Warm snuggles and a calm cat-itude are some of the best parts about being a pet parent to a senior cat. Kittens are so much fun, but if you’re like me, senior cats hold a special place in your heart when it comes to quiet time spent together.
However, as your cat ages, you may notice subtle changes in her agility, activity level, and even litter box habits. And these are very important clues to your senior cat’s health, particularly when it comes to cat arthritis, a degenerative joint disease.
When Olivia was about 10 years old, I noticed some behavior changes that indicated she may be uncomfortable or in pain due to aging joints. She stopped jumping up on any furniture taller than a chair seat and she no longer ran through the house at top speed. She would also lose her balance or slip occasionally on the tile floor when coming out of her litter box. None of these changes were dramatic, as they happened slowly over time.
Senior cats and arthritic cats are masters at hiding discomfort, so you need to look for “tell-tail” clues that may indicate arthritis in your senior cat.
Signs of Arthritis in Senior Cats
Since cats tend to be quieter and more reclusive than other pets, such as dogs, it may take some detective work to find the root of their health concerns. There are however a few common signs that may point to joint deterioration and arthritis in cats.
- Decreased activity can be a sign that your cat’s regular activity is becoming too painful for her. It can also be a sign of fatigue, which often accompanies arthritis in cats.
- Change in litter box habits, like going potty outside the box, can be a sign that climbing in and out of the box is too painful for her joints.
- No longer jumping, running, or going upstairs may be signs that those activities are too painful to do.
In addition, regular check-ups with your veterinarian, and maintaining good communication between visits will also benefit your cat’s overall health.
You can also talk to your veterinarian about some of the options that veterinarians have to control pain in cats, so that they can get back to feeling like the cat you know and love.
(If you love and appreciate all the care that your veterinarian office provides, check out How to Thank Your Veterinarian Team for Everything They Do.)
How Is Feline Arthritis Diagnosed?
If you suspect your cat is at the beginning stages of joint disease, your veterinarian will first review your cat’s medical history. Then comes the hands-on approach—a complete physical exam. Here, the veterinarian has a checklist:
- Are there any visible quirks or deformities in the joints?
- Does the gentlest touch seem to elicit pain?
- Is your cat’s stretch or leap not what it used to be?
- Can they hear a grating as your cat moves those joints?
- Is there any fluid in the joints?
- Does the joint feel wobbly or unstable?
To confirm that your kitty has cat arthritis, your veterinarian will also take x-rays of your cat’s body, giving special attention to those joints. This inside look will help with the diagnosis and create a treatment path forward.
Treatments for Cat Arthritis
There is no cure for cat arthritis, but your veterinarian may recommend the following to keep your cat comfortable and slow the progression of cat arthritis:
- Pain Medications: As arthritis progresses, your feline friend might experience mild to moderate, even chronic pain, especially around the nerve regions of her joints. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can alleviate discomfort. Veterinarians commonly prescribe these to help with the pain and inflammation in those tender joints. Follow the vet’s recommended dosage, and always keep an eye out for potential side effects.
- Injectable Joint Protectants: Injectable joint protectants are medical treatments aimed at improving your kitty’s joint health. Administered directly into the joint, they work by enhancing the quality of joint fluid, helping reduce friction and pain. This treatment can offer relief, slow the progression of arthritis in cats, and improve mobility in cats with arthritis.
- Cold Laser Therapy: Cold laser therapy, or photobiomodulation (PBMT), is a non-invasive procedure that uses light waves to promote healing and reduce inflammation in cats with arthritis. Targeting specific areas, particularly arthritic joints, this therapy can aid in pain relief and improve joint function.
- Weight Management: Imagine carrying a backpack around all day—that’s how extra weight feels on an arthritic cat’s joints. Ensuring your cat maintains a healthy weight can significantly reduce the strain on those already painful joints. And how do you do that? Through a combination of a well-balanced diet, controlled portion sizes, and ensuring your cat gets daily exercise, even if just through playtime
- Physical Therapy: Gentle exercises can help flex your kitty’s joints, while massages might offer relief from soreness. Physiotherapy techniques, often designed specifically for feline anatomy, aim to boost joint mobility and lessen stiffness. These therapeutic approaches don’t just ease pain but also invigorate your cat, keeping her active and engaged despite arthritis.
How to Care for a Cat with Arthritis
There are many things that you can do at home to comfort and care for your cat’s sore joints.
Take extra precautions when interacting with your senior cat. Games or activities that she used to enjoy may now cause pain. And when you pick her up, do so gently.
Use heat to naturally soothe your kitties’ sore joints. You can use a heating pad to do this; however, you will need to closely monitor your cat as many cats tend to enjoy chewing electrical cords, which can lead to danger. As a safe alternative to a typical heating pad, choose one that is specially made for pets, like this one. It’s designed with a chew-resistant cord, it’s waterproof, and it’s the perfect size for a cat or small dog. Simply put the pad in their bed or favorite resting spot and let them enjoy the warmth. I would still recommend that you supervise your pet when using any heating pad.
Use joint supplements to slow down joint deterioration. I have found great success in using supplements with almost all of my pets. Even when we feed our pets the most nutritious food possible, they often still need a little extra care tailored to their nutritional needs. Adding Nutramax Cosequin to a serving of wet cat food is an excellent option for cats needing extra joint support. Other joint supplements you can add are essential fatty acids (DHA and EPA) and glucosamine and chondroitin. Essential fatty acids have anti-inflammatory effects, and the glucosamine and chondroitin help repair cartilage and maintain your cat’s joints. Always ask your veterinarian before starting your cat on a joint supplement.
Offer natural pain relief. If you’re wary of using NSAIDS, try using natural remedies. A natural pain relief product for pets is one thing that I always try to keep on hand. You never know when their arthritis or other health issues might flare up, so it’s wise to keep some in your home to treat your pet’s pain when needed. I like this natural solution from Pet Wellbeing. It promotes rest and relaxation and supports healthy circulation and blood flow to help your pet recover from pain.
Get more accessible litter boxes: Older cats may find it difficult to get in and out of a high-sided litter box. Move your kitty’s litter boxes to more accessible locations, or add more litter boxes for your feline’s convenience. Opt for a low-entry litter box that makes it easier for your senior feline to step in and out without discomfort.
Get steps or ramps: Those favorite high perches or beds might become hard to reach for your arthritic kitty. Providing steps or ramps allows them to access their favorite spots without straining their joints.
Move food and water bowls: It’s essential to ensure that food and water bowls are easily accessible. If your cat used to climb to get to their bowls, consider relocating them to a ground level, easy-to-reach spot. This way, they won’t have to strain themselves just to have a meal or quench their thirst.
Move or add beds in your cat’s favorite spots. Senior cats with arthritis will sleep or rest a lot more, so add or move their soft beds in their favorite areas. Get a supportive orthopedic bed or one made with memory foam. Symptoms of arthritis in cats worsen in cold weather, so also consider buying a pet bed that has warming capabilities like this one. It uses its special insulating materials to trap heat and transmit it back to your pet without the use of batteries or electricity. Plus, it’s super cozy!
The Prognosis for Senior Cats with Arthritis
Cats can live a long and happy life, even with arthritis. We, as pet parents, though, need to do our part in keeping them as healthy and happy as we can. Simple adjustments can make a big difference and can add to our felines’ quality of life.
Senior cats have a lot of love to give and snuggles to exchange, so don’t let arthritis get in the way of helping them live life to the fullest!