You may have noticed that your feline friend is starting to slow down. As mammals age, our body systems don’t work as well and our joints are no different. While there are many things that can cause your cat to slow down or not feel well, cat arthritis may be the culprit.
Cats are considered “senior citizens,” or geriatric, when they are around 10 years of age. Cat arthritis symptoms and their causes can vary, so let’s take a closer look:
What is feline or cat arthritis?
To understand cat arthritis, it is necessary to know a little anatomy. Arthritis, or osteoarthritis, happens in the mobile joints of the body. It most commonly happens in people in the elbows, knees, wrists, hips and spine.
Joints are where two bones meet together and are vital for mobility. In order to prevent painful friction, these joints are covered with a protective substance called cartilage. Cartilage is a living tissue and is made up of cells that produce fluid that cushions and lubricates the joint.
In a properly working joint, the cartilage is intact, inflammation is at a minimum and the joint moves pain-free.
Cat arthritis happens when the cartilage is damaged in some way and the bones rub against each other. Our bones, like our cats, have nerve endings at their surface and this translates to pain in the brain. Often times, the joint becomes unstable when arthritis is present. When this occurs, arthritis is a part of a process called degenerative joint disease. Bones and their connected muscles are affected too…causing stiffness, strain and soreness.
What causes arthritis in cats?
Cat arthritis can be caused by a variety of things. The most common include:
- Normal wear and tear
- Genetic predisposition, such as poor conformation
- Infection (rare)
Normal Wear and Tear
The most common cause of cat arthritis is the march of time. Cats are naturally very active creatures and even with normal wear and tear, the cartilage can become damaged. Many factors may be at play that we are not fully aware of, such as nutrition and other lifestyle factors. As our cat’s body ages, cells cannot repair themselves as well and systems don’t work as well. It is the same with cartilage, but cartilage has an extra hard time repairing itself. The most common type of arthritis in older cats is spondylosis, a type of degenerative joint disease along the spine.
Injury to the joint can ultimately lead to feline arthritis. One of the more common injuries to active cats is a strain, partial or full tear of the cranial cruciate ligament in the knee. This is known in humans as an “ACL” injury. When the ligament is damaged, it sets off a cascade of inflammation that can ultimately damage cartilage and lead to arthritic changes in the joint.
Breed Predisposition and Conformation
Poor conformation refers to how the bones fit together at the joint. Cats with super short legs, such as the Munchkin breed, are predisposed to developing feline arthritis early in life. Their ‘poor’ conformation leads to bones rubbing together at angles that are less than ideal. This puts extra stress and pressure on the cartilage, potentially damaging it and causing arthritis.
Breeds and genetic-linked diseases that are more predisposed to cat arthritis include:
- Maine Coon – Hip Dysplasia
- Munchkin – Poor conformation
- Abyssinian – Patellar luxation (knee-cap displacement)
- Scottish Fold – Genetic abnormality of cartilage
- Persians – Hip Dysplasia
- Siamese – Hip Dysplasia
- Devon Rex – Patellar luxation (knee-cap displacement)
Obesity and feline arthritis
More and more cats are living indoors and while this keeps our cats safe from traffic and predators, it can predispose them to obesity. Obesity in turn puts too much strain on the joints, leading to cat arthritis at an early age. Obese cats are also more prone to injuring their knees than cats of normal weight.
Cat Arthritis Symptoms
Cats are very stoic creatures – much more so than humans and dogs. It can be difficult to tell if your cat is in pain. If you notice that your cat is showing one or more of these symptoms, he may be suffering from feline arthritis:
- Walking stiffly or slowly
- ‘Hunched’ back appearance
- Decreased appetite
- Doesn’t like to be stroked or brushed
- Moving away from your touch, hissing, growling or striking out
- Urinating or defecating outside the litter box
- Sleeping more
- Lack of interest in play or toys
- Reluctance to use stairs
- Reluctance to jump up or down
What you can do about cat arthritis symptoms – Diagnosis
It is a good idea to have your cat checked out by their veterinarian every 6 months if they are 10 years or older. Blood tests can help to determine if common metabolic problems (such as kidney disease) are slowing your cat down. A good physical exam can help to pinpoint if and where feline arthritis is occurring. Your veterinarian may also want to take radiographs (x-rays) to differentiate arthritis from other bone diseases. Once a diagnosis is made, measures can be taken to help prevent cat arthritis pain and slow the progression of the disease.
Written by Dr. Deborah Shores. Deborah is an American veterinarian. She received her B.S. in Animal Science from Berry College in Rome, Georgia and D.V.M. from Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine. She has a special interest in nutrition, and when not writing or in the clinic, she enjoys cuddling with her cat, Piper.