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I think my cat has arthritis, what should I do?

Arthritis, also known as osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease is a common problem in older cats [1, 2], although it is possible for young cats to be affected.

Osteoarthritis is not yet well understood in cats and more research is needed. However, in most cats it appears to be due to mechanical ‘wear and tear’ in the joints). However, osteoarthritis can also be secondary to a joint injury or abnormality. Some cat breeds have an increased risk of osteoarthritis due to genetic abnormalities which affect joints (for example, abnormal development of the hip joints in breeds such as Maine Coon cats [3] and severe osteoarthritis affecting multiple joints in Scottish Fold cats due to their inherent cartilage abnormalities [4]).

Osteoarthritis can also possibly be secondary to an auto-immune disease (similar to people getting osteoarthritis associated with rheumatoid arthritis).

Osteoarthritis is associated with significant pain and can have a severe negative impact on the welfare and quality of life of affected cats [5]. Since pain can be difficult to recognise in cats and diagnosis of arthritis can be challenging, it is common for this painful condition to go unnoticed and untreated in many cats [1]. However, there are various treatments available to help cats with osteoarthritis; so it is important to look out for the signs and talk to your veterinarian if you suspect your cat may be in pain and/or have arthritis.

Signs that indicate your cat could have arthritis include:

  • reduced activity
  • reduce interaction with people and other cats
  • difficulty using the litter tray
  • reluctance to walk or play
  • stiffness (especially in the mornings or after a sleep)
  • difficulty getting up
  • limping / lameness (harder to spot if it’s in more than one leg)
  • difficulty climbing stairs or jumping up or down onto beds/sofas etc.
  • reduced grooming
  • growling or vocalising in pain when touched
  • personality/temperament change (for example, may seem lethargic or depressed)

To determine whether your cat has arthritis you will need to make an appointment with your veterinarian for a full physical examination and assessment. This is important to ensure a proper diagnosis of osteoarthritis is made, as other conditions can mimic this condition. Your veterinarian will be able to discuss the best treatment options for your individual cat.

Treatment and management of osteoarthritis differs between individual cats, as the most appropriate course of action depends on various factors such as their age, level of fitness, weight, and other health conditions they might have. Individual cats may also respond differently to the different treatments available and some cats may not be able to tolerate some medicines. Therefore, a veterinary assessment and discussion about the best options is very important.

In addition, there are things that you can do to help your cat, including:

  • Make or buy a cat staircase or ramp to make it easier for your cat to get up onto places where they like to go (such as the bed or sofa).

  • Provide soft and well-padded comfortable beds that are easily accessible, and in peaceful and draft-free places. Igloo beds are often very popular with older cats.
  • Have everything they need on the same level (food, water, litter tray, beds, hiding places etc.), so that they don’t need to go up or downstairs if they don’t want to.
  • Make it easy for your cat to pass through the cat flap; you may need to tie or prop it open so that they don’t need to push out or get hit by the closing door.
  • Ensure the litter tray is easy to get into (it can help to make a low entry side for them to get into the tray without having to step over a high side).
  • Grooming and clean your cat (as they can find this difficult) and check their claws and trim them regularly (old cats often get overgrown claws).
  • Keep your cat’s weight under control, as extra weight can make the condition worse.


[1] Lascelles DB, Robertson SA (2010) DJD-Associated Pain in Cats. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 12:200–212.

[2] Lascelles DB et al (2010) Cross-Sectional Study of the Prevalence of Radiographic Degenerative Joint Disease in Domesticated Cats. Veterinary Surgery. 39:535–544.

[3] Loder RT, Todhunter RJ (2018) Demographics of hip dysplasia in the Maine Coon cat. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 20:302–307.

[4] Gunn-Moore D et al (2008) Breed-related disorders of cats. Journal of Small Animal Practice. 49:167–168.

[5] Bennett D et al (2012) Osteoarthritis in the cat: 2. How should it be managed and treated? Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 14:76–84.

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Updated on October 9, 2019
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