Identifying arthritis in cats

There’s a perception that cats don’t get arthritis but that’s very far from the truth. The problem is that cats are very good at disguising pain, much more so than dogs. It’s important to understand that when a cat changes its behaviour, it may be pain-related.

Where we might observe dogs limping or struggling to stand, cats tend to hide and that means arthritis in cats gets overlooked.

Types of arthritis in cats

There are two types of arthritis in cats. The first type occurs due to some sort of trauma and it can develop at a young age. The second type is age-related and due to wear and tear of the joints. There have been studies that suggest over 90 per cent of cats, 12 years and older, have radiographic signs of arthritis.

I believe it’s generally underestimated how many older cats are suffering from arthritis. It could be primary, from wear and tear on the joints, or secondary, due to external force or trauma to a joint. Any cat that reaches 10 years of age should be checked for arthritis.

Changes in behaviour

As opposed to the visible signs we see in dogs, many cats simply become less active and hide when their arthritis is painful. This can be tricky to identify if you have a cat that spends most of the day sleeping.

The other indication is they may exhibit a change in behaviour. They might be more irritable, don’t groom themselves as well or have difficulty getting in and out of the litter box.

Joint problems

Once we examine a cat suspected of having arthritis, the visible signs are usually present—joint swelling and thickening, and a reduced range of motion in the joints. A joint that should normally move through 30 degrees may only move 10 degrees.

Instead of a hip joint being able to move freely, the cat may struggle to move its back legs or bend its hips up under it. A reduced range of motion is a very obvious sign of arthritis but it’s something that’s more easily identified by your vet than during a home examination.

The main indicator of arthritis that can be picked up by an owner is chronic behaviour changes. When a cat is having trouble grooming itself, that’s an obvious sign that it’s having difficulty moving or is suffering from pain.

Old cats

As a cat ages, it may be more careful about jumping up or down from great heights. A lot of owners assume it’s just old age catching up on their pet. The reality is that a lot of these so-called ‘old age’ changes are due to some degeneration in the joints. When a cat is reluctant to jump or climb, it can be because it hurts when they land.

Owners should consider that an indication that their pet has some arthritis and a check-up from the vet is warranted. Arthritis in cats is a serious and painful condition but it can be managed.