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Osteoarthrosis in cats, often just called arthrosis, is a progressive, chronic disease of the joints. The articular cartilage in particular is damaged and the bones involved change.

General description of osteoarthritis in the cat

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The bones that are connected by a joint have a covering of smooth cartilage in the area of ​​the joint. In interaction with the synovial fluid and protected by a capsule of connective tissue, the bones can slide past each other with as little friction as possible. The joint is also supported and guided by muscles, tendons and ligaments. If the articular cartilage is damaged or the joint is inflamed, the surface of the cartilage changes and the function of the joint is disrupted. This is followed by further cartilage damage, bone remodeling, pain and restricted mobility.

In many cats with osteoarthritis, the cause remains unclear. This so-called primary arthrosis makes up the largest proportion, whereas secondary osteoarthrosis with a known trigger is much rarer.

Risk factors that can lead to osteoarthritis are:

Trauma: Dislocations of joints or fractures involving joints can damage the articular cartilage and thus cause osteoarthritis. Ligament tears, such as a cruciate ligament tear or damage to bones, also belong to this type of cause.
Dysplasia: The malformation of bones, e.g. in hip dysplasia, especially in pedigree cats (Maine Coon) can cause incorrect stress on the joint and, as a result, arthrosis.
Patellar dislocation: Dislocation of the kneecap falls into both of the above categories as it can be either traumatic or inherited.
Joint inflammation (arthritis): Joint inflammation can also be followed by osteoarthritis if the joint cartilage has been damaged.
The most common areas affected by osteoarthritis are the elbows, knees and hips.

What are typical symptoms of osteoarthritis in cats?

Cats are not small dogs: unlike these, cats suffering from osteoarthritis show significantly less lameness or restricted movement. More common are changes in behavior that the owner notices. This can be:

Weight gain: The cat moves less because of the pain and therefore gains body weight.
Weight loss: Because of the pain when moving, the cat goes to its food bowl less often.
Less playing, using scratching posts, climbing trees, etc.
Some cats with osteoarthritis pass urine or faeces next to the litter box because they can no longer enter it without pain.
aggression / fear
increased sleeping
Decreased personal hygiene resulting in a shaggy, dull coat
changed vocalizations
As you can see, many of the symptoms of arthrosis in cats are relatively unspecific, so they can indicate a variety of problems or simply be age-related. However, if the cat has had arthrosis for a long time, the muscles will recede due to the reduced movement and often one or more swollen joints.

When should you go to the vet?

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If your cat is obviously in pain, complains a lot, only lies down or is severely paralyzed when it moves, you should definitely consult a veterinarian! But even if you have the feeling that something is wrong, that your animal’s behavior has changed recently, a visit to the veterinarian can be useful. This helps to classify the processes, e.g. in the case of uncleanliness or aggression, which can often be traced back to pain and stress – and do not have to be an expression of a lack of education or similar.

How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?

If it is known that the cat has had an accident or an inflammation of the joints, this is a first indication of osteoarthrosis. It is also important to observe the animal at home: does the cat show any changes in behavior or is it in pain?

If arthrosis is suspected, the veterinarian will use imaging methods such as X-rays and ultrasound after a clinical examination of the animal to confirm the diagnosis.

Rarely, a joint biopsy is also done to remove fluid from a diseased joint for testing.

What treatment options are there and what is the prognosis?

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Osteoarthritis in cats cannot be cured and the changes in the joint cannot be reversed. The aim of the therapy is therefore to reduce or eliminate the pain, restore the mobility of the joint and stabilize the arthrosis – i.e. to stop the process as much as possible.

The arthritic joint can be treated either surgically or conservatively, i.e. without surgery: sometimes there is the possibility of surgically eliminating the underlying cause, for example in the case of torn ligaments. This is of course very helpful, as the joint will be loaded as normally as possible again in the future and the cartilage will not be put under further pressure. The joint can also be artificially stiffened or even removed – this is particularly possible with a severely diseased hip joint. The surrounding muscles then support the bones. These measures counteract the negative effects of arthrosis and slow down the progression of the disease. Nevertheless, a surgical intervention should always be carefully considered and, if possible, only take place after other therapy attempts.

What medications are given to cats for osteoarthritis?

The cat with osteoarthritis will be given painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications that will provide quick relief. Of course, long-term use of these drugs also has side effects. Therefore, it needs to be monitored closely, especially in older cats. The aim is to keep the dosage as low as possible, which can then also be administered over a longer period of time. Drugs are usually given in the form of juice or tablets. However, some medicines can also be brought directly to the site of the incident with a joint injection – which is of course carried out by the veterinarian.

How can your cat’s diet be adjusted if he has osteoarthritis?

Certain feedstuffs and dietary supplements containing, for example, green-lipped mussel or mulberry extract can be given as support. Omega-3 fatty acids are also helpful because they are anti-inflammatory.

Can physiotherapy help?

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The use of physiotherapy counteracts pain and restricted mobility. These include massages, cold and heat treatments, stretching and movement exercises (obstacle course, stairs). However, acceptance of such treatments in cats is usually significantly lower than that of dogs.

What does a cat’s weight gain or loss indicate?

The body weight of the osteoarthritis cat should be checked regularly. If it has increased significantly, reduced energy intake and encouragement to exercise, e.g. through playing, are required. However, it is more common for older cats with osteoarthritis to lose too much weight. It helps if tasty food is placed in several places in the apartment so that the way to the next bowl is short and easy.

Lying areas should be softly padded, warm and easy to reach. Ramps or “intermediate stations” are helpful for reaching higher places.

What other treatment options can help with osteoarthritis?

Other therapies that are already known from the treatment of arthrosis in dogs have not yet been researched in detail for cats or are only rarely used. It is quite possible that further treatment options for cats with osteoarthritis will open up in the future. For example, some veterinary practices already use radiation therapy or joint injections to treat arthrosis in cats. However, their use is considered in individual cases and is only possible with certain joints.

What is the prognosis for cat osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis therapy in cats is lengthy, usually it has to be carried out for life and there can always be setbacks, acute inflammation and pain. In addition, you should always “attack” at several points in order to achieve the best possible result.

Osteoarthritis itself is not fatal. However, it can turn out to be so painful that it can no longer be expected of the animal. Although the thought of putting her to sleep is very uncomfortable, it should not be forgotten if no therapy is successful.


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Osteoarthritis in cats is an incurable, chronic disease. With a well-designed therapy, however, a reasonably stable condition can usually be achieved, which offers the animal a good quality of life.