If cats could talk, they wouldn’t. – Nan Porter
You are not privy to every aspect of your cat’s complex internal life—one reason your feline friend is so intriguing. Unfortunately, your cat’s secrets may also cause them unnecessary suffering and pain. According to experts, more than 60% of cats older than 6 years of age have feline arthritis, but—to avoid appearing vulnerable—most cats instinctively conceal their pain. Your cat may not be able to tell you when they are hurting, but their body language and behavior can speak volumes. Learn how to detect your cat’s hidden pain by reading our Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital team’s guide to feline arthritis.
Flexing the facts—feline arthritis by the numbers
Human and canine arthritis are widely acknowledged and understood, and although veterinary professionals have acknowledged this condition’s presence in cats, until recently, they rarely diagnosed them with this disease. Fortunately, through recent groundbreaking developments in feline behavior and pain management, our feline friends are getting some much needed attention and effective relief. Learn these facts about the prevalence of feline arthritis:
- Cats as young as 6 months can develop the disease — Cats of all ages can develop arthritis. Traumatic injuries, congenital orthopedic problems, and breed can increase juvenile cats’ arthritis risk.
- Of all cats, 40% have clinical signs — Nearly half of all cats—regardless of age—show clinical arthritis signs.
- Of cats older than age 12, 90% have arthritis— In a radiographic (i.e., X-ray) study, 9 of 10 cats older than age 12 showed arthritic changes in at least one joint.
- All cats 7 to 10 years of age should be screened— According to veterinary experts, cats in this age range should be screened for arthritis.
- Of all U.S. cats, 56 million are overweight or obese — Excess weight is one of pets’ recognized arthritis risk factors.
- Of cat owners, 52% avoid regular veterinary visits — Although veterinary visits may cause cats anxiety, so does chronic and uncontrolled pain. If you’ve delayed your cat’s routine care because of transport- or exam-related anxiety, contact our Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital team for tips on creating a low-stress experience.
Me-ouch—6 subtle behaviors that indicate pain in cats
Although cats do a good job hiding their pain, you can learn to recognize behaviors that signal they are not feeling their best. If you suspect your cat may is suffering from feline arthritis, keep an eye out for the following behaviors:
- Slowing down or stiff movements — Arthritis is an inflammatory condition that creates a chain reaction of problems within a joint and its surrounding structures—including tendons, ligaments, and muscles. These changes lead to bone-on-bone pain, reduced soft tissue flexibility, muscle loss, and weakness, transforming your cat’s once-effortless movements into labored and tentative steps.
- Struggling to jump or use stairs — Cats frequently develop arthritis in their hips, stifles (i.e., knees), shoulders, and elbows. During stair climbing and jumping, these major joints experience increased demand—including weight-bearing and range of motion. Because of hind leg weakness, your cat may hesitate before jumping or may fall when attempting to jump. Owners may notice their cats dividing farther jumps into several smaller moves (e.g., jumping to a chair before jumping to a table), or resting halfway up or down the stairs.
- Avoiding grooming — Healthy cats spend approximately 30% to 50% of their day grooming, so visible neglect (e.g., a matted or unkempt appearance) is always a concern. Diligent grooming requires flexibility and strength. We’ve all seen cats contort their bodies to access those hard-to-reach places, making grooming an impossible challenge for stiff and painful arthritic cats.
- Hiding or becoming less interactive — Arthritic cats often sleep more and become increasingly asocial. Unfortunately, because arthritis most frequently affects older cats, most owners associate these changes with natural aging. However, pain hurts physically and emotionally, and is a significant stressor. Because physical handling (e.g., petting, lifting, holding) can cause arthritic joint pain, affected cats may no longer seek attention or interaction with their owner or fellow pets.
- Irritability — Painful cats are more likely to react defensively (e.g., swatting, scratching, hissing, biting) in response to perceived threats. This may include petting, handling, play, or nonthreatening encounters with fellow pets. Although observing your cat’s personality change can be upsetting, remember that pain is driving their behavior, and proper veterinary care can help remedy this new behavior.
- Inconsistent litter box habits — If a cat’s litter box is a traditional high-sided design, an affected cat’s painful and restricted mobility may prevent them from making the climb every time they need to eliminate. If they do manage to reach the box, they will associate pain with the action of getting in or out of the litter box, making the box an undesirable place. In addition, if your cat has to travel a long distance or use stairs to reach their litter box, they may look for an alternative location, such as a pillow or sofa cushion.
The secret is out—if your cat is exhibiting one or more of the behaviors described here, they may be suffering from feline arthritis. Through medication, weight loss, and nonpharmaceutical therapies, your cat’s arthritis can be managed effectively. For more information on how we can help restore your cat’s mobility and quality of life, contact our Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital team.
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