Arthritis is a degenerative, painful inflammation and swelling of the joints. While arthritis can be triggered by an injury or a systemic infection such as Lyme disease, most arthritis is simply due to aging. As your cat grows older, normal wear affects the smooth layer of cartilage covering the bones. This buffer eventually erodes to the point where bones begin to rub together, causing pain and inflammation. Weight-bearing joints, including the hips, elbows shoulders and ankles are more prone to arthritis, but it also can affect the spine and smaller joints.
Recent studies show that arthritis in cats is more common than previously believed, but many owners often remain unaware that a problem may exist. For one, cats in general are less vocal about pain than other animals such as dogs. They typically don’t develop a pronounced limp like a dog or a horse; and, since many spend a great deal of time outdoors, it is difficult to detect subtle changes in their gait (how they walk). Cats also don’t exhibit the telltale swelling in their joints like other animals. As a result, arthritis can go undetected and untreated for many years, causing significant pain and impacting a cat’s quality of life.
Cat owners need to be vigilant of subtle behavioral and lifestyle changes that may indicate a problem. Some things to look for include:
- Difficulty or unwillingness to jump or climb
- Trouble getting up after resting or sleeping
- Litterbox avoidance
- Trouble negotiating stairs
- Increased aggression, nervousness or depression
- Favoring of a limb or limping