Osteoarthritis in cats

Osteoarthritis in cats


Osteoarthritis in cats is an under diagnosed disease and while it is a commonly recognized disease in dogs, it is recognized as a disease of older cats. However, there is an increasing awareness for the disease in recent years, leading to more cats being treated.

Osteoarthritis is a chronic degenerative condition of the joints in which the normal cartilage cushion in the movable joint breaks down. Eventually, the cartilage wears away, leading to the exposure of the bone. Adjacent bones rub against each other, causing pain, inflammation and decreased joint movement. In association, there are other abnormalities present that include new bone formation around the joint [osteophytosis] as a response to increased instability and inflammation in the joint also leading to pain. Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease, but it can be managed so that the course of the disease is slowed and remaining joint function is preserved.

As opposed to dogs where OA usually occurs secondary to some other abnormalities like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and cranial cruciate ligament disease. in cats, the primary cause of OA often times cannot be understood and is less well understood. The joints mostly affected in cats are the hip, stifle, tarsus and elbow.


Cats generally resent being physically handled or manipulated during clinical examinations and this poses a great difficulty to even the most experienced vets. However, different types of performance tests are used to assess their mobility and impairment. In these tests, cats are encouraged to walk from one side of the room to the other and they are placed on a chair and encouraged to jump down and jump up to get to the carrier. If they are resistant to jumping that may be an indication of pain and discomfort.

Changes to OA affected joints are usually subtle and some common signs seen in affected dogs such as decreased range of motion and crepitus (a grinding or crunching sound or feeling in a joint) are uncommon in cats. Clinical signs of OA in cats include weight loss, loss of appetite, depression, change in general attitude, poor grooming habits, urination or defecation outside the litter pan and inability to jump on and off objects. Lameness is not commonly reported as a clinical sign by owners,because joints are frequently bilaterally affected and cats can compensate and appear to be walking normally.


Diagnosis of OA in cats is made by a combination of physical exam and different imaging modalities such as X-rays. However, as mentioned earlier, physical diagnosis of OA in cats is very difficult because not only do they resent being physically handled but are also notorious for cowering on the examination table and remaining immobile. But as new methods of pain assessment are being developed, OA in cats may soon become a readily recognized and actively managed disease, alleviating the silent suffering of many older cats.

In cats, X-ray changes are apparent in up to 90 percent of cats, with only an estimated 50 percent of these having clinical signs of impairment due to joint pain.


Treatment options for cats with OA are limited and are categorized into three: lifestyle changes, pharmaceutical treatment and surgical treatment . For lifestyle changes, most of the supportive management recommended for OA in dogs such as weight loss and controlled exercise, is applicable in cats but is often more difficult to implement. Overweight cats should be placed on a carefully monitored weight loss program.Other effective lifestyle changes like increased exercise and environmental accommodations such as elevating food and water bowls, using litter pans with lower sides for ease of entering and exiting, using steps and ramps for cats unwilling to jump and providing soft bedding should also be explored.

For pharmaceutical treatments, steroids have been used in the past but have fallen out of favor due to side effects. There are only two FDA-approved drugs for use in cats: meloxicam and robenacoxib and most evidence exists for efficacy of these medications. Potential toxicity deters many clinicians from routinely using them in older cats, especially those with kidney disease. The adjunctive drug therapy (gabapentin, amantadine, tramadol) is used, although there is lack of studies evaluating their efficacy. Dietary supplements such as omega-3-fatty acids, glucosamine, chondroitin are also used.

Another treatment route involves surgical techniques but are less common in cats and include joint replacement (reported for hip and stifle), arthrodesis (fusion of painful joints) and joint debridement.


Although it has been stated that it can be challenging for clinicians to diagnose OA in cats, especially if the physical exam is difficult to perform or in some instances unremarkable. Nonetheless, if your vet has diagnosed your cat with arthritis, its because theyve noticed significant evidence of it and the next step is to understand that this disease is a progressive, lifelong process. You should make enquiries from your vet about long term solutions to the problem like management ways that can improve your cat`s quality of life in her golden years.
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