VCA Animal Hospitals
Back

Feline Arthritis — A Condition That's More Common Than You Think

- Provided by VetStreet.com
Thinkstock

When I graduated from veterinary school 20 years ago, we learned that cats were so well designed and adapted that they incurred very few injuries or diseases related to their joints and bones. Osteoarthritis, one of the most common causes of joint pain in animals, was something only rarely diagnosed in cats — if ever.

Turns out we were wrong.

Alarming Feline Arthritis Stats

New research proves that today’s house cats get osteoarthritis (OA) about as frequently as dogs. Over the past decade, an increasing number of studies have found that older cats, especially those 12 and older, have a high incidence of arthritis. A 2011 study using X-rays found that 61 percent of cats over the age of 6 had OA in at least one joint, while 48 percent had two or more affected joints. If a cat was older than 14, he had an 82 percent chance of having arthritis.

So much for that practically perfect skeletal system. And what happened?

In my opinion, what happened was that cats got fat. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but not a lot.

You may have noticed that the felines in the 2011 study were diagnosed using X-rays. That’s because few cats show signs of arthritic pain until it’s really, really bad. In fact, the majority of kitties in the university study were admitted to the teaching hospital for reasons unrelated to their musculoskeletal system. They weren’t limping, holding up a leg or yowling in pain.

So how can you tell if your cat has arthritic pain? It’s tougher than you think.

Subtle Signs of Osteoarthritis in Cats

First of all, whenever I see an overweight senior cat — over the age of 11 and north of 13 pounds — I start looking for OA.

I recently treated a 12-year-old female on second opinion for inappropriate elimination. Out of the blue, the feline had begun urinating on rugs, chairs and — deal-breaker — the owner’s bed. A previous urinalysis didn’t find any infection, and the “behavioral” drugs failed to curtail the troublesome tinkling. Blood tests and a urinalysis performed at my clinic didn’t reveal anything unusual. In fact, I wasn’t identifying anything extraordinary, other than an older, obese cat (16 pounds).

As I mentioned, I’m always on the lookout for pain. So I recommended radiographs to evaluate the abdomen and joints. As you may have surmised, I discovered some pretty arthritic hips and knees. She’s now doing just fine with anti-inflammatory medication, a weight-loss diet and nutritional supplements.

The signs of osteoarthritis in cats are subtle. Here’s my short list:

  • Reluctance to jump on furniture or counters
  • Urinating or defecating outside a litterbox, especially if the box has raised sides
  • More frequent hiding
  • Changes in sleep and problems with getting up
  • Avoiding stairs
  • Less play behavior
  • Changes in eating or drinking
  • Reluctance to eat hard kibble (although this is typically associated with oral pain, osteoarthritis can also affect the jaw)
  • Anything else that’s “weird” or “unusual” for a normally active kitty

In addition to these signs, owners need to keep in mind that cats typically only show pain or abnormal walking when the pain is nearly excruciating. Because cats are lower on the food chain, any sign of weakness can mean death in the wild, so they hide pain as long as possible.

CLOSE CLOSE

General Practice

We have over 540 animal hospitals in 41 states that are staffed by more than 2,000 fully qualified, dedicated and compassionate veterinarians, with more than 200 being board-certified specialists. The nationwide VCA family of general practice hospitals give your pet the very best in medical care, providing a full range of general medical and surgical services as well as specialized treatments*: Wellness, Spay/neuter, Advanced diagnostic services (MRI/CT Scan), Internal medicine, Oncology, Ophthalmology, Dermatology, Cardiology, Neurology, Boarding, Grooming

*services may vary by location.

Our family of pet hospitals stands out by delivering the greatest resources in order provide the highest quality care available for your pets. By maintaining the highest standards of pet health care available anywhere, we emphasize prevention as well as healing. We provide continuing education programs to our doctors and staff and promote the open exchange of professional knowledge and expertise. And finally, we have established a consistent program of procedures and techniques, proven to be the most effective in keeping pets healthy.

Find a VCA General Care Animal Hospital near you:

 

See all VCA Animal Hospitals >

CLOSE CLOSE

Specialty Care

Sometimes sick or injured pets need the care of a veterinary medical specialist. When that happens, VCA specialty hospitals work closely with the general practitioner veterinarians who refer cases to us in order to provide seamless veterinary care to your pet. When your pet is facing any kind of serious illness or injury, our specialty referral hospitals will provide the compassionate and expert care your beloved pet needs.

Our goal is to make sure that when you and your pet are in need that you have access to board certified specialists who are up to date on the very latest developments in their field. In our state of the art hospitals, our specialists also have access to the most sophisticated diagnostic and treatment tools and techniques from ultrasonography and endoscopy to CAT scans and even MRI.

We have twenty-eight specialty hospitals across the US so there may be one near you. Our specialized services include: cardiology, critical care, dentistry, dermatology, internal medicine, neurology, oncology, ophthalmology, radiology and surgery.

Find a VCA Specialty Care Animal Hospital near you:

 

See all VCA Animal Hospitals >

CLOSE CLOSE

Emergency Care

In case of emergency, please call us immediately. If it is after hours, check with a local animal hospital emergency clinic.

CLOSE CLOSE