Arthritis in Cats
Holly Frisby, DVM, MS
Veterinary Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc.
The most common signs of arthritis and joint disease in cats include stiffness, limping, or favoring
a limb – particularly after sleep or resting, reluctance to jump or even climb stairs, and noticeable
As in dogs, there are many causes of arthritis and joint
disease in cats. These include trauma, infections, immune
system disorders, and developmental disorders such as
hip dysplasia (yes, cats can get hip dysplasia).
In the following article we will discuss some of these causes
or conditions which are more common or unique to cats.
Information on how to manage cats with arthritis and other
joint problems, including the use of Glucosamine and Chondroitin is discussed in Treatment of
Osteoarthritis in Cats.
Feline progressive polyarthritis, as the name suggests, affects multiple joints in a cat and worsens
over time. There are generally two types of this disease.
In the first type of progressive polyarthritis, the cartilage is eroded from the ends of the bones
making up the joint and bony spurs and bone thickening occur in bones adjacent to the joint.
These kinds of changes are similar to those seen in hip dysplasia and other degenerative joint
disease. The most commonly affected joints are those of the feet, the carpus (wrist), and hock.
In the second type of progressive polyarthritis, the erosion of the cartilage is severe such that
the bone under the cartilage is exposed, which causes severe pain. This is similar to rheumatoid
arthritis in dogs and people.
Regardless of type, progressive polyarthritis in cats generally affects young and middle-aged male
cats (neutering appears to make no difference). The cats show a reluctance to walk, the joints
are swollen, the range of motion is reduced, and in some cases, the cats experience recurring
episodes of fever, loss of appetite, and swollen lymph nodes.
There is no cure for either type of progressive polyarthritis. Even with strong combinations of
pain relievers, anti-inflammatories such as prednisone, and more potent medications, which
suppress the immune system, many cats remain in extreme pain and owners may elect to have
the cat euthanized.
Arthritis caused by calicivirus infection
Calicivirus is a virus that is most well-known for the respiratory disease (usually runny eyes and
nose) it causes. Calicivirus is often included in the distemper-rhinotracheitis-chlamydia vaccine,
which is given to kittens and cats.
In addition to respiratory disease, calicivirus can cause inflammation in the joints, which results in
lameness. This condition has been associated with both the field strain (the strain which
generally causes disease), and rarely, the vaccine strain. Respiratory symptoms may or may not
be present along with the lameness. The cats with calicivirus-associated lameness often develop
a fever and may be reluctant to eat.
It is generally a self-limiting disease, which means it usually resolves on its own. Supportive
therapy such as pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medication is sometimes given. The vast
majority of cats fully recover.
Rarely, cats with diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes) develop an unusual gait in which the hocks
touch the ground when the cat walks. This is thought to be related to a disorder of the nerves,
but can be mistaken for a joint problem.
In cats, joints most often become infected as a result of bite wounds. The joint becomes
swollen, painful, warm to the touch, and the cat will often not want to bear any weight on the
affected leg. The cat often has a fever and will not eat. At times, the infection can spread from
the joint to the bone (bone infection is termed 'osteomyelitis').
Treatment involves draining the infected joint fluid from the joint, flushing the joint, and placing
the cat on antibiotics. Because bacterial infections of the joint can rapidly produce permanent
injury to the joint, infectious arthritis must be treated as soon as it is detected.
Other joint diseases
Several other joint conditions which are more common in dogs do occur rarely in cats. These
include degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis), ruptured anterior cruciate ligament, luxating
patella, hip dysplasia, (intervertebral) disc disease, and hyperparathyroidism.
Copyright © 1997-2004, Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted from PetEducation.com.
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