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Managing Osteoarthritis in Cats

Arthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD) or osteoarthritis in cats (OD), is a progressive, degenerative condition of the joints that is irreversible. It can be due to an underlying health condition, such as joint dysplasia or a cruciate rupture; this is known as secondary arthritis. It can also be due to normal wear and tear with age (primary arthritis).

In a healthy joint, cartilage covers all surfaces and creates a smooth, lubricated surface for joint movement. Arthritis is a progressive loss of the joint cartilage and thinning of the joint fluid, leading to the narrowing of the space in the joint. This results in bone rubbing on bone, which causes pain and further response from the joint. The body attempts to stabilise the joint by producing bony growths around the joint, thickening of connective tissues, and increasing joint fluid.  

What should I look for in my cat?

Cats often show quite subtle signs. Keep an eye out for changes such as:

  • Stiffness – especially after periods of rest
  • Reduced grooming – when cats are sore, they will often groom themselves less or be unable to reach certain areas
  • Irritability – if your cat is in pain, they may seem grumpier or want to spend more time alone
  • Reluctance to jump – your cat may not be jumping up to their favourite places anymore
  • Accidents outside the litterboxgetting in and out of the litterbox may be painful for your cat with arthritis, so they may go just outside the litterbox or somewhere else entirely
  • Muscle wastage – as the cat uses the affected limbs less and less, the muscle decreases in size in that area
  • Swelling of the joints – as the joint worsens, the body tries to compensate by increasing the fluid within the joints, which may result in visible swelling, especially in the knees

How is it Diagnosed?

  • Diagnosis is firstly based on a thorough physical examination, checking for any signs of pain and/or decreased range of motion in the joints
  • Radiographs can be taken to confirm the presence of arthritis and diagnose underlying causes
  • A therapeutic trial using pain relief in the form of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be used to help diagnose arthritis by determining if the signs are noticeably reduced after taking them


What can be done?

Unfortunately, arthritis cannot be cured. The goal of treatment is to alleviate pain, reduce further degeneration of the joints, and improve the functionality of the joint. This is an integrative approach where multiple treatment types are used together to achieve the desired outcome.

  • Weight management:  Excess weight puts more stress on the joints, which will increase pain and the speed at which the joint deteriorates. It is important to keep your pet at a healthy weight with low-impact exercises such as walking and swimming, which will also help to build muscle and alleviate the strain on the joints
  • Environment modification: You can provide your cat with easier ways to get up onto the couch, bed, or their favourite high spots. Sometimes this simply means rearranging furniture to make a ‘pathway’. Otherwise, stairs or ramps may be purchased to allow easier access. Cutting a low opening into the litterbox, or using a box with low sides, will make access easier for your cat.
  • Pain relief: NSAIDs, tramadol and/or gabapentin may all be utilised in alleviating pain
  • Synovan: These are weekly injections for the first 4 weeks, which will help reduce joint pain and help to reduce the development of arthritis in the joint. These can be continued as needed for the life of the cat to maintain joint health
  • Glucosamine, Chondroitin and MSM: Also known as chondroprotective joint supplements. Together, these supplements help to produce more joint lubrication to aid in shock absorption and may help aid in repairing damaged cartilage.
  • Omega 3: We have a highly concentrated form of Omega 3 available. Omega 3 fatty acids help to prevent inflammation around the joint, helping to reduce pain and arthritis progression.

Physiotherapy: This helps to strengthen surrounding muscles to take some of the load off the affected joints and make your cat more comfortable. It may be as simple as controlled exercise and stretches or can be with a pet physiotherapist with massage, physiotherapy stretches and exercises.