Despite their domesticity, cats still possess a great deal of mystery. Their independent nature—sometimes to the point of aloofness—makes them fascinating companions for the 45.3 million U.S. households that felines currently occupy.

However, a cat’s natural inclination toward secretive behavior also puts them at risk. As part of their instinctive desire to protect themselves by concealing weakness, many cats are silently suffering from chronic arthritis, which is a painful and progressive inflammatory joint condition.

Increased awareness can help cat owners be proactiv on their cat’s behalf. This begins by being able to recognize arthritis signs and bringing your cat to Palm City Animal Medical Center for routine wellness exams.

Here’s what every cat owner needs to know about this debilitating, often hidden condition.

#1: As many as 90% of cats older than 12 are affected by arthritis

According to one radiographic (i.e., X-ray) study, 90% of cats older than 12 years displayed arthritic changes in their joints, including the limbs and spine. However, visible changes do not always correlate with pain, so veterinarians and owners are encouraged to study the cat’s behavior to assess discomfort. 

More recent research suggests that between 60% to more than 90% of cats suffer from arthritis. Despite this wide range, the research confirms that feline arthritis is far more prevalent than veterinarians and cat owners previously suspected, and indicates an immediate need for diagnosis 

#2: Arthritic cats may appear normal or display only subtle signs

Unlike dogs—who are known to push through or adapt to their pain, often to their detriment—cats tend to respond by self-limiting their actions and movements. Affected cats may appear to sleep more or be less active, but because the average healthy cat sleeps an average 15 hours per day, this behavior change can be difficult to detect. And, since arthritis is most prevalent in senior cats, most owners attribute such a change to natural age-related decline.

Although arthritic cats seldom bring attention to their pain by limping or crying out, you can learn to recognize subtle changes in feline movement and behavior that correspond with arthritis pain. These may include:

  • Difficulty jumping up or down — Cats may struggle, fall, or take multiple smaller jumps to avoid putting excessive force on their joints.
  • Difficulty using stairs — Cats may bunny hop with their back legs, angle their body, or rest halfway. 
  • Slower movements — Cats may walk or run more slowly or with an abnormal gait (e.g., hopping, arched back) and may be stiff after rising from rest.
  • Decreased interest in play — Cats may not engage with their favorite toys, or play only for brief periods.
  • Increased isolation — Cats may hide and sleep more frequently throughout the day and avoid social interactions.
  • Altered grooming habits — Cats may neglect painful or difficult-to-reach areas, so their coats become matted, unkempt, or greasy.
  • House soiling — Cats with painful hips and knees may avoid stepping in and out of a high-sided litter box and eliminate near or beside the box.

#3: Feline obesity can worsen arthritis

Although feline arthritis’ true cause is unknown, extra weight can worsen arthritic changes by increasing the weight-bearing demand on affected joints—especially the hips, knees, elbows, and spine.

Overweight arthritic cats become trapped in a vicious circle—as they restrict their activity to avoid pain, they burn fewer calories and are more likely to gain additional weight. If your cat is overweight or obese, talk to your Palm City Animal Medical Center veterinarian about safe weight loss strategies. Managing your cat’s arthritis pain may be key to unlocking effective weight loss and improving their quality of life.

#4: Untreated arthritis is progressive and can shorten your cat’s life

Exercise avoidance may help cats feel better in the short-term, but prolonged inactivity negatively impacts feline arthritis. Sedentary cats are more likely to gain weight and lose muscle mass, resulting in generalized weakness, reduced joint range of motion (i.e., stiffness and limited flexibility), poor stamina, and reduced immune health. Affected cats also experience increased emotional stress, which is a known contributor to feline urinary disorders. For these reasons and others, a “wait-and-see” approach to feline arthritis or accepting the condition as an unavoidable and unalterable part of aging is not advised. 

#5: Feline arthritis can be successfully managed with treatment

Fortunately, numerous safe and effective treatment options are available, and arthritic cats can enjoy a wonderful quality of life. At our hospital, our goals for arthritis management include:

  • Controlling inflammation — Inflammatory mediators constantly damage and irritate your pet’s joints. Anti-inflammatory medications and therapies (e.g., laser therapy, acupuncture) can calm the joint environment and reduce pain.  We now offer a monthly injection for feline arthritis that can significantly control pain and inflammation.
  • Encouraging mobility Physical rehabilitation, low-impact exercise (e.g., following a kibble-dispensing ball), and at-home modifications (e.g., ramps, low-sided and easily accessible litter boxes) can promote increased mobility, weight loss, and modulate pain by preventing stiffness and muscle atrophy.
  • Decreasing joint demand — Promoting and maintaining a healthy weight reduces the stress on your cat’s joints, while restricting access to elevated surfaces can help prevent potential injuries from falls and concussive landings.

Like you, we’re crazy about cats, despite their baffling behavior and puzzling purr-sonalities. But with feline arthritis, these quirky qualities that make cats so unique can also be their downfall. If you notice any arthritis signs or changes in your cat’s behavior, remember—some secrets are meant to be shared. Contact Palm City Animal Medical Center to schedule an appointment.