Feline degenerative joint disease, more widely known as arthritis, is exceptionally common in cats.

Cats of all ages can develop arthritis, but the odds of your cat being affected by feline degenerative joint disease grow as your cat ages. It’s estimated that 90% of cats over the age of ten are affected by feline arthritis.

Despite being incredibly common in cats, many pet owners are surprised when their cat is diagnosed with degenerative joint disease. Due to how talented cats are at hiding pain, the symptoms and signs of feline arthritis can be difficult to spot.

The signs of degenerative joint disease may be especially overlooked in younger cats due to arthritis being more commonly associated with senior pets.
A tawny orange cat sleeping on a dark gray couch

What Causes Feline Degenerative Joint Disease?

The most common causes behind feline arthritis are aging and the breakdown of cartilage in the joints, but there are other factors that may lead to your cat developing degenerative joint disease. While age is a factor, it’s important to remember that cats of any age have the potential to develop feline arthritis.

Your cat may develop arthritis following an injury or an illness such as an infection.

Genetics can play a role in your cat’s likelihood of developing degenerative joint disease. Certain breeds of cats such as Maine Coons, Burmese cats, and Scottish folds are more likely to develop arthritis.

Arthritis may even appear without any known causes.

How Do I Know If My Cat Has Feline Degenerative Joint Disease?

The signs of feline degenerative joint disease are often subtle and easily overlooked but the most telling sign of arthritis in cats is changes in motion and movement.

Degenerative joint disease can be very painful for cats, but cats naturally want to disguise the signs of pain. A cat that is experiencing the pain associated with degenerative joint disease will often change the way they move to cope with the pain of arthritis.

If you spot these signs in your cat, they should be evaluated for degenerative joint disease:

  • General stiffness or being slower to rise, jump, or climb.
  • Hesitating or refusing to jump, climb, or use stairs.
  • Changes in temperament including becoming withdrawn, becoming more affectionate, or becoming aggressive with family or other pets.
  • Changes in level of hygiene such as not grooming enough or grooming too often. Cats may have difficulty grooming due to stiffness and pain, or may over groom painful spots as a way to soothe themselves.
  • Increased fatigue, especially when combined with decreased play and activity.
  • Avoiding the litter box or refusing to bury waste. Cats experiencing joint pain may refuse to bury waste due to digging motions being painful.

What Should I Do If I Believe My Cat Has Degenerative Joint Disease?

If you notice the signs of arthritis in your cat, you should contact a veterinarian for an exam immediately.

There are many treatment options for feline degenerative joint disease such as laser therapy, holistic care such as acupressure and CBD, supplements, pain medication, and low impact exercise such as water treadmills.

If you believe your cat is in pain, never try to treat your cat’s pain at home with medication meant for humans.

While painful, if diagnosed and properly treated, feline degenerative disease doesn’t have to impact your cat’s quality of life.