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Creaky Cats: Feline Arthritis

Reviewed by Dr. Robert M. DuFort, DVM, DACVIM on Monday, August 3, 2015
Posted November 19, 2013 in Cat Diseases & Conditions A-Z

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a mobile, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. Find him online at www.DrPhilZeltzman.com. He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (www.WalkaHound.com).

While about 20% of dogs (of all ages) have arthritis, around 33% of cats (of all ages) have this painful condition. Worse: about 90% of cats over the age of 12 hurt in silence.  An estimated 12 million cats suffer from this painful condition, yet few pet owners are aware of it. This is the reason why cat arthritis has been called “the silent epidemic.”  And while a lot of research and effort have been dedicated to arthritis in dogs, cats have been, shall we say, ever so slightly ignored… 

What Are the Signs of Arthritis in Cats?
In dogs, most of the time, arthritis leads to limping or favoring a leg, so suspecting the condition is generally straightforward.  However, only around 15% of cats appear to be lame.  The top 10 other consequences of kitty arthritis include, in no particular order:

  • Hiding
  • Stiffness
  • More sleep
  • Lack of appetite
  • Personality changes
  • Decreased grooming
  • Eliminating outside the litter box
  • Difficulty rising from a resting position
  • Reluctance or inability to jump – up or down
  • Muscle atrophy (a.k.a. muscle loss) in the affected leg

Of these signs, the most common one is a reluctance or inability to jump. The other changes can, in turn, lead to other negative consequences:

  • More sleep means less time spent moving around, exploring, hunting, playing or jumping on your lap
  • Decreased grooming (a common finding) translates into an unkempt hair coat
  • Personality changes mean that kitty may interact less with people or other pets, and may seem “grumpier” or may tend to be more solitary than usual

The severity of these changes can vary from mild to severe.  However, cats rarely express their pain “overtly” by, for example, crying, which can make it difficult for pet owners to suspect the problem.

What is Arthritis, Anyway?
Arthritis is inflammation or irritation in one or several joints.  It is also referred to as osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease (aka DJD). As arthritis progresses, the happy, smooth, shiny cartilage that covers the joints becomes dull and wears off, and unfortunately, the body is not very good at repairing it.  The end result is bone spurs and loss of cartilage.  Eventually, instead of cartilage on cartilage, we end up with

Related symptoms: 

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Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His traveling practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his website at www.DrPhilZeltzman.com, and follow him at www.facebook.com/DrZeltzman.