Arthritis In Cats: Signs, Symptoms & Treatments

Arthritis is a common condition seen in senior cats. Learn how to spot the signs of arthritis in cats and discover the different treatments that are available.

Courtney Elliott

Updated April 25, 2023 • Published April 25, 2023

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Arthritis In Cats: Signs, Symptoms & Treatments

If your cat is reaching their senior years, you may be wondering about their risk of developing arthritis. Arthritis is the inflammation and degeneration of the joints, and it's a progressive and chronic condition.

In cats, arthritis is most often seen as age-related and particularly associated with cats around the age of 9-11 years and beyond. It is not typically seen in younger cats. 

"Arthritis in cats is common, especially in senior and geriatric cats or cats with underlying orthopedic conditions such as hip dysplasia," says Dr. Yui Shapard, BVM&S, MRCVS and medical director at Pawp. "Maine Coons appear to be over-represented."

Arthritis can occur in two forms—primary and secondary. Primary is typically age-related deterioration of the joints seen in older cats, while secondary is due to other factors such as hip and elbow dysplasia, osteochondrosis, infection, trauma, and more.

Since arthritis in cats is so common, we chatted with Dr. Shapard to better understand how pet parents can spot the signs and what treatments are available.

Signs your cat has arthritis

Noticing the signs of arthritis in cats isn't quite as straightforward as it is when it comes to arthritis in dogs.

"Unlike dogs, a lot of the time arthritis in cats is not easily noticed by the pet parent," says Dr. Shapard. "Usually a physical examination by a veterinarian and x-rays reveal underlying arthritis."

At the same time, Dr. Shapard notes that you may notice subtle behavior changes in cats with arthritis. These include:

  • Reluctance to jump on high surfaces or climb stairs

  • Decreased grooming

  • Decreased activity level

  • Less interest in agility play or running around

  • Irritability when handled or touched

  • Inappropriate urination or defecation

How to treat arthritis in cats

Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis and there's also no one gold-standard treatment to manage the symptoms. There is, however, supportive therapy through one or several different modalities depending on the severity of the arthritis and how the feline responds to it.

The goal of arthritis treatment in cats is to:

1. Alleviate discomfort

2. Minimize further degenerative changes in the joints

3. Restore function of the affected joints

To do so, there are multiple considerations that need to be made based on the individual patient.

Weight management

Arthritis is commonly seen in overweight or obese cats, so maintaining ideal weight is key to treating arthritis.

"Excessive weight further increases stress on the joints, leading to more wear and tear as well as reduced activity," explains Dr. Shapard. "There are a few studies that show that the fatty tissues are pro-inflammatory and can contribute to further development of arthritis."


Moderate, low-impact exercises can help cats with arthritis. Chat with your veterinarian about what form of exercise works best and consider leveraging physical therapy.

Supplements & medications

Incorporating chondroprotective supplements like glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitins can also be used to treat cat arthritis.

Polysulfated glycosaminoglycans (PSGAGs) are also a great chondroprotective option to incorporate as well—they're more expensive than the supplements, but can be very effective and act quicker than supplements. PSGAGs also have the ability to increase synovial fluid, which can lessen the load and risk of wear and tear.

Omega-3 fatty acids also contain anti-inflammatory properties and may be recommended for cats with early signs of arthritis. While NSAIDs can be an effective option for dogs, Meloxicam is the only NSAID approved for use in cats—however, this option doesn't come without warnings.

"Meloxicam carries a black box warning from the FDA, and most veterinarians will be reluctant to use this long-term due to possible side effects of kidney injury," says Dr. Shapard. "If used, the dose would be the lowest possible dose that still provides efficacy, and your veterinarian will want to monitor your cat's bloodwork very closely."

Gabapentin may be considered for cats more than in dogs as an additional pain relief, though studies are limited.

If pet parents are open to alternative medicine, acupuncture can certainly be considered, and some studies have demonstrated its benefit. Surgical therapies can be considered if there's an underlying cause. 

How to prevent arthritis in cats

Preventing obesity is one of the most effective ways to mitigate the risk of arthritis, but unfortunately, this alone will not fully prevent it. It can, however, delay the onset and severity of arthritis, so pet parents should certainly consider maintaining an ideal body weight for their cats—especially indoor kitties! 

If you're concerned that your cat has arthritis and aren't sure about next steps, the team at Pawp is here to help 24/7—no appointed required.

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