Arthritis in Cats

By Dr Eloise Bright 4 Min Read

We explore the common causes of arthritis in cats and methods for ensuring your feline senior citizen remains comfortable and pain free.

It’s not always easy to tell if your elderly cat is suffering from arthritis because the symptoms are subtle and slow in onset. He’s not likely to show an obvious limp, so you need to look for other indicators that he’s having trouble with mobility. You may notice that he won’t jump up as much, and he may be less enthusiastic about being stroked or brushed. He may even start to go to the toilet outside his litter box if he finds it hard to climb over the sides.


While dogs are quite happy to have their legs manipulated to identify where it hurts, cats are much less so. This can make it harder to identify which joints are painful. X-rays can help but this isn’t always accurate either. Some cats with severe arthritic changes on x-ray are quite comfortable, while those with minimal disease can be very sore.  Your vet will diagnose arthritis in your cat based on your description of his behaviour, x-rays and by ruling out any other medical causes of his symptoms.


When it comes to treating arthritis in your cat, you need to be careful. Cats are very sensitive to many drugs, and they can cause more harm than good. Any drug that you give your feline best friend must be registered for use in cats, and must be used exactly as prescribed. Never give your cat any medication that has been prescribed for your dog or for yourself.

There are other ways you can ease your cat’s pain and make him more comfortable.

  • Weight loss. Obesity can make arthritic symptoms worse, purely because your cat’s sore joints have to carry extra weight. If you are going to put your cat on a diet, make sure his weight loss is slow and steady because rapid weight loss in cats can cause hepatic lipidosis. This is a dangerous condition.
  • Sodium pentosan polysulphate, or Cartrophen, has been used to ease the symptoms of arthritis in both cats and dogs. It is given by injection and is very safe.
  • Consider acupuncture for your cat. It can help with arthritic pain, and it is safe with no side effects.
  • Glucosamine, chondroitin and green lipped mussel extract may slow down cartilage degeneration and relieve symptoms of arthritis. There are no studies to prove this, but there is anecdotal evidence that they help. There are no side effects associated with using these products so there’s no harm in trying them.
  • Essential fatty acids such as those in fish oil can have a natural anti-inflammatory effect.
  • Manage your cat’s environment. You can remove part of the side of his litter box so he can walk into it easier. Give him a bed that’s at ground level, or build a ramp or some small steps to his favourite resting spot, so he doesn’t have to jump. If the weather turns cold, he’ll appreciate a heating pad or hot water bottle in his bed.

Many people think their cat is less active because they are just getting old, but in fact they may actually be in pain due to arthritis. If your elderly cat is reluctant to jump, is grooming himself less and would rather not move around too much, he may have arthritis. The right treatment could quickly put a spring back in his step.

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Dr Eloise is a Clinical Lead at Love That Pet and one of our resident pet care experts. She also curates the select range of vet recommended and approved products which feature on our site.
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