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Signs of Arthritis in Cats

Around 90% of cats over the age of 10 years experience Osteoarthritis in at least one joint. Arthritis is a condition involving inflammation and degeneration of one or more joints and can be diagnosed through a combination of physical examination i.e. feeling with the fingers to pinpoint pain and determine its intensity or an x-ray can be taken.

There is no single cause of arthritis in cats, there are many factors that influence its initiation such as how a cat is built, its body weight (excess weight and obesity are highly correlated with arthritis), abnormal joint development, nutritional history and, like humans, their injury history (fractures, ligament damage, muscle injury, joint infection, damage of cartilage).

We all live busy and stressful lives and as loving and caring pet owners we do not always tend to see the signs of arthritis in cats.  Vets too can miss the signs. Cats and dogs are both at risk of developing arthritis; however, cats have a different way of showing it to their owners.

Dogs and cats behave in a similar way in masking their discomfort but cats excel at this. There are however some signs that could indicate that they might be living with arthritis. Cats excel at hiding their discomfort. But thankfully these masters of deception reveal the presence of arthritis in other ways.

The following are some telltale signs that could indicate your cat might be living with arthritis:

Are they walking differently maybe with a poor posture?  Some cats experience discomfort along the spine, which puts stress on the neck muscles, resulting in a hunched back. Arthritis does not always develop in the legs and, unlike dogs, cats may not yelp in pain, but these subtle changes might indicate what they’re hiding from you.

You might notice that they are walking differently which can be caused by weakened leg muscles.  It is important to note that arthritis can serve as a catalyst for secondary health problems. Over time cats stop using specific muscle groups such as their leg muscles and avoid activities that put stress on their joints. Muscular atrophy often develops in the hind legs, so they might appear thinner than usual. It is worth keeping an eye out for any changes that are out of the norm.

Does your cat spend more and more time resting? This is going to be hard to identify because, like my cat, it spends its time curled up on the sofa most of the day. Unfortunately our little bundle of fur will sleep more frequently than normal, which often goes unnoticed because we expect a ton of laziness from our cats anyway.  Having painful joints makes arthritic cats avoid play time which results in them sleeping for longer periods. If your cat regularly ignores your attempts to keep it active, schedule a trip to the vet to see if arthritis is to blame.

Have you noticed any change in behaviour, for example difficulty getting up and down stairs or jumping up on the sofa, maybe you have seen them lounging in a single spot!  If you have noticed that they are resting in lower areas of the house, which are easier to access, rather than exploring the house it could mean that your cat has developed arthritis.

We sometimes make the mistake of dismissing inappropriate litter box mishaps as bad behaviour.  Please consider that your cat might refuse to use the litter box when it is suffering or in pain.  Arthritis could be the reason for this change in behaviour, because restricted mobility makes it difficult to climb over the edge of the litter box.  It is important to remember that this is just one of many possible explanations for inappropriate litter box behaviour and you should consult a vet for a proper diagnosis.

If you notice that your cat starts to groom itself less, its fur starts to look matted and its claws are getting longer it could be suffering from restricted mobility.  Like humans arthritis makes it more difficult to twist around and reach certain areas of our body.  As a result you might notice a lack of grooming or overgrown nails due to lower activity levels and because using a scratching post can put stress on swollen joints.

A change in temperament usually goes hand in hand with arthritis because physical interactions trigger joint pain. So if you notice aggressive behaviour like hisses and bites it is your cat’s way of protecting itself from painful flare-ups. They might also snap at other household pets who want to wrestle or play.

Cats with arthritis often lick or chew affected joints because of the pain. So if you notice excessive grooming in specific areas causing hair loss, it may be trying to relieve swollen joint pain.  It is important to remember skin irritations can also result from allergies or infection, so visit your vet to rule out other potential causes of hair loss.

Our pets do not want us to know they are in pain, their survival instincts kick in and they try to act healthy because pain is a sign of weakness.  However, if you look close enough, the signs of arthritis will slowly begin to unfold.  Please remember that our pets exhibit arthritis in many different ways, so never hesitate to get a second opinion from your vet.  With appropriate management any cat with arthritis can live a normal pain-free life

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