Arthritis in Cats is More Common Than You Think
Thanks to advancements in medicine and nutrition, as well as important improvements in the way we view and look after our cats, our feline friends are living longer, fuller lives these days.
However, as cats progress into their senior years, it’s common for many of them to develop joint pain and problems, such as arthritis. And it's actually not all that uncommon even for younger cats to develop and suffer from arthritis.
One study found that roughly 30% of cats over the age of 8 suffer from arthritis — and eight isn't very old for a cat! Another study found that 90% of cats aged 12 and over showed radiographic (x-ray) signs of arthritis — that's 9 out of every 10 cats over the age of 12! These are very significant numbers, especially when we also take into account that the pain and suffering of these cats often goes undetected and therefore untreated, even by the most caring and attentive of cat owners.
Wondering if your cat might have arthritis? Have a look at and complete this helpful "Does My Cat Have Arthritis" questionnaire from the cat pain gurus at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine. Share your results with your veterinarian so they can help you interpret them and determine if your cat is likely to be suffering from arthritis.
If your cat does have arthritis, there are fortunately some simple things you can do to help improve their comfort, mobility, and quality of life. Many of the things you can do to help your cat are inexpensive and easy to implement. Of course, many cats will also benefit from a pain management protocol involving safe and effective medications, supplements, and complementary treatments (e.g., acupuncture, etc.) determined by your veterinarian. Read on to see what you can do to help your arthritic cat get around comfortably in your home — regardless of their age.
Tips & Products to Help Your Aging or Arthritic Cat
While cats definitely get the “short end of the stick,” compared to dogs, when it comes to products and even medications that can help alleviate their pain and improve their quality of life when dealing with arthritis, there are still plenty of safe and effective things you and your veterinarian can do to help your arthritic cat.
The tips and products listed below have helped to improve the comfort level, quality of life, and ability to get around for many older and arthritic cats. Have a look and try some of them out, you may well be surprised at the change you’ll see in your cat!
Make Surfaces "Non-Slip"
While getting a cat to accept and keep on non-slip socks or booties is far more difficult (and less likely to happen) than it is with dogs, there are still some simple changes you can implement to help your cat have an easier time walking, running, and jumping on hardwood, tile, and other slick flooring surfaces.
Yes, cats with arthritis and other painful conditions may still jump — they may just do it less often and less eagerly. You needn't remodel your home or replace all of your floors, but there are some things you can easily add to your cat’s environment to help them and improve their mobility.
- Lay out area rugs or carpet runners (don’t forget the non-slip rug pads that go underneath!), or even yoga mats. Add these rugs, runners, and mats throughout your home and be sure to also put them on the floor surfaces around your bed, couches, and any windowsills your cat may spend their time lounging on — and therefore jumping onto and off of.
- Add non-slip stair treads to your hardwood staircases.
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Provide Easy-Access Litter Boxes
Make sure your cat can comfortably and easily get to and into their litter boxes. The importance of this one truly cannot be overstated! Even if you use enclosed litter boxes or boxes with high sides to prevent your cat from peeing or defecating outside of their box, it’s important to make sure that there is at least one short side to make it easier for your arthritic cat to be able to get in and out of their box. Pain and difficulty experienced with litter box usage is a very common reason why older cats might stop using their box, become constipated, or even develop a devastating case of urinary obstruction.
Because of their large size, under-bed* storage boxes are often the best type of litter boxes you can get for any cat. And it's even more the case for a cat with arthritis because they also have low sides! So lots of room for your cat to "do their business in," and low-sided enough for them to easily get in and out, too!
Another option is to use the very large storage boxes that are deep and have a cover. You simply cut an opening that is wide and low enough for your cat to get in and out of it easily. These styles of boxes allow for higher sides if your cat tends to be a "litter flinger"and, since the sides are high, the lid can be left on for their privacy.
For older cats with arthritis, I usually recommend specifically using the drawer inserts from this type of under-bed storage box. They're some of the lowest-sided options around, and still plenty big enough for your cat to not feel cramped. Be sure to place a non-slip tread mat under the litter box. Some cats can get litter stuck on the bottom of their paws and will shake a limb to get it off. You want to be sure that the area around the box is not slippery when they do this, plus it makes clean up a little easier.
*Note that "under-bed" is the type of storage box, not the location where you should keep your cat's litter box.
This low-sided litter box with a 3” high front opening to step over is a good option for arthritic cats that live in places with limited litter box space, people who scoop regularly, and cats that don’t have problems with spraying or pooping off the side of the box.
Be sure to place several litter boxes around your home in the places your cat tends to hang our so that your cat does not have to travel far to use the litter. If you have a two-story house, have a couple litter boxes upstairs and downstairs. Read more about how many litter boxes your cat really needs.
Keep Your Cat's Nails Trimmed
Regular nail trimming and care can greatly improve your cat’s comfort level and mobility. If you can't easily trim your cat’s nails yourself, speak with a good groomer or your veterinarian's office about having it done. And don’t forget about including plenty of scratching posts and other scratching surfaces for your cat to help them maintain their own nails.
If you don't have them already, here are two great cat nail trimmer options (depending on the style you prefer — I personally prefer the first style for cats, but if you also have dogs, the second style might be a better all-in-one option).
And if you're going to be clipping your cat's nails, it's best to have styptic powder nearby, just in case you cut a bit too much and "quick" them (i.e., make them bleed).
PRO TIP: If you do quick your cat's nail and don't have Kwik Stop, using corn starch will do the job in a pinch! Just take a small amount of corn starch and put it on the bleeding nail. Apply pressure for a couple of minutes until bleeding has stopped.
Keep Your Cat Cozy and Warm
Just like in people, cold weather can cause achy joints to "flare" and tighten up even more. So, make sure that the temperature of the room or area of your home that your cat spends most of their time in isn’t too cold — don't forget about the garage or basement, if that's where your cat likes to spend their time. Many arthritic cats love and benefit from having a heated pad or bed to lay on, and this one is inexpensive, doesn't get too hot, and provides plenty of comfort and "coziness" for achy cats.
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ONLY use heating pads or mats meant for animals. Human heating pads can get too hot and cause burns. Regularly check the mat to be sure it if functioning correctly — not too hot or cold, and check the power cord for any breaks or loose wiring.
Keep Your Cat at a Healthy Weight
Work with your veterinarian to ensure that your cat is at their optimal body condition and weight. Just like in people, excessive weight puts additional and otherwise avoidable strain on already painful joints. Learn how to recognize, correct, and avoid obesity in cats.
Provide Easy Access to Comfortable Lounging Spots
Make sure your cat has well-cushioned and comfortable places to sleep at night and to lay around on during the day. Don’t forget about your windowsills, where many cats like to spend their time.
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Tuft & Paw Cat Cave
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For cats that like to be up on furniture or windowsills, try to get them to use a ramp or create a situation to where they do not have high or long jumps to make.
Put Down Non-Slip Mats
Putting down non-slip rugs or runners, even a cut-up yoga mat below your cat’s favorite window ledges or where they land or jump from frequently may help with slipping or splaying, as well as rough landings on their joints. You can also consider stair runners or ‘stair grips’ if you have stairs to help your cats navigate these with more ease.
Dean Flooring Non-Slip Stair Treads
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Help Your Cat Stay Clean
Cats with mobility problems are more likely to soil themselves with feces, urine, or both. This might be from a decreased ability to get up and eliminate in another area, or even from a concurrent decline in their cognitive brain function and loss of litter box training. For this reason, it’s very important to check your mobility-impaired cat regularly for any signs of urinary or fecal soiling, and to clean them when noticed. A good waterless shampoo can come in very handy to make such sanitary cleaning easier — although giving a cat a bath (with water) can be done!
PRO TIP: If you have a medium or long-haired cat, consider having a cat groomer or your veterinarian trim the fur a bit shorter around their backend, hind legs, or even a little bit up the underside of their tail. These are called "sani" or sanitary trims and help keep an aging cat's fur cleaner after using the litter box.
Help Your Cat Stay Hydrated
For cats that are experiencing severe mobility impairment, it’s important to ensure that they can easily and reliably reach their food and water bowls. Dehydration can be a very real, and very devastating problem for cats that can’t walk well on their own. So make sure to check their food and water bowls regularly, and make sure that they're not in places that they can't easily reach (e.g., up or down too many stairs, on top of benches or countertops they can no longer easily jump on to, etc.). Many cats love running water too, so you might want to add a water fountain like one of these options.
Every positive change you make for your arthritic or mobility-impaired cat provides them with comfort and less stress. This in turn improves your cat’s quality of life. Little changes have a big impact!