Cat Arthritis Symptoms, Pain Relief, Treatments, and Types

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on March 16, 2023
4 min read

Cat arthritis is a common condition that causes painful joints and makes moving uncomfortable. There is no cure for cat arthritis, but you can take steps to make your cat feel better. If you notice your cat slowing down or showing signs of pain when they move, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian right away.

Usually, the bones in your cat’s body slide past each other easily and are protected by a healthy joint fluid and cartilage. When a cat has arthritis, the smooth surface is worn down, and the bones grind against each other like sandpaper.

Symptoms of arthritis in cats include:

  • Reluctance or hesitance to jump up or down
  • Difficulty going up or down stairs
  • Limping
  • Stiffness in the legs, especially after resting or sleeping
  • Difficulty using their litter box
  • Irritability
  • Reduced levels of activity
  • Less time spent on their grooming
  • Reduced height when jumping
  • Hiding or sleeping more than normal 

Some of the common factors that increase a cat’s risk of arthritis are:

  • Wear and tear. The joints may weaken as the cat gets older.
  • Abnormalities. Abnormal hip development may affect cartilage around joints.
  • Injury. When a cat experiences a joint fracture or joint injury, it may cause arthritis.
  • Obesity. While there is no scientific evidence that obesity causes arthritis, it may make the condition worse.
  • Genetics. Some cat breeds have an increased risk of arthritis. This is due to abnormal development of their cartilage or hips. This is most commonly seen in Maine Coon, Persian, Scottish Fold, and Siamese cats. 

Arthritis can affect any part of a cat’s body, but it’s common in the legs. When cat arthritis occurs in the back legs it can greatly limit your cat's mobility. In some cases, cat arthritis can cause lameness where the cat will begin limping or favoring one leg when they walk. Many times, this causes the cat to become much less active and spend more time resting.

A licensed veterinarian can help determine if your cat has arthritis in their back legs and help put together a treatment plan. 

If a veterinarian suspects arthritis, they’ll review your cat's medical history and complete a physical exam. The veterinarian will specifically look for:

  • Visible joint deformity
  • Joint pain
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Grating (scraping noise) when the cat moves its joints
  • Fluid in the joints
  • Joint instability

To confirm an arthritis diagnosis, your veterinarian will complete an X-ray to take pictures of the inside of the cat's body and especially their bones. 

There are a few different treatment options available for cats with arthritis:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). The most common treatment for cat arthritis, NSAIDs are prescribed by a licensed veterinarian who can help determine the duration and type of treatment.
  • Pain management medication. In some cases, cats will be given painkilling drugs in cases where non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are not appropriate or not sufficient.
  • Injectable joint protectants. This treatment helps relieve arthritic pain. It involves a veterinarian giving injections of glycosaminoglycans every four weeks or so to the cat.
  • Acupuncture. Although the studies regarding acupuncture for cat arthritis are limited, some cats may benefit from it. Acupuncture is an old healing practice in Chinese medicine where needles are placed at specific points in the body to relieve pain.
  • Cold laser therapy or photobiomodulation (PBMT). This noninvasive and painless treatment allows a vet to move a small device that emits therapeutic light waves across your pet’s body, on top of their fur. This type of treatment has been shown to ease pain and decrease inflammation.

If you suspect your cat has arthritis, a licensed veterinarian can help determine the best treatment option for your cat. 

One of the best ways to help a cat who has arthritis is to create a comfortable environment for them that’s also safe. You can do this by:

  • Giving your cat a soft, warm bed that is easy for your cat to get into and out of
  • Providing a ramp up to places they like to rest — such as your bed, a couch, or a window seat
  • Providing a litter box with one low side for easy access
  • Keeping everything your cat needs — like the litter box, food, and water — on one floor of your house
  • Using soft brushes for grooming
  • Helping them maintain a healthy weight to put less stress on their joints

Most cats don’t display obvious signs that they have arthritis. They tend to hide their pain, even when they’re in distress. This can make it challenging to identify when there is a problem.

If you pay attention to subtle signs — like difficulty jumping or sudden issues with the litter box — you may be able to detect potential problems early on. The earlier you can start treating cat arthritis, the better.

If you suspect your cat may have arthritis or is in pain, schedule a visit with your veterinarian as soon as possible.