Ways to Keep Your Arthritic Cat Active and Agile

Ways to Keep Your Arthritic Cat Active and Agile

Arthritis is a painful condition that not only affects millions of humans every day but can also affect our four-legged friends. Feline arthritis is actually more common than you’d think.

For cats, who are extremely agile and active creatures, arthritis can be extremely debilitating. However, as much as they might not want to move, cats with arthritis shouldn’t live sedentary lifestyles. In fact, immobility can make the condition worse! This is why it’s very important to keep your cat up and moving within the scope of their limits.

Understanding your cat’s joint pain

Arthritis is a condition that occurs naturally in cats over time and usually affects senior cats the most. There are some forms of arthritis that can affect much younger cats, but these are not as common.

Arthritis is typically caused by natural wear and tear on the joints. For all the jumping and running cats do, they have surprisingly resilient joints. However, a lifetime of leaping can do some lasting damage. Feline arthritis is most common in the hips, elbows and knees, but other areas can be affected.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of feline arthritis. In this condition, cartilage located between the bones degrades over time, leaving the bones to painfully rub against each other. The friction can also cause inflammation, which is the body’s way of fighting off infection and healing tissue. Unfortunately, inflammation can lead to swelling and stiffness in the joints. All of these symptoms make it painful and nearly impossible for your cat to move in the same ways they used to.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to identify the signs of arthritis in cats because cats are very good at hiding pain. Your feline friend may not have a lame leg or a limp, but they may show other signs of discomfort, pain or reluctance to move.

Take your cat to the vet if you notice any of these signs of arthritis:

  • Refusal to jump to/from their usual places
  • Less activity overall
  • Difficulty getting up
  • Crying or resistance to being touched
  • Stiff movement
  • Defecation outside the litter box
  • Refusal to enter the litter box

Tips for helping your cat stay on their feet

Moving is very difficult for cats with arthritis, which can make everyday activities more challenging than they used to be. Fortunately, there are many ways you can help your cat stay comfortable in their living space. Follow these tips to improve your arthritic cat’s mobility.

  • Provide joint supplements: Supplements that promote more fluid joint movement or that have anti-inflammatory properties can help your cat move more easily and reduce the pain they feel while staying active.
  • Mind the weight: Overweight cats tend to have more trouble with arthritis because of the additional pressure being put on their joints. To help your cat maintain a healthy weight, control their food portions and provide opportunities for light exercise. Make sure they’re getting up and moving at least once a day.
  • Place necessities on a single floor: Moving cat beds, food bowls and litter boxes to a single floor of your home can make life a lot easier for your arthritic cat. That way, your cat doesn’t need to climb stairs to maintain their normal schedule, and they can still access all their favorite places to relax.
  • Install ramps: Arthritis can make it difficult for your cat to access their favorite spots. Jumping onto the bed or couch often leads to even more joint pain. Ramps make it much easier for cats with arthritis to navigate their living spaces. By installing ramps in the home, your arthritic cat will be able to enjoy these resting spots once again.
  • Buy litter boxes with shallow trays: Cats with arthritis often defecate outside the litter box because it’s too painful to climb over a high tray wall. Purchasing litter boxes with shallower trays can encourage your arthritic cat to relieve themselves in the appropriate places. Some litter boxes even come with built-in ramps to increase accessibility.

Exercises and games for arthritic cats

Even though cats with arthritis have a hard time moving, you shouldn’t let your cat lay around and not move all day. Exercise has actually been proven to be beneficial for cats with arthritis, since it strengthens the muscles surrounding the joints and can help improve mobility over time.

The goal for any exercise with your arthritic cat is to stay low-impact and prevent your cat from having to leap, jump or run. Fortunately, there are still a lot of options to consider. Here are some activities that are great for arthritic cats.

  • Walking: If your cat will let you put on a harness and take them for a walk outside, you’d be helping them receive the perfect amount of exercise each day. A short 15-minute walk is all your cat needs to get their blood pumping and joints moving.
  • Swimming: Most pet owners assume that cats hate water, but a surprising number of cats can enjoy a dip in the pool now and then. Swimming is one of the best forms of exercise for cats because the cool water helps take pressure off the joints while still activating their muscles.
  • Feather chase: A simple feather tied to a string can create excellent physical activity for cats with aching joints. Try to keep your cat from jumping and sprinting after the feather too much and aim for shorter chasing movements to keep them entertained.
  • New balls and toys: Introducing new balls or toys to your cat’s existing stash may help encourage them to get up and play. Your cat can bat things around on their own, or you can throw toys down the hall for them to chase.

Finding ways to help your cat be active can be tough, especially when doing so puts them in pain. Your first priority should always be to minimize your cat’s discomfort. When that seems to be settled, take steps to get your cat up and moving to promote a healthy lifestyle and help ease joint pain.

Editor’s note: This blog was originally published in October 2018. It has been updated to include more relevant and comprehensive information.