arthritis in cats

Arthritis is one of the more common causes of lameness in cats. Start by getting an accurate diagnosis, then implement an integrative treatment plan.

When Penny’s cat miscalculated a jump and started limping right afterwards, she knew he’d injured his leg, and a vet check confirmed it. But feline lameness isn’t always so straightforward. It can have a variety of causes, from arthritis and joint disease to cancer, and getting to the root of the problem as soon as possible is key to ensuring correct treatment and recovery.

Arthritis is one of the most common causes of feline lameness, but recognizing it may be difficult. Cats hide their lameness by shifting their weight to non-painful limbs. Clues include an inability to jump on the bed or window ledge, a change in behavior or temperament, loss of appetite and dull coat from poor grooming.

The most common sites for arthritis in cats are the shoulders, elbows and hips, but any joint can become arthritic, including those in the spine. Long term goals to manage pain are multimodal in approach. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs reduce pain and inflammation but can quickly become toxic to cats. A healthy diet free of grains and additives, along with adequate exercise and weight control, are important places to start, but consider the following therapies as well, with help from a holistic or integrative veterinarian.

Supplements to soothe joints

  • Glucosamine sulfate or hydrochloride comes in a variety of forms and flavors. Dosing depends on the cat’s size, but can be anywhere from 250 mg to 500 mg daily. Aside from supporting joint cartilage replacement, glucosamine can provide pain relief. It can take up to two months for blood levels to provide relief.
  • Chondroiten sulfate molecules are too large to be absorbed unless the bottle indicates the product is a low molecular weight chondroitin. Your veterinarian may offer you the injectable form, which works very quickly and is given as a subcutaneous injection once a week for four weeks.
  • A number of effective Chinese herbal formulas can be made into an oral tea, but their bitterness may cause cats to drool profusely or refuse to take it.
  • Bioavailable curcumin, boswellia and yucca are some common herbs found in formulations for joint pain relief, but it can be almost impossible to get a cat to willingly take these preparations.
  • One newer therapy builds oral tolerance with gut-associated lymphoid tissue to stop the ongoing destruction of joints in autoimmune disease. Type 2 collagen products taken on an empty stomach can stop joint destruction and pain by giving information back to the immune system that the joints are not an invader; once the attack on the joints stops, pain is relieved. This products are made from chicken and are palatable for most cats.
  • Homeopathics are easy to use as many do not have a taste. All acute remedies can be used in combination formulas, including arnica, hypericum and ruta graveolens. It can take six weeks to see any benefits, so persist and be patient. Consider trying the newer homeopathic cytokine therapies as an additional form of treatment; consult a veterinarian who is familiar with the use of cytokines.
  • Enzyme therapy using proteolytic enzymes on an empty stomach can reduce pain, improve flexibility and blood flow into joints, and stop joint fibrosis to maintain range of motion.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA, dosed at 500 mg to 1,000 mg per day, can also reduce pain and inflammation by down-regulating the inflammatory prostaglandins. Omega 3s must come from fish because cats lack the enzymes to produce it from vegetable and seed sources.

Physiotherapy and other modalities

  • TENS units are tricky, but with veterinary guidance can be safely used at home.
  • LED lights in the red frequency — some come with infrared heat — are great to use on joints.
  • Lasers increase mitochondria growth and collagen production to help to reduce pain and increase flexibility.
  • Pulsed electromagnetic therapy is available for home use and comes as a mat that the cat can lie on. The Shumann frequencies between 5 and 10 hertz are the magnetic resonance of the earth and are especially enjoyed by cats that never get outdoors to lie on the ground in the sun. Allow the cat to choose the length of time he needs for pain relief.
  • Chiropractic adjustments balance the nerves in the spine and reduce subluxations.
  • Biofeedback tools are helpful but fur becomes a barrier to connecting the device to the cat’s body. You need to use water or conducting gels to make the contact. Various Scenar devices are available for home use but are pricey.
  • Acupuncture is only useful for cats that will allow a veterinarian to place needles into their acupuncture points. Six or more weekly treatments are necessary. You can alternatively perform acupressure on your cat, or use a dollar store laser directly on the acupuncture points – be sure not to shine the light in his eyes.

There are many therapies to choose from when dealing with arthritis-related lameness and pain in your cat. It may take time to find the right combination for your cat, but it won’t be in vain.


After completing an Herbalist diploma, Dr. Kneebone attended the Ontario Veterinary College. Upon graduation in 1981 she turned her focus towards natural medicine, and subsequently obtained diplomas in Homeopathy, Chinese Herbal Medicine and Veterinary Acupuncture. She is certified with the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society and is also a certified Ozone Therapist and member of The American Academy of Ozonotherapy. Dr. Kneebone has been with East York Animal Clinic in Toronto, Ontario since 1998.