Osteoarthritis in Cats: Everything You Need to Know

Osteoarthritis in cats is often an age-related phenomenon, just like in humans. As the condition creeps in, the cat usually adapts to the situation and it can therefore be difficult to detect that it is in pain.

The normal joint consists of joint capsule, ligament, articular cartilage and joint fluid. Tendons and muscles surround the joint. Articular cartilage is a complex material that in the adult individual consists of 70% water. Nutrients such as glucose, oxygen and amino acids are added to the cartilage through the synovial fluid. The articular cartilage is elastic and has a shock-absorbing effect.

The moving parts of the joint are enclosed in a joint capsule filled with joint fluid that acts as a lubricant and contributes to friction reduction in the joint. The volume of synovial fluid is affected by the movement and pressure of the joint. The synovial fluid supplies nutrients to the articular cartilage and ligaments.


The cause of osteoarthritis can be primary without known underlying factors, or secondary to a joint disease such as elbow and hip dysplasia, patellar dislocation, osteochondrosis and after trauma such as cruciate ligament ruptures or fractures.

In osteoarthritis, the range of motion may be reduced, partly due to deposits or thickened joint capsule, partly due to pain in the outer positions of the joint. Later in development, crepitation (scratching sound) can be heard when the leg is bent and stretched.

When the osteoarthritis-affected joint breaks down, the cartilage can tear down so that the underlying bone is exposed, which usually leads to pain. The body compensates for this by building on more legs around the joint to reduce mobility and therefore also reduce the pain when the legs slide against each other.

Altered muscles and overload in other joints can be a consequence of the incorrect load condition that a diseased joint gives rise to. This often leads to painful conditions even in the muscles which can sometimes be more troublesome for the cat than the joint pain is.


The symptoms of osteoarthritis can vary greatly. Some cats with osteoarthritis can live an effortless life for many years.

The most common symptoms are lameness and stiffness to varying degrees. Lameness and stiffness can be seen when the cat gets up after rest. Cats sometimes do not show symptoms until they have difficulty jumping up. The cat likes to lie in warm places at a lower level than before. The degree of lameness and stiffness can also vary according to the seasons.

Early in the development of osteoarthritis, it is common for the cat to limp from time to time.

Later, the pain may become more continuous, even at rest.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Pain on touch
  • Behavior change
  • Licking on exposed body parts
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased anxiety
  • Stool difficulties

When should a veterinarian be consulted?

If the lameness has not improved within 14 days despite rest or if the cat shows symptoms as above without getting better from osteoarthritis advice.

How is the diagnosis made?

Osteoarthritis is characterized by joint pain, restricted joint mobility, joint fullness and a varied degree of inflammation and lameness.

As previously mentioned, muscle soreness is very common in osteoarthritis.

A muscle or muscle group can be tense or sore as a result of the cat relieving the painful joint. In case of osteoarthritis problems in the joints of the hind legs, it is very common with tense and sore back muscles due to prolonged incorrect loading.

After clinical examination, further examination with X-ray can be performed to possibly provide a deeper understanding of the disease and how it will develop. It is not uncommon for osteochondrosis (developmental disorder of the skeleton) to be a cause of osteoarthritis.

Some joints are more exposed than others. The most commonly affected joints are the elbow joint, hip joint, knee joint, toe joint and hasle joint. Less common affected joints are the bow joint and the wrist joint.

At diagnosis, treatment, together with a specially adapted diet, can help achieve the best results for the cat.

Medical treatment

An important part of the treatment of osteoarthritis is to reduce the inflammation. With the right choice of medication, a relief of the ailments and an increased quality of life is usually achieved. Some cats do without anti-inflammatory and analgesic medication.

What can you do yourself?


The cat’s exercise is difficult to influence. They often solve it on their own by not exposing themselves to movements that cause pain.


Increased mechanical stress due to obesity can accelerate the destruction of articular cartilage in osteoarthritis. In a study on dogs, weight loss has been shown to reduce pain and reduce the need for medication in patients with osteoarthritis.

If the cat is overweight, there are special foods with less fat and more fiber, which means that weight reduction can be faster and easier. The chance of success with weight reduction increases significantly if the cat is regularly checked together with a dietician at an animal hospital or animal clinic.


Rehabilitation often shows very good results in osteoarthritis, especially in combination with other treatment. The purpose of rehabilitation is to prevent further stiffness in the joint capsule and muscles as a result of inactivity and to restore full movement. Rehabilitation can also break tension states in the muscles and restore muscle mass and muscle strength and can have a pain-relieving effect. Several different techniques are used as rehabilitation.

Massage is a relaxing soft tissue treatment that normally improves circulation in the muscles. The massage can release tension in the muscles and usually triggers the release of the body’s own pain relief. The massage makes muscles and tendons more elastic and it can have a relaxing effect on the autonomic nervous system, which can make the cat less stressed and nervous. This form of treatment is often appreciated by both the cat and its owner.

TENS is used for both acute and long-term pain conditions, especially when the pain originates in joints, bones, muscles, skin, internal organs or in the nervous system.

Acupuncture treatment is a treatment that can be performed for pain in muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments and bones and is carried out with advantage as a complement or as an alternative to other medical treatment such as anti-inflammatory drugs.

Cats do not appreciate water, other methods are usually practiced on cats instead of water training.

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