By Courtney Prue | August 10, 2023

What Can I Do for My Cat With Arthritis?

Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Life Expectancy and Home Management.

Arthritis is a common condition that affects many cats as they age, and it can be a source of pain and discomfort for our beloved furry friends. As cat owners, we all want to provide the best possible care for our pets, and understanding arthritis and its treatment options is an essential part of that care. We appreciate that this progressive condition means lifelong management for owners, which can be emotionally draining and costly. In this resource, we'll explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for osteoarthritis in cats and offer some helpful tips for managing this condition. We will also touch on pain assessments, quality of life and the value of palliative care to keep your beloved pet as comfortable for as long as possible.

What is osteoarthritis? What is arthritis in cats?

Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of chronic pain in cats, affecting 90% of cats over 12 years old. Arthritis is a disease that affects all structures within the joint, including the bone, cartilage, joint fluid, and ligaments. The joint becomes inflamed and painful as the condition progresses, and the cat may experience reduced mobility. If left unmanaged, it can lead to complete joint failure and immensely impact quality of life. It is commonly and mistakenly described as a disease of the cartilage of a joint, but it actually impacts the whole body. The pain it creates does not remain confined to the affected joint and local area, with the local pain causing whole-body changes as it works to compensate. Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis in cats, and it is a progressive disease. However, with proper management and care, many cats with arthritis can live comfortable and happy lives for years. Palliative care can be helpful in the late stages of the disease to keep them comfortable for as long as possible.

What are the signs of arthritis? How do I know if my cat has arthritis?

One of the most challenging parts about arthritis is identifying whether it is there at all. Our pets are very good at hiding signs of discomfort, and as a chronic disease, the signs often come on slowly and subtly. If you are unsure if your cat is in pain, consult a pain scale. In general, arthritis in cats presents as a change in behaviour rather than a noticeable limp or vocalising.
Some signs to look out for in your pet include:
      • Reduced mobility or reluctance to exercise or play
      • Avoiding certain activities they used to enjoy
      • Changes in posture, such as a hunched back or a tucked-up tail
      • Not wanting to be touched towards their lower back, reacting to touch differently
      • Reduced activity or lethargy
      • Hissing or vocalising when touched in certain areas
      • Loss of muscle mass or weight loss
      • Changes in behaviour, such as irritability or aggression
      • Limping or favouring one or more limbs
      • Stiffness, especially in the morning or after periods of rest
      • Difficulty standing up or lying down
      • Collapsed and can’t get up
      • Difficulty finding a comfortable position to lie down, readjusting regularly
      • Gait changes, such as wobbly or unsteady walking, dragging their feet
      • General signs of pain

Is arthritis painful?

If you notice any of these signs or want to ensure your pet is comfortable, visit your veterinarian for an examination. You can also use pain assessment tools to assess for signs of pain in your cat. Click here for a comprehensive resource on pain.  

How is arthritis diagnosed?

Diagnosing arthritis in cats can be challenging since they often display subtle behavioural changes, which may be attributed to normal aging or other medical conditions. To explore possible arthritis, your veterinarian will perform or recommend the following diagnostics:
      • Comprehensive history: Your veterinarian will begin by taking a comprehensive history of your cat’s medical background and recent clinical concerns. They will question you about your observations of your cat’s behaviour and any changes in their activity levels.
      • Physical examination: A thorough physical examination is vital, and your veterinarian will focus on the joints most commonly affected by arthritis, such as the hips, knees, elbows, and spine. They will assess your cat’s posture, muscle mass, and mobility and look for any signs of inflammation or discomfort. They may manipulate your cat’s joints to look for restricted movement and sensations such as crunching, crepitus, and signs of pain.
      • Blood tests: Blood tests can help to rule out other medical conditions that may cause similar symptoms, such as infections or immune disorders. They can also assess your pet’s overall health and, most importantly, whether they are healthy enough for medications.
      • Xrays: These can help identify the presence of arthritic changes and show the extent of joint damage and any changes in the bone structure, such as bone spurs or narrowing of the joint space.
      • Joint fluid analysis: Joint fluid analysis may be recommended if needed. This involves taking a fluid sample from the affected joint and examining it under a microscope for signs of inflammation or infection.
      • Advanced imaging: Specialist diagnostic tools like MRI or CT scans may be necessary in more complex cases.
It is important to note that early diagnosis and treatment of arthritis are crucial for managing the condition and preventing further joint damage. If you suspect that your cat may be suffering from arthritis, don’t hesitate to seek out veterinary advice.

What causes arthritis in cats?

Aside from general age-related wear and tear, the major causes include:

Developmental Joint Disease: Developmental joint disease is among the most common causes of arthritis in cats and dogs. Developmental joint disease is a term used to describe a group of conditions that affect the development and structure of the joints in cats while they are young and growing. These conditions can cause abnormal growth, instability, or malformation of the joints, leading to joint pain, stiffness, and lameness.  

Obesity, or carrying any excess weight, significantly influences the development, progression, and severity of the clinical signs of arthritis. The increased weight of excess fat causes abnormal mechanical loads and forces to be placed through a cat’s joints daily, which increases significantly when the cat does more taxing activities such as running or jumping. It is essential to keep your cat at a healthy body weight throughout their life, so a good balance of nutrition suitable for their breed, age, and lifestyle should be chosen.
A sensible alternative to using breed averages to determine your cat’s ideal body weight is monitoring their body condition score. Consult this resource to work out your cat’s body condition score

Joint Trauma and Infection:
Any joint inflammation during your cat’s life will predispose them to arthritis later in life. This includes any injury, such as cruciate ligament rupture, fracture, dislocation or surgery. Conditions such as septic arthritis or immune-mediated polyarthritis will also cause damage to the joints, likely leading to arthritis. 

Abnormal Forces:
Abnormal forces that a joint must contend with may influence the development of arthritis. These forces include repetitive actions that cause sudden acceleration/deceleration and twisting, excess weight, and the environment that cats live in, such as jumping onto/off furniture at a considerable height.

Image Source: WSAVA Body Condition Score Guidelines (August 2020) by World Small Animal Veterinary Association. Modified from original, cropped.

How can I prevent arthritis in my cat? Is arthritis preventable?

To reduce the risk of arthritis in cats, owners can take the following practical steps:

      • Keep your cat lean: Excess weight not only influences the development of arthritis but also reduces a cat’s lifespan. Regular weight checks and learning to body condition score your cat can help ensure your cat maintains an appropriate weight.
      • Use your veterinary team: Regular orthopedic health checks, musculoskeletal checks with a veterinarian, and help from vet nurse teams for weight checks and body condition scoring are essential in identifying problems early on.

What if I do nothing about my cat’s arthritis?

Arthritis is a progressive and painful disease. If left untreated, the condition will worsen, causing increased pain, reduced mobility, and decreased quality of life for your cat. Although some cats may be able to cope with mild arthritic changes, the disease will eventually become all-consuming, causing them to lose interest in activities they once enjoyed and become less interactive with their human companions. Consult a pain management scale to see if your cat might be in pain.

When a cat has arthritis, they try to avoid using the painful joints, causing their muscles, tendons, and ligaments to weaken over time. This can result in compensatory weight shifting and injuries to other body regions. Central sensitisation can occur, causing the pain to persist even with gentle touches or strokes. The longer the disease goes untreated, the more challenging it becomes to manage the pain and loss of function.

If you do nothing to treat your cat’s arthritis, their condition will worsen. Their limbs will weaken, their pain will increase, and their quality of life will deteriorate. Eventually, the cat may be unable to stand or walk, and their interactions with their human companion may diminish or disappear altogether. Elective cat euthanasia is often considered when the cat’s quality of life has reached a point where they can no longer enjoy life.

However, by intervening early, the progression of the disease can be slowed down, and the cat’s mobility and quality of life can be maintained. Pain can be eased, and the bond between the cat and their human companion can be preserved. Early identification and treatment of arthritis are crucial for successfully managing the disease. If you suspect that your cat may be suffering from arthritis, it is essential to consult with your veterinarian to develop an appropriate management plan.

If they seem increasingly uncomfortable or their quality of life is impacted, palliative care may be the kindest option.

Can my cat’s arthritis be treated? How is arthritis treated? How do I manage my cat’s arthritis at home?

While arthritis is a chronic condition that cannot be cured, there are many ways to manage the disease and improve your pet’s quality of life. All treatment options are aimed at managing the problem, not fixing it.
Remember, with many treatment options available, it can be overwhelming initially, but by working with your veterinarian or
our team, you will find what works for you and your cat. Caring for a cat with arthritis doesn’t have to be stressful.
An in-home veterinary assessment can also help identify any other areas of improvement that can help your beloved pet stay comfortable for as long as possible.

Four key ways to manage arthritis in cats include:

1. Weight Management: Does my cat’s weight impact its arthritis?
Weight management is crucial for managing arthritis in pets as excess weight increases mechanical forces on joints and contains inflammatory mediators that aggravate pain. Losing just 6% of excess body weight can significantly reduce pain in arthritic cats. Body condition scoring helps assess whether your cat is overweight.
Consult your veterinarian if you feel your cat is overweight; they can help you formulate a weight loss plan. Consult this resource to work out your cat’s body condition score.

2. Medical Treatment: What treatment options are there for arthritis in cats?
When it comes to managing osteoarthritis in cats, medical treatment is a commonly used option to help manage the condition and improve mobility and quality of life. Several medications are available to manage osteoarthritis symptoms, and they can be used alone or in combination. If you’re worried your cat may be in pain – use our pain scoring tool to find out.
For personalised advice and discussion about medications and possible treatments for arthritis, get in touch with our team.

      • NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs)
        NSAIDs are commonly used to manage osteoarthritis in cats as they can reduce inflammation and pain associated with the condition. Owners should initially plan to give the NSAID for 2-3 weeks to see the best effect and reassess their cat’s pain status. NSAIDs have been found to be more effective and safe for chronic pain if given regularly as prescribed. Some side effects include gastrointestinal upset, vomiting and diarrhoea, kidney and liver damage, and more. Due to this, it is essential to follow instructions closely, always check if they are compatible with other medications and follow veterinary advice regarding blood testing.
      • Corticosteroids
        Corticosteroids can also be used to manage the symptoms of osteoarthritis in cats. They work by reducing inflammation and suppressing the immune system. However, these drugs should be used with caution as they can cause side effects such as increased thirst and urination, increased appetite, and weight gain. Long-term use of these drugs can also lead to more severe side effects, such as diabetes and liver damage.
      • Frunevetmab (Solensia)
        Frunevetmab is a new and exciting injectable medication targeting a protein called Nerve Growth Factor (NGF). NGF plays a role in the transmission of pain signals, and Frunevetmab works by neutralising NGF, resulting in a decrease in pain signals. Frunevetmab is administered as an injection every four weeks and has been shown to be effective in reducing pain in cats with osteoarthritis. Side effects can include vomiting, diarrohea, and lameness.
      • Pentosan Polysulfate (Cartrophen, Synovan, Zydax)
        Pentosan polysulfate is a medication that helps repair cartilage and reduce inflammation in cats with osteoarthritis. It is administered by injection and is usually given once a week for the first four weeks and once every 1 to 3 months after that.
      • Gabapentin
        Gabapentin works by blocking the transmission of pain signals to the brain, thereby reducing pain perception, but it does not address inflammation. Gabapentin is generally well-tolerated in cats and has fewer side effects than other pain medications. The most common side effects include sedation, dizziness, and unsteadiness. In rare cases, it can cause gastrointestinal upset or liver damage.

It is important to note that not all medications are suitable for all cats (such as paracetamol which can be fatal!), and some may interact with other medications your cat is taking or has contraindications based on their health condition. Always consult with your vet before giving your cat any new medicines, and follow their instructions regarding dosage, administration, and monitoring for side effects.
Please get in contact with our team for further information and guidance.

3. Joint Supplements: What supplements are suitable for my cat’s joints?
Supplements can also help support joint health in arthritic pets. The efficacy varies, but some supplements that may help are:

        • Glucosamine and chondroitin: These supplements help repair and maintain joint cartilage, which can help reduce pain and inflammation.
        • Omega-3 fatty acids: Besides being found in certain foods, omega-3 supplements such as fish oil capsules are also available and can boost anti-inflammatory properties.
        • Turmeric: This spice has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, and some studies have shown that it can help reduce joint pain in cats with osteoarthritis.
        • Green-lipped mussel: This supplement contains omega-3 fatty acids and other anti-inflammatory compounds and has been shown to effectively reduce joint pain and inflammation in cats.

4. Home Environment Changes: How can I help my arthritic cat at home?
Home modifications can go a long way in improving the quality of life for arthritic pets. By making simple adaptations to their homes, pet owners can reduce the risk of accidents and injuries, improve their pets’ mobility, and reduce pain and discomfort.

An in-home veterinary assessment can also help identify any other areas of improvement that can help your beloved pet stay comfortable for as long as possible.

Cats may struggle to walk on slippery floors such as wood, laminate, or tile due to weakened muscles and stiff joints caused by arthritis. Slips on smooth floors can cause significant damage to cats’ joints, muscles, and ligaments, exacerbating arthritis symptoms. Improving traction on slippery floors can make it easier for cats to move around without slipping and reduce the risk of injuries.

To prevent repetitive trauma and pain, pet owners can add:

      • grip pads and non-slip mats
      • non-slip rugs or carpets
      • paw booties

Stairs and Steps
Arthritic cats may have difficulty climbing or descending stairs, requiring strength, coordination, and balance. Pet owners should restrict access to stairs using a stair gate if possible and consider carrying the cat up and down. Ramps can help reduce the effort needed to traverse stairs and steps.

Doorways and Thresholds
Door thresholds can be challenging for pets to negotiate, making them a common cause of trips and falls. To make it easier for pets to navigate doorways and thresholds, pet owners can consider adding a ramp or a pet door. Pet doors allow pets to move freely between rooms without navigating thresholds, while ramps can help pets move up and down steps or over thresholds more easily.


To help protect sore joints and reduce the pressure when laying, increase the cushioning of your arthritic pet’s bed. Elevated beds can also be helpful for pets with mobility issues as they are easier to get on and off. Placing beds or places of comfort regularly around the house can allow your arthritic pet to find comfort off the cold hard floor.

Arthritic cats can find it difficult to get easily into and out of a litter box when the rim is too high or if they have to navigate obstacles to get there. Ensure the rim of the litter box is low, they don’t have to jump up or navigate obstacles to get into it, and they have enough room to move around within it easily. Additionally, it is essential to remember that some arthritic cats may need to go to the toilet more frequently due to medication or health issues, so you may need to clean the litter box more regularly.

How long can my cat live with arthritis?

The prognosis for a cat with osteoarthritis can vary greatly depending on several factors, including the cat’s age, overall health, the severity and type of arthritis, and the treatment plan. In general, arthritis is a chronic condition that can worsen over time, and there is no cure for it. However, with proper management and treatment, most cats with arthritis can still lead happy, active lives. Arthritis can be managed with lifestyle changes, medication, and other treatments. Generally, the earlier arthritis is diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis is for the cat. With early intervention, the progression of the disease can be slowed, and the cat’s pain and mobility can be managed more effectively. It’s important for cat owners to work closely with their veterinarians to develop a treatment plan tailored to their cat’s individual needs and to monitor their cat’s condition closely over time. If they seem increasingly uncomfortable or their quality of life is impacted, palliative care may be the kindest option for your arthritic cat.


End-of-Life Care Tips:

If your cat’s arthritis has progressed to a point where treatments are no longer effective and you feel their quality of life is compromised, you may need to consider end-of-life care or even putting your cat to sleep (euthanasia). Rest Your Paws is here to support you and provide compassionate care for your beloved pet throughout their journey. 

This can be a difficult decision, but there are several ways to provide comfort and support for your cat during this time, including:

      • Keeping your cat comfortable and pain-free with medications as prescribed by your veterinarian
      • Providing plenty of love and attention
      • Spend quality time with them, making the most of every moment, such as with a bucket list
      • Ensuring your cat has a quiet and peaceful environment
      • Evaluate their pain regularly and work with your veterinarian or our team to reduce pain
      • Evaluate their Quality of Life regularly, or contact a palliative care vet to help you
      • Consult our End of Life Care Pack to get prepared to put your cat to sleep
      • Track good and bad days on our Quality of Life Assessment Calendar

Please know that we are here to support you every step of the way. We understand this is a challenging time for you and your family, and we are committed to providing you with the guidance and care you and your furry friend deserve. If you want to learn more about putting your pet to sleep, cat euthanasia at home, options to put your pet down at home, costs of euthanasia at home or what it looks like to put your pet to sleep at home, call us on 0422 157 675 or visit our website.


While it can be challenging to see our furry friends struggle with arthritis pain and discomfort, many effective treatment options are available, including medication, supplements, and lifestyle changes. By working with your veterinarian and staying proactive about your cat’s health, you can help manage the symptoms of arthritis and ensure that your furry friend enjoys a happy, comfortable life for many years to come. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns – we are here to help.



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