Veterinarian Reviewed on April 1, 2014 by Dr. Janice Huntingford
Cat Arthritis (Feline Arthritis)
Signs and Symptoms
Cats are typically agile and nimble creatures, able to jump and climb in a lively and athletic manner. When feline arthritis strikes, however, all this can change. A cat suffering from this joint disease will no longer be able to move like it used to and will often experience significant pain. As pet owners, we never want our feline companions to suffer in any way so it’s important to have any form of discomfort or illness treated and dealt with as quickly as possible. If you suspect that your cat may be suffering from arthritis, there are a number of symptoms and warning signs that you can keep an eye out for.
Cats with arthritis are often stiff and sometimes limp. In the beginning, these symptoms may be mild or only show up intermittently, but with time they will become more pronounced. It’s also quite common for limping and stiffness to be more obvious after a cat has been resting, diminishing throughout the day as the animal moves about. These symptoms may also become worse during cold or damp weather. However, since cats are very good at compensating for lameness caused by feline arthritis, limping and stiffness may not be as noticeable as they would be in a case of canine arthritis. Yet, there are a number of other signs of arthritis that will likely be present in cats suffering from this disease.
Certain behavioral changes are often warning signs of feline arthritis. Activity-wise, cats may start to take several small jumps rather than one large leap to reach a surface. Also, a cat with this condition may show a reluctance to run up stairs or play in its usual fashion. Mood changes are also common, often as a result of chronic pain. Cats suffering from arthritis may become aggressive, irritable, or depressed. They may show a reluctance to be touched or petted, and may fail to groom themselves properly or at all. Sometimes felines will become constipated since the arthritis prevents them from squatting in order to defecate. Occasionally, arthritic cats will lose their appetite.
Additional physical symptoms of cat arthritis include swollen joints that are painful to the touch. Sometimes joints will take on an abnormal appearance, due to bone changes that have occurred around the joint. If your cat is exhibiting any of these signs or symptoms, be sure to contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. By having this condition diagnosed quickly, your cat can gain the immense relief offered by an appropriate treatment plan.
Prompt diagnosis of feline arthritis will go a long way toward improving your pet’s quality of life. When a case of cat arthritis is suspected, there are a number of steps that can be taken in order to confirm a diagnosis of this condition. To begin with, a veterinarian will go over the cat’s medical history and perform a physical examination, observing the feline patient both at rest and as it moves. This will allow the practitioner to check for clinical signs such as lameness or swollen and painful joints. Once the veterinary doctor has identified the particular joint or joints affected by the arthritis, further tests may be performed in order to pinpoint the exact type of arthritis present and to evaluate the stage of the disease. Such tests can include x-rays, blood tests, and synovial fluid analysis.
X-rays are one of the most common diagnostic tools employed in cases of feline arthritis. These radiographs will reveal arthritic changes that have occurred to the bones and joints. For example, the bones of an arthritic cat may become flattened rather than rounded. X-rays will also allow a veterinarian to evaluate how far the disease has progressed in the patient. Blood tests can also be useful for diagnosing certain types of arthritis. With respect to infectious (septic) arthritis, blood tests can reveal the presence of an infection. Blood tests can also show that a cat’s body is attacking its own joints in a case of rheumatoid arthritis. Finally, analysis of the synovial (joint) fluid may also be conducted. If the animal’s arthritis is related to an infection, this fluid will likely contain white blood cells and bacteria.
A cat’s joints form part of its musculoskeletal system, along with its bones, muscles, and connective tissues. A joint is the place where two or more connecting bones are joined together, such as at the elbows or hips. Joints act as hinges, allowing for movement and flexibility, and different types of joints allow for different types and ranges of movement. These components of the musculoskeletal system also consist of elements, such as cartilage and synovial tissue, which provide stability and resistance against the stress of constant use. Cartilage is a tough but smooth substance that covers the ends of bones, providing protection and shock absorption. The synovial tissue lines joints, enclosing them in a joint capsule that is filled with synovial or joint fluid. This fluid helps to reduce friction, further aiding proper function of joints.
Arthritis basically refers to the inflammation of one or more joints. There are several different forms of arthritis, as this condition can manifest itself in a number of different ways. For example, with rheumatoid arthritis, the cat’s immune system attacks its own joints while with septic arthritis, the condition occurs as a result of an infection. However, the two most common forms of arthritis to affect felines are traumatic arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis is also known as degenerative joint disease and involves damage occurring to the cat’s bones as a result of changes to its cartilage. Cartilage cushions and protects bones, but if it becomes dried or chipped the bones become exposed. This, in turn, interferes with proper joint function. In response to this type of situation, the cat’s body will sometimes send white blood cells to the joint in an effort to deal with the problem. Unfortunately, this just causes further problems, as the enzymes released by the white blood cells damage the synovial fluid, causing the joint capsule to become inflamed and painful. Such pain and inflammation occur commonly with all types of feline arthritis, triggering the many characteristic symptoms of this joint disease.
Just as there are many different forms of arthritis, there are many different causes of this condition. The factors and influences that have triggered the occurrence of arthritis in a cat will depend upon the type of joint disease present. As mentioned previously, one of the two most common forms of feline arthritis is traumatic arthritis. As its name suggests, this form of inflammatory joint disease occurs as a result of trauma, such as impact from a motor vehicle or an injury sustained during a cat fight or awkward fall.
The other most common form of feline arthritis, osteoarthritis, occurs as a result of cartilage damage. This cartilage damage can be caused by a variety of factors. In some cases, abnormal joint structure gives rise to cartilage damage. When joint structure is affected by an abnormality, the joint may very well be less able to withstand normal amounts of stress, leading to arthritis. On the other hand, cartilage damage can also occur when joints are normal but are put under an abnormal amount of stress. For example, constant jumping can eventually lead to cartilage destruction. Furthermore, the normal wear and tear that occurs with age can give rise to osteoarthritis. This is why senior cats are most commonly affected by this condition. In addition, obesity can be a contributing factor with respect to osteoarthritis, as the extra weight places extra stress upon the cat’s joints.
While less commonly than traumatic arthritis and osteoarthritis, septic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can also affect felines. Septic or infectious arthritis occurs as a result of an infection in the cat’s body that causes inflammation of the animal’s joints. Such infections can include bacterial and fungal infections, as well as diseases transmitted by ticks. Rheumatoid arthritis is triggered by an immune-mediated disease which causes the cat’s immune system to malfunction and attack its own joints. In most cases, this underlying disease is hereditary.
While there is no actual cure for feline arthritis, there are numerous treatments available that can greatly reduce the severity of symptoms, vastly improving your pet’s quality of life. Since obesity can contribute to the development of feline arthritis, a carefully monitored weight loss program is often an important part of treatment. Often when an obese, arthritic cat loses weight, pain and discomfort are significantly reduced. Supplements can also help to reduce pain and increase function by promoting joint health. For instance, supplements containing glucosamine, chondroitin, and Omega 3 fatty acids help to keep cartilage moist and lubricated, while also stimulating joint cells to repair damage. These supplements also help to relieve symptoms such as pain and stiffness. While it can take between one and two months for the benefits of these supplements to become noticeable, they are very safe and will have significant positive effects in the long run.
Arthritis medications are also frequently used to treat feline joint disease. These include traditional medications that help to relieve pain and inflammation. There are also homeopathic remedies available that can be very beneficial with respect to reducing symptoms and improving your cat’s health. Homeopathic products contain natural ingredients such as ginger and tea tree oil, which reduce inflammation. Other natural substances like ginseng and milk vetch enhance the immune system while cayenne and calendula relieve pain. With so many beneficial properties, natural remedies can provide your arthritic cat with much-needed relief from pain, stiffness, and other troubling symptoms.
Sign up for our newsletter and receive more articles and the latest pet health updates and special offers.
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan