for a full health check-up. Cats hide their pain well and many signs of illness and arthritis may go unnoticed for some time, with progression slow and gradual over many months and even years. With arthritis, sometimes we need to be looking more at what the cat cannot do anymore as opposed to what they still do in order to identify these subtle changes that are key indicators of arthritis.
Some of the behavioural changes or symptoms associated with arthritis include:
- A hesitance to jump (for instance, where your cat might have made one swift move to jump from the table down to the floor, if they are suffering with painful joints they may try to ‘stage’ jump by placing front paws half way down and then jumping the rest of the way – this will reduce the impact on their joints and is a warning sign that something might be going on with their joints .. )
- Difficulty using the stairs (perhaps the way they manoeuvre the stairs has changed, or they start hanging around downstairs more when they previously slept, ate or played upstairs)
- Shoulder blades which are more prominent than before (this will be due to muscle wastage around their shoulders which will make them appear thinner in this area)
- Over-grooming (this is where they lick a particular spot more than usual – usually the area that is causing them pain – which may result in a brown staining of their fur)
- An unkempt coat or matted fur (this is a sign that is associated with cats in pain due to arthritis and many other illnesses too; both short and long-hair cats can become matted and may need assistance with grooming as they age, even if they have never previously suffered with matted fur; also, cats with arthritis may find the joint manipulation required to clean their back and bottom area challenging and painful so this area may need shaving or keeping short to prevent matting)
- Grumpy or aggressive behaviour (this may simply be withdrawal and hiding away more, or it may manifest in aggression, especially where an owner does not recognise the changes in their cat and continues to try to pick them up, cuddle them or groom them – all of which could be a source of pain)
If your cat has been diagnosed with arthritis, there are a number of things you can do to help them feel more comfortable. Your vet might put them on a anti-inflammatory drug to help with reducing pain and inflammation. Remember to never give your cat human pain-relief medication as many of these are toxic to cats. There are also other types of pain relief medications available, along with natural remedies (such as CBD) which your vet might suggest in conjunction with the anti-inflammatory drugs. Joint supplements such as glucosamine, omega 3 amongst others may help slow down the progression of arthritis. Acupuncture is another option which is available for cats, although not all will be candidates for this treatment due to their stress levels, however, it is an option worth exploring as it has been shown to assist with pain relief.
Alongside the above, there are a number of environmental adjustments we can make to help our cats at home. Using a personal example: I feed my cat, Pancake, on one of the utility units. He has had no issues jumping up and down for the 9 + years of his life. However, I recently noticed his preference for having me feed him (as this usually involves me lifting him and hand feeding him). Initially I thought nothing of it (in relation to painful joints), assuming he was simply preferring me handfeeding him. However, I then spotted that when he was done eating he would position his front paws on the cupboard doors so he was half way down towards the floor before making the final jump. This piqued my interest and I began monitoring him: how often was this happening? Was it every time or a one off? Interestingly it was not a one off and does happen every time. He also has not been eating during the day while I’m out of the house. Both of these observations led me to the conclusion that my boy is very likely suffering with the early stages of arthritis, or perhaps just feeling some level of delicacy or pain compared to before. He is 9 years old and whilst this is not ‘technically’ considered senior … he is getting there. So the modifications I have made thus far include leaving his food on the floor during the day now whilst I’m at work, and overnight so that he does not need to jump up or down in order to get to his food. Because I also have a dog this isn’t a great long-term approach, and as soon as I find a suitable stool I will pop this there instead, or just as another option for when the dog is around. My cat also enjoys sleeping in bed with us and fortunately I have a bed which is very low to the ground so this is not a concern. He also uses the garden for going toilet but as the raised beds are slightly high, this is another area I will have to monitor as arthritis in a more severe form could see this as too painful a maneuverer and may result in accidents within the home.
But back to your cats ….
Give your cat a comfortable bed
- Memory foam beds (orthopaedic) can be really comfortable for a cat with arthritis
- Heated beds can help sooth your cat’s joints
- Place a selection of beds, soft furnishings and the like around your home (ideally in sunny warm spots) of varying heights so that your cat as options. Remember, though cats typically prefer resting/sleeping above the ground at height, if they are suffering with arthritis they may find this painful. Invest in cat towers with varying levels or add ramps, steps or stools so that they are able to access their usual favourite sleeping spots without having to jump up or down. You can also move your furniture around to accommodate your cat (i.e. allowing them to still reach their favourite window sill vantage point)
Raise their food and water bowls
- Firstly, make sure that your cat’s key resources are easy for them to get to (i.e. if they are showing a reluctance to go upstairs .. you will need to move their resources downstairs so that it is easier, and less painful, for them to access. Key resources include: litter trays, water / food bowls and their beds
- Raising their food and water bowls can help reduce their pain load as bending down is painful for an animal with arthritis
Change their litter tray
- Change your litter tray – many litter trays have high sides which can be challenging for a cat with arthritis to navigate due to pain and may result in accidents outside the litter tray (either due to being caught short, or because they now associate their litter tray as a source of pain); a litter box with low sides is much easier for your cat and you can either buy these online or make your own by cutting a lower entrance within a plastic box so that they can walk straight in
Think about their cat flap
- Have a look at the height and location of your cat flap (or other means through which your cat enters and exists the house) – is it easy for them or does it require a twisting of their body or legs in order to pass through it? Think about changing the cat flap to a dog flap which is larger and can perhaps be positioned lower to the ground. If your cat exits the house through an upstairs window (but they are going upstairs less) then this is another area which needs consideration and an adjustment made by you in order to accommodate their condition
Keep your cat warm
- Position your cat’s bed(s) in sunny spots as the warm will help sooth their painful joints
- Make sure there are no draughts coming through your house, especially in areas where your cat enjoys spending time
- If your cat has been outside in cold or damp weather, ensure they are fully dry when they come back inside
- Utilise pet heat pads which you can tuck under their beds when it is really cold, these may help them feel cosy, with the warmth from the heat soothing their painful joints
What else can you do?
Not all senior cats develop arthritis and there are a number of things you can do to help reduce the chance of your cat developing it. Firstly, keep their weight under control as an overweight / obese cat is at a higher risk of this condition as the extra weight puts additional strain on their joints. Feeding them a high quality species-appropriate diet suitable for their life stage will help ensure they receive the right nutrients as they mature. Cats are obligate carnivores and should be eating protein from meat, not grains, sugars, vegetables and cheap nasty ‘fillers’ found in so many store bought cat foods. I personally support and advocate raw food diets for cats (done properly, i.e. with appropriate taurine levels, etc) and feed my own cat supplements to support his immune system and joint health. There are a number of options available but it may require you to research and put in a bit more work than simply grabbing a bag of kibble off the supermarket shelf .. Keep your cat active with regular playtime! Not only will the interaction be good for the emotional bond between you and your cat, it will also help keep their muscles strong which in turn will take some of the strain off their achy joints. A cat in pain will naturally not feel up for playing, so you may have to get creative and find ways to spark their interest through feeding enrichment (i.e. interactive treat balls/dispensers/activity boards) or using toys that mimic their natural hunting behaviours.
- PDSA (n.d.), ‘Arthritis in Cats’ Available from: https://www.pdsa.org.uk/pet-help-and-advice/pet-health-hub/conditions/arthritis-in-cats
- The Cat Doctor (n.d.), ‘Geriatric Cats’ Available from: https://thecatdoctor.co.uk/cat-health/feline-life-stages/geriatric-cats/
Do you need help with your cat’s behaviour? Or are you needing a cat sitter in the Milton Keynes area?
Catastic cover all of MK along with the surrounding villages of Woburn Sands, Aspley Guise, Cranfield, Salford, Newport Pagnell, Wolverton, Stony, Old Stratford, Cosgrove, Deanshanger, Pottersbury for our cat sitting service. We work 365 days of the year and the team are fully insured, dbs checked and have a ton of experience with cats. You can also contact us for behaviour concerns and we will either visit you in home or via Zoom.