Could Your Cat have Arthritis?


Does this sound like your cat?

She wakes and slowly stretches, then potters across the floor to eat breakfast. She washes her face, then eyes up a favorite perch on a window sill overlooking the garden. But instead of jumping up as usual, she turns her back and opts for a catnap on a kitchen chair.

If you are the guardian of an older cat, a change of habit may be the only clue that something’s wrong. For example, if your cat usually spends all day on that sunny window ledge but now rarely jumps up, you should ask, “Why is that?” The simple answer could be that she has stiff joints and the jump causes her pain.

Cats instinctively conceal discomfort because in the wild showing weakness would encourage other cats to invade their territory. A cat that’s not 100% fighting fit isn’t going to advertise the fact and will change her habits to hide that weakness.

This matters to cat owners because your cat could be in pain and you don’t realize. This is more likely than you think because for cats aged 12 or older, 66% have radiographic signs of arthritis in their legs. Indeed, when all forms of arthritis (including the spine) are included this figure rises to a startling 90%.


Signs of Arthritis

Be a savvy owner and look out for the following signs:

  • Stiffness, especially on waking
  • Difficulty jumping, using the stairs or a cat-flap
  • Litter tray accidents
  • Less time spent grooming
  • Uncharacteristic grumpiness
  • Change of habits
  • Overgrown claws
  • Sleeping more

If any of these symptoms strike a chord, get your cat checked by a vet. However the good news is there are lots of ways to help your cat get back on her paws.



#1: Massage

Does a chin rub make your cat purr like a chainsaw? Then she’ll enjoy a massage (after all that’s what chin rub is) which really does make a difference by:

  • Increasing blood flow
  • Strengthening muscles
  • Aiding lymph drainage
  • Improving the supply of oxygen and nutrients

So how does this help an arthritic hip?

Gently rubbing the area over the hip increases the blood supply which brings in vital nutrients and takes out toxins. This decreases pain and relieves muscle spasm, which means kitty can move around more freely and stay supple.

Massage is as simple as using your palms or finger pads to stroke firmly in the direction of the hair. Long rhythmic movements encourage the release of a histamine-like chemical which dilates the blood vessels with all those beneficial effects. However, always have a quick chat to your vet first if your cat has a particularly sore joint.


#2: Nutraceuticals

Nutraceuticals are foods or food supplements which improve health and have a drug-like action, but without the side effects. You’re probably already familiar with them because if you take a vitamin supplement or drink probiotics then you’ve taken a nutraceutical.

You might also have heard of a traditional remedy for arthritis called green-lipped mussels. The reputation of this supplement was something that intrigued the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), London, so much that they decided to check it out.

The RVC took green-lipped mussel extract and put it through the same rigorous trials as a new drug in development. The researchers found a measurable improvement in animals given the supplement and were so impressed they licensed the product, Yumove, giving it their seal of approval.

Another great joint supplement is a combo of chondroitin and glucosamine. Give both together for the maximum benefit which includes:

  • Reduced levels of natural toxins in the joint
  • Reduced swelling of the joint lining

Expect it to take around 4 – 6 weeks before your cat starts pouncing like a kitten again, but these supplements are beneficial for the long term health of your cat’s joints.


#3: Heat Therapy

If you’ve ever clutched a hot water bottle to a sore stomach then you’ve used heat therapy (thermotherapy). Again, there are proven scientific benefits behind the comfort of heat, which include increasing the blood supply, reducing pain, and improving flexibility.

This therapy is simple to do at home, and as easy as heating a wheat bag in the microwave and gently laying it over the cat’s leg or back. A heat pack applied to the skin penetrates 1 – 2 cm, and because a cat’s joints are so close to the surface they really do feel the benefit.

Take care to use gentle heat such as gel packs or a specially designed heat pad. An ideal option is a heated bed, as the heat is regulated and won’t scald the skin, plus a snuggly bed protects the cat from draughts and helps her feel safe and secure.


#4: Laser Therapy

If you prefer hi-tech solutions to traditional remedies, then consider laser therapy. Human therapists have been using this on people for some time, and now veterinarians are catching up with its potential to help their four-legged patients.

The therapeutic laser works by improving the circulation to bring in healing nutrients and carry away toxins. Sounds familiar? It also decreases the production of chemicals that promote inflammation (the same chemicals that drugs target) to reduce pain and inflammation.

In addition, laser therapy ‘wakes cells up’ and encourages them to produce fresh cartilage and collagen, which help in the repair of damaged joints. Better still, most cats tolerate laser therapy without sedation and many even enjoy it.


#5: Medication

No cat should be left in pain, especially when there are safe, effective drugs which can help them. If you aren’t sure if your cat is in pain, then speak to your vet about trialing pain relief for a couple of weeks. Sometimes it’s only when the cat stops being grumpy that you realize how much discomfort she’s been putting up with.

Vets usually prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) for cats; of which meloxicam is the most popular because it comes in a liquid formulation for easy dosing and cats love the taste.

And finally, don’t forget how little things can make a big difference. Try placing a chair as a staging post to that favorite window ledge, so your cat can jump up and enjoy watching the birds. Making life a bit easier for your older cat isn’t rocket science, but it will go a long way towards improved kitty contentment and lifting her mood.