Osteoarthritis is defined as a degenerative condition of the joints in which the normal cartilage cushion in the joint breaks down. Eventually, adjacent bones rub against each other, causing pain, decreased joint movement, and sometimes the formation of bone spurs and other changes around the joint. It is a progressive disease; however, it can be actively managed so that the course of the disease is slowed and remaining joint function is preserved.

Diagnosing osteoarthritis in cats can be difficult. Your veterinarian will rely on you to tell him about changes you’ve noticed in your cat. He may ask if your cat is moving around less, not climbing or jumping on and off of things as well and if you have noticed any changes in her behavior. Because we see our pets each day, subtle changes are even more challenging to notice, but if your cat exhibits any of the following, it’s a good idea to discuss it with your veterinarian:

  • Changes in chewing, eating and/or drinking habits
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Withdrawal from social interaction or avoiding being touched
  • Changes in activity level
  • Changes in sleeping habits (sleeping more or hyperactivity)
  • Increased vocalization
  • Increased urination and/or ’accidents’
  • Grooms less or more or grooms some areas excessively
  • Just not acting normal.

Research has shown that many more cats are suffering from osteoarthritis than we are aware of, especially cats past the age of 11. AAHA-accredited practices are encouraged to consider pain as the fourth vital sign they check for in each examination. The other three vital signs are temperature, pulse and respiration. You may not always be aware that they’re checking your pet’s pain level, but they are. They may examine your pet and also ask you questions to determine if pain is a possibility. Because pets differ in how they show pain, and some do such a good job hiding it, you may never realize they are in pain if you’re not specifically looking for it.