Osteoarthritis in cats

If your cat has been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, knowing more about the disease can help you provide them with a better quality of life.

About 90% of cats aged 12 years and older show signs of osteoarthritis on X-rays. 

What is osteoarthritis?

The word osteoarthritis is a combination of Greek word parts: “osteo” for bone, “arthr” for joint, and “itis” for inflammation. It results from the progressive loss of joint cartilage, thickening of connective tissue around the joint and the development of spur-like bony growths that cause pain with movement. 

Osteoarthritis most commonly affects the hips, knees, shoulders, elbows and wrists. Cats can develop the condition from prior injury or surgery, body conformation, weight, abnormal joint development, or gradual wear and tear. Many cats show only vague signs of osteoarthritis pain.

What are common signs of osteoarthritis in cats?

Early signs include:

  • Decreased activity
  • Unkempt haircoat
  • Reclusive or heat-seeking behaviour

Intermediate or advanced signs include:

  • Change in walk
  • Stiffness on rising
  • Reluctance to use stairs, or jump
  • Irritability
  • Decreased appetite
  • Thickened joints
  • Difficulty using the litter box

Irritability may be a sign of osteoarthritis in cats.


How is osteoarthritis managed in cats? 

The goal of osteoarthritis management is to reduce discomfort and minimise further joint damage. Multi-modal treatment options for cats include weight reduction, omega-3 fatty acid supplements, cartilage protective supplements and injections, anti-inflammatory and pain medications, acupuncture and laser treatment. 

Cats with osteoarthritis need regular vet visits to monitor their status and prognosis. Discussing a personalised management plan with your vet is important for the best outcome for your cat.

What is the prognosis for cats?

Osteoarthritis prognosis depends on the disease stage and your cat’s treatment response. Cats with well-managed osteoarthritis, including at-home adjustments, can live a relatively comfortable and normal life. Unfortunately, it is a progressive disease that may worsen over time.

Management tips for a cat with osteoarthritis

At-home needs include:

  • A low-sided litter box for easy access, and a comfortable bed
  • Raised food and water dishes
  • Consistency with prescribed medications and supplements
  • Modified surfaces to increase traction
  • Physical therapy, and safe, regular exercise
  • Stairs or ramps to help your cat reach higher surfaces
  • Keeping your cat indoors to avoid predators
  • Monitoring appetite, drinking, urination, defecation and activity level

For end-of-life care:

In a crisis:

Immediately contact your vet if your cat stops eating; has medication side effects, cannot walk, shows aggression; or vocalises in pain.

It is vital to begin end-of-life care discussions before your cat’s condition becomes unmanageable, or they begin losing their quality of life. 

The team at Goodbye Good Boy offers individualised support to help you and your family navigate this progressive disease by providing quality-of-life checks, in-home euthanasia, cremation and aftercare services, and personalised memorialisation options. Our services can even be pre-paid to help ease the financial burden at the time of your pet’s passing. 


To learn more about our pet end-of-life services, give us a call on 1800 953 619 or visit our website goodbyegoodboy.com.au.



This article was reproduced with permission from Goodbye Good Boy advisor Dr Dani McVety, of Lap Of Love.