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Arthritis can’t be cured, but there are treatments available to minimize or eliminate the pain, discomfort, or loss of mobility that are are associated with arthritis.
Tanya’s Arthritis Treatments page covers a lot of great information about managing arthritis in your cat.
Home / Environment Changes
Making small changes to your cat’s surroundings can have a huge impact on their quality of life.
Food and Water, and Litter Box Access
Make sure your cat can easily access their food, water, and litter box. If you have a multi-level home it is important to make sure your cat can access food, water, and litter in every level of the home. If you have a large home, or if your cat has a hard time moving around it’s important to make sure they have food, water, and litter access in every room they spend time in.
Food and Water
Depending on the type of pain or stiffness your cat has you may want to raise up their food and water stations so that they do not need to bend down to eat or drink.
- Kitty City has raised bowls that can be purchased in 2-packs. These are made from food safe PET plastic and are dishwasher safe.
- Super Design has a single bowl design that uses metal bowls and comes in a range of different colors and sizes.
- Pawmosa has a bamboo feeding station that holds 2 ceramic bowls for feeding. This station is great because it has a tilted design that works well for many cats.
- Necoichi makes a raised porcelain food and water bowls. The water bowls even come with measurement lines for showing how much your cat is drinking.
- Many water fountains designed for cats are raised in a way that makes drinking easy for cats with arthritis.
This video shows how to make stands for your existing food bowls using cans of beans (or other heavy canned food options).
This video shows an easy way to make a raised bowl using a flower pot or other sturdy plastic container.
There is a lot to consider about the litter box for cats who are dealing with arthritis. The Litter Boxes page covers the details on box locations, sizes, types, and litter options. Making litter box accessibility a priority for your arthritic cat will be beneficial to them and to you.
Heated and/or Orthopedic Beds
Heated beds can make a huge difference in your cat’s comfort level. You can use electric or self-heating kinds. Both are covered here.
Orthopedic beds can also provide a huge amount of pain relief for your cat. Orthopedic beds are typically made of dense foam that conforms to your cat’s body and protects their joints from excess pressure while sleeping.
Orthopedic beds are often elevated, allowing your cat to get on and off them more easily than a bed that simply lays on the floor.
There are tons of options for orthopedic beds. When buying a bed you will want one that has a removable, washable cover. This kind of cover, aside from making cleaning easy, will also let you slip a heating pad inside the bed for extra kitty comfort. This also lets you slip a waterproof layer into the bed in case your cat suffers from incontinence.
Steps and Ramps
Cats love to be in high spaces. Arthritis will make it difficult for them to climb and jump as high as they would like. Providing steps or ramps to the areas they like to be will give them the freedom to move around while minimizing their pain.
In general you want to find something that is:
- The right height for where you will use it
- Easy to clean
- Has some kind of fabric or carpeting that is non-slip and gives your cat something to grab onto with their claws if needed
Cozy Pet has a type of cat steps that use heavy duty cardboard inside and have a machine washable cover. These are my absolute favorite and what I use in my house.
You can find other types of steps made from wood, plastic, or foam. I strongly encourage you to not use the foam kind. Foam is soft and has a little “give” when kitty stands on it. That seems nice, but as a human with back pain I can tell you that soft, uneven, or unpredictable footing causes a surprising amount of pain.
Ramps are an option and come in a wide variety of materials. I’ve never used any, but I would try to find one that is easily washable, or has a removable/washable cover. Ramps need to have some sort of non-slip or non-skid surface material. The width of the ramp is also important. If you’re using a ramp try to find one that is at least twice as wide as your cat. A wide ramp will help protect your cat from falls if they’re wobbly or can’t walk in a straight line.
Cushions or small blanket piles should be placed under or around ramps, steps, and kitty’s favorite furniture if there is a danger of them falling down. You can often find thick blankets or comforters at thrift stores for very little money, and these work well to cushion a kitty’s fall.
You may end up needing several sets of stairs or ramps, depending on how many places your cat likes to climb to. But sometimes you can also arrange existing furniture to create natural levels to take your cat from one place to another.
There is another consideration when it comes to steps/stairs for pets and that is multilevel homes. A multilevel home can be incredibly challenging for a cat with arthritis to navigate. If you are currently living in a multilevel home and considering moving, it may be worth strongly considering a single level home/apartment for your next place. There are, of course, much larger considerations when it comes to safe and affordable housing, so choosing to be in a single level home may not be a practical option, but it is one thing to keep in mind.
If your house has carpeting you may not need to make any changes to your flooring. But, if you have any kind of hard floors you may need to add non-slip carpeting, mats, or runners to help your cat navigate their home more easily.
Non-slip kitchen or bath mats can safely and easily be used to make walkways to the areas your cat likes to be. Along with making safe walkways you’ll also want to put mats at their food and water stations so that they can eat and drink without falling down.
Here are a couple examples from Fundamentally Feline on how to arrange mats to help an arthritic or injured kitty move around:
Non-slip backing is probably the most important feature you need. This kind of backing will keep the mat from slipping around as your cat tries to walk on it. If the mats you’ve found do not have their own non-slip backing you can always buy a separate non-slip underlay to put between the floor and the mat to hold the mat in place. When looking at separate underlays pay attention to the total height of the mats and the underlay. Sometimes the height of the mat plus the height of the underlay can be too high and kitty may still have a hard time walking on them.
Material is important. Kitty will need some kind of fabric that they can grip their claws into if they feel unsteady. Low pile carpet or woven rugs are great material choices. Avoid plastic, foam, and rubber, because these options will often be slippery, and can fall apart easily if kitty has to use their claws often to steady themselves.
Machine washable mats will make cleaning very easy. But, pay attention to the care instructions for the mats you buy. Many need to be washed in cold water and should be air dried. Following proper care instructions is important for keeping your mats in usable condition. The care instructions are almost always designed to keep non-slip backing intact, but can also help keep the fabric itself in good condition.
Exercise is important for all cats, but is especially important for cats with arthritis. Keeping joint mobility and strength will help your cat a lot as they age, and can keep their arthritis from progressing in some cases.
Helping your cat to stay active and mobile will also let them keep doing what they love. Does your cat like to follow you around the house to ask for attention or cuddles? Do they like to supervise whatever you’re doing? Are they like Muffy, and their favorite activity is to follow you everywhere just to let you know all the ways you’re not spoiling them enough? Keeping them active will give them the best chance at continuing that.
With arthritis it’s important that your cat exercises gently. Cats who love to run, jump, and spin at high speeds while chasing toys or lasers need to be encouraged to play slower. If you use lasers to play with your cat, move the laser more slowly, and make wide circles to change directions rather than darting from one direction to another on a straight line.
If your cat normally runs a lot while batting around toys you can possibly slow them down by playing with wand-type toys instead.
Taking cats outdoors for walks on a harness can encourage them to move more than they would if left indoors all the time.
Cats with arthritis can benefit from physical therapy.
Hydrotherapy can also benefit cats with arthritis. Hydrotherapy is a general term that covers swimming, walking in water, or walking on a water treadmill. If you have access to an animal physical therapy center (nearly always marketed for dogs) you may be able to offer water treadmills to your cat. But be warned, your first few sessions may look a bit like this:
Swimming and walking in water can be done at home in a bathtub if you don’t have access to a therapy pool. Water at 82 – 98 degrees Fahrenheit (27.7 – 36.6 Celsius) is best for therapy.
Here’s a great 2-part series on training your cat to enjoy, or at least tolerate being in the bathtub.
Acupuncture has been used safely in cats and does appear to be effective in reducing or eliminating pain from arthritis. The International Veterinary Acupuncture Society has a brief description of acupuncture, treatment options, and possible side effects.
Cats often start with 1 treatment per week for 3-6 weeks. If your cat is going to respond positively to acupuncture you should see a response by the 6th week, if not sooner. If your cat does not respond by week 6 then acupuncture is unlikely to be effective for them.
If your cat does respond positively you can typically reduce the frequency of your sessions. The severity of your cat’s arthritis will determine how often they need treatment. Some cats need treatments weekly or every 2 weeks after the initial trial, and others can go as long as 4-6 weeks before needing another session.
Cold Laser Therapy
Cold laser therapy goes by a few different names. Low Intensity Laser Therapy (LILT), Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT), and Infrared Laser Therapy (ILT) are the most common names for this type of treatment.
Cold laser therapy involves the use of certain wavelengths of infrared light to be applied to the painful area. Laser therapy for the treatment of arthritis pain has been studied heavily in humans and has been FDA approved as a treatment option. In cats there is very little research on the safety and efficacy of laser therapy, but so far it appears to have the same level of safety as in humans.
Cold laser therapy is most often performed by a veterinarian, but there are lasers available for home use. If you choose to purchase a home unit, be incredibly cautious when shopping for them. Poorly constructed devices or those that use incorrect wavelengths of light can become hot and burn your cat. Scam companies also produce “lasers” that are simply a red-colored light bulb that does not produce the correct wavelength to provide treatment.
The Assisi Loop is an FDA approved medical device for the treatment of post-operative pain and swelling (in humans). It has been used successfully with arthritic cats as well, though this is technically an “off label” use. The Assisi Loop uses targeted Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy (PEMF).
Initially the treatment for arthritis involves 3-4 treatments per day for 15 minutes each. This is usually done for 2-4 weeks, but sometimes longer. Once your cat shows improvements in mobility or pain levels you can reduce the treatment frequency to a little as 1 treatment per week.
The Assisi Loop requires a prescription from your vet and costs about $300. Each loop is guaranteed to last for 150 treatments, though it’s possible you may get a couple extra treatments from it before the battery dies. To meet FDA standards as a medical device the battery in the loop cannot be replaced, so once the loop has died you would need to replace it in order to continue treatment.
Walkers and Wheelchairs
Some cats with severe arthritis may need the assistance of a walker or wheelchair to move around.
Wheelchairs for cats work best if their arthritis is limited to the hips and low back. For cats who have more generalized arthritis a walker may work better.
I couldn’t find any walkers for sale, but if you’re crafty you can make your own.
A lifting harness is something your cat may need if their arthritis is severe. This type of harness allows you to lift your cat into a standing position by placing even pressure along their whole body. The harness helps to keep their back flat and can prevent pain in their spine, hips, and shoulders when being stood up.
An estimated 59% of domestic cats are obese. Obesity is determined by body score. There are 2 different body score charts available, one is a scale of 1-5, and one is a scale of 1-9. This graphic combines both scales. Your general goal is to have your cat at 3/5 or 5/9 for a healthy weight. For the meme savvy consumer, you may like the Body Chonk System a little more than the official charts.
There are a few cases where you might want your cat slightly chunkier, like if they have chronic kidney disease or some other condition commonly associated with appetite problems and weight loss. But you wouldn’t want your cat heavier than a 4/5 or 7/9 even with a condition like that.
If your cat is overweight then beginning a safe weight loss program is an important step to managing their arthritis pain and their mobility. A detailed plan on how to introduce a weight loss program can be found at CatInfo.org. There’s additional information on safe weight loss plans for cats from Pet Obesity Prevention.
Mobility diets are another way to help your arthritic cat. These diets include key ingredients that either aren’t in regular cat food, or are in regular cat food, but in lower levels.
The common ingredients you’ll see in mobility diets are:
- EPA and DHA (typically from fish oil) for fighting inflammation
- Glucosamine and Condroitin for supporting healthy joints
A mobility diet might be more expensive than giving those supplements separately.
Medications and Supplements
There are a lot of options when it comes to supplements and prescription medications for supporting a cat with arthritis.
“Natural” supplements are widely available for managing arthritis. Some of these have been used successfully for years and have a lot of scientific research proving their effectiveness. Others are completely unproven and potentially dangerous.
Natural does not mean safe. You should discuss all supplements with your vet before giving them to your cat. Some can be safely used in most cats, and some supplements should not be used at all in combination with other medications or diseases your cat may have. Some popular supplements can be deadly if given in too high of a dose. Many supplements that are safe for humans or dogs also contain ingredients that are deadly for cats.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin
Glucosamine and chondroitin have been used to support healthy joints for a very long time. The combination of the two supplements can be effective in managing joint health and reducing pain, but takes as much as 6 weeks to reach effectiveness. Some cats don’t respond to treatment with glucosamine and chondroitin at all.
If you start one of these supplements with your cat you won’t see any changes right away. If you don’t see any improvement after 6 weeks then your cat is one that is not helped by this combination and it’s safe to stop giving them. If your cat does improve then your cat should stay on them.
There are a ton of options for glucosamine and chondroitin supplements for cats. Two of the most popular are Cosequin and Dasuquin. Both come from the same manufacturer. Dasuquin is Cosequin plus extra Avocado/Soybean Unsaponifiables (ASU). With my own arthritic cats, Shiva and Oliver, I found that Dasuquin worked well and Cosequin did not work at all.
Green Lipped Mussel
Green Lipped Mussel is another form of glucosamine that appears to be helpful for cats with arthritis. The glucosamine from Green Lipped Mussel is in the form of glucosamine sulfate. There has been a bit of research in human medicine showing the addition of sulfur compounds in diets can reduce inflammation. Sulfur is one of the essential building blocks for making cartilage. Sulfur is found in meat and eggs, both of which are common in cat food in high amounts. Like other versions of glucosamine, your cat may not respond to treatment with it, and you can not expect significant results until your cat has been on it for about 6 weeks.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) given in high doses can have strong anti inflammatory properties. Reaching therapeutic levels can be a bit challenging. If you’re giving human fish oil capsules, a cat would need 2-3 capsules of 1000 mg fish oil every day. Some cats will happily eat their meals with the added fish oil mixed in, but some won’t.
Extra fatty acids may not be appropriate for cats who need to lose weight. Fish oil capsules are usually around 10 calories each. Proper dosing would supply your cat with an extra 20-30 calories each day. That might not sound like a lot, but many cats eat around 200 calories per day, so this would be 10% – 15% of their needed calories. If your cat is under weight that amount added should be fine. But for cats at healthy weight, or those who need to lose weight, the added calories could be a problem.
Avoid cod liver oil. It’s not a safe choice for cats because it contains dangerously high levels of vitamins A and D.
Antioxidants are nutrients that reduce oxidation in the body. Oxidation is a chemical process that can, in the wrong circumstances, be highly inflammatory. Vitamins like C and E are commonly used as antioxidants. There is little evidence that adding antioxidants can help with pain management for arthritis in cats. The use of antioxidants should be carefully evaluated by your veterinarian, because using them can be dangerous.
Vitamin A can be toxic or deadly in high doses. Vitamin C can make a cat’s body too acidic, putting them at risk for calcium oxalate stones, which can be fatal. Alpha lipoic acid is toxic to cats even in small amounts. Coenzyme Q10 can be used in small doses, but can be fatal if given in too high of a dose or if supplementation with it is suddenly stopped. These are just a few examples of the possible problems with the use of additional antioxidants beyond what a cat normally derives from their diet.
The use of CBD in cats very popular in certain circles. This is an untested, unproven treatment type that has the potential to be incredibly dangerous. You can read a little about CBD Oil and cats here.
Hyaluronan (also known as hyaluronic acid) is one of the components of synovial fluid, the liquid that lubricates joints and helps them to move smoothly. Hyaluronan is the ingredient in that fluid that is most responsible for its lubricating ability. Along with keeping the joints properly lubricated hyaluronan is believed to inhibit inflammatory enzymes within the joint. So far there is very little research on the use of hyaluronan in cats so safety and efficacy have not been established.
There are several prescription medications available for managing arthritis pain in cats. Each of these medications has advantages and disadvantages. Some medications are not appropriate for long term use or for use in cats with certain diseases.
Adequan is a prescription medication given as an intramuscular injection. It consists of polysulfated glycosaminoglycans, especially chondroitin sulfate, produced from bovine windpipe cartilage. In addition to increasing lubrication in joints, it also helps repair cartilage and inhibits cartilage destruction. Adequan is generally safe when used in conjunction with other arthritis medications, both over-the-counter or prescription.
Starting Adequan requires twice-weekly visits to your vet for that injection for 4 weeks (8 shots total). At that point, if your cat has responded positively to the medicine you can keep them on the medicine but with a reduced injection schedule, usually every two weeks or once a month.
Buprenorphine is a synthetic partial-opiate pain reliever used in cats. Buprenorphine is about 30 times stronger than morphine. It’s most commonly used to treat acute/traumatic injury from things like surgery or accidents. It is not as commonly used for treating arthritis in cats, but can be used in cats who either do not respond to more gentle pain relief, or cat with severe arthritis who need a strong medication to control their pain.
Buprenorpine is a controlled substance and obtaining a prescription for it can be difficult. Due to restrictions on the drug you are unlikely to be able to use “bulk purchasing” in your favor.
Buprenorphine comes in an injectable form, and a form that can be given orally. The oral version should be applied to your cats gums, rather than having them swallow it like other oral medications.
Some compounds of buprenorphine are made in a way that allows them to be safely injected or given orally. This is the best kind, in my opinion, to have, because it allows you more flexibility when dosing your cat.
Buprenorphine is also available in a controlled release injection that lasts about 3 days. This version cannot be given orally, but is a good choice for cats who can’t take the oral version well and who don’t enjoy frequent injections.
Tramadol is similar to buprenorphine in that it is also a partial opiate. Tramadol is not used as frequently as buprenorphine for pain management, but some some vets still prefer to use it.
Gabapentin is often used to treat pain in cats and appears to work well for controlling mild to moderate arthritis pain. Cats with severe arthritis may need a combination of gabapentin plus some other pain relieving medication.
Gabapentin will cause severe drowsiness and unsteadiness in cats when they first start taking it. You can talk to your vet about beginning at very low doses an slowly increasing to an effective dose to reduce this reaction. After several weeks of consistent dosing your cat should adjust to medicine and not have those side effects anymore.
Gabapentin is an oral medicine given twice a day for pain. Sometimes gabapentin can be hidden in food or treats, but it doesn’t taste that great, so giving it as a pill or as a flavored liquid may be easiest.
DO NOT GIVE HUMAN GABAPENTIN FORMULATIONS TO YOUR CAT. Gabapentin is available in liquid form for humans, but often contains ingredients that are safe for humans but absolutely toxic for cats.
Solensia (monoclonal antibodies)
Solensia is a new (as of May 2021) monoclonal antibody approved for the treatment of osteoarthritis in cats. This is a once-a-month injectable medication to reduce pain and inflammation. As of May 2021 this medication is only approved for use in the EU, but approvals in other countries may be soon to follow. For more information read the announcement from Zoetis.
Corticosteroids are sometimes used to treat inflammation in arthritic cats. The use of corticosteroids in cats should be carefully considered before starting. While they can be very effective in managing inflammation they also have serious side effects when used long term. If your vet prescribes a steroid, most likely prednisolone, be sure you understand the risk of use, and how to safely taper the medication down when stopping.
Amantadine is an antiviral medication, first used to treat the influenza virus, that is sometimes used in combination with pain relievers to make them more effective. Amantadine is believed to reduce the body’s stress response, which seems to lower pain. If you can imagine stubbing your toe on a normal day vs. stubbing your toe when you’re angry or stressed, the second scenario always seems to hurt more. Removing the stress/anger would lower your response to the pain of stubbing your toe. That’s basically what Amantadine does. Amantadine is not a pain reliever so it should not be used on its own. The use of Amantadine in treating pain is very new in veterinary medicine and still uncommon.
When most people refer to a “painkiller” they are typically referring to an NSAID, a Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drug. For humans these types of medicines are widely available in drugstores as Aspirin, Ibuprofen, etc. For cats, the human versions of these medicines are deadly. But, there are some NSAIDs that can be given to cats relatively safely. These medicines require strict monitoring by your veterinarian and are often not used for long periods of time.
The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) has put together some helpful information about NSAIDs and their use in cats.
Onisor is given for a maximum of 3 days and requires blood tests before use to confirm your cat doesn’t have compromised kidney or liver function. Onisor is most commonly used after major surgery or traumatic injury. It’s unlikely to be used to treat arthritis.
Meloxicam (Metcam) is an NSAID that has been vilified in the US because it has a history of being over prescribed at unsafe doses. Like other NSAIDs it’s not usually safe for long term use in cats, but at the proper doses can be a safe and effective form of pain control.
In some cases surgery is an excellent option for treating arthritis. Sometimes simply removing a flap of cartilage or part of a bone will eliminate pain. Sometimes more invasive surgery, like fusing a joint or even a hip replacement could be the answer for your cat. Not every cat is a candidate for surgery, and some types/locations of arthritis cannot be helped by surgery. If your cat has severe arthritis it would be worth discussing any possible surgical treatment options.