Osteoarthritis In Cats and Dogs: What we can do to help

When Moxie was at the Vet after he got sick they did several tests including some X-rays and determined that he had arthritis in his lower spine. It appeared as a larger white ‘blob’ surrounding his vertebrae. In retrospect, the only indication that this area was sore was that he would lower his back end when I petted or brushed him. I did not clue in that this demonstrated pain in that spot, it was very subtle. But that is why it is important to get these regular check ups and tests at the Vet’s, particularly for our senior pets.

What is arthritis and is it different for dogs and cats?

Arthritis or technically “Osteoarthritis”, which may also be called “degenerative joint disease”, is extremely common. A shocking stat is that an estimated 90% of cats over age 10 and 80% of dogs over age 8 develop this condition.

Generally cats are considered seniors at 10 years of age and older. For dogs it is more variable with their size, but in general larger dogs are considered seniors at age 6-7 and smaller dogs at age 10-12.

There are many different factors that can lead to osteoarthritis in both cats and dogs including the body length, shape, weight, injury, hip dysplasia, luxating patellas, and nutrition. It is often a combination of these factors, and not specifically the pet’s age.

The difference is thier interaction with humans

One of the only major differences I see between cats and dogs is their interaction with humans and overall activity level. Dogs tend to get more activities likes walks and playtime every day so it will be more noticeable when they start showing signs.

Cats may not be watched as closely, making it more challenging to catch subtle signs. Indoor cats in particular may not get as much regular playtime and physical activity and their family may not pay as close attention to how they move around their home. Cats that are allowed to roam around outside do so on their own and their family may not know exactly where they go and what they do outside.

Cat naps

Cats are also famous for napping so I think it may be harder for people to clue in right away. I regularly see funny memes about cats napping 23 hours a day, and while they do nap a lot it should be a notable concern if they are not regularly moving around to keep an eye on their territory (even if they are indoor only).

Bean for example likes to view the neighbours from both the front window and patio doors and then go to the back and watch the wildlife from that window. There is a daily trip up to the top of the cupboards. And she has several nap spots that are alternated throughout her day. There is not a lot of space but she makes good use of it.

How can we tell our pets may be suffering from osteoarthritis?

It is likely that cats and dogs will not show any noticeable signs of pain unless it is severe. Since it will not be obvious it is important to observe and make note of any changes in behaviour, posture, and mobility.

These changes will include:
  • playing less
  • licking a specific foot or joint frequently
  • hunched back, lowered head, and tucked tail
  • different sleep positions and no longer sleeping on the bed or couch
  • hesitating to use stairs
  • stiffness
  • slowing down on walks
  • no longer using the cat tree
More extreme signs include:
  • limping
  • dragging feet
  • muscle loss
  • not putting weight on one foot
  • pacing

For Moxie this manifested as playing less and slowing down. Or at least that is what I noticed. I wrongly attributed it to him ‘getting older’. I did assume he would likely develop arthritis but did not think it would be in his spine. He was a very active adventurous cat when I first met him many years ago, so perhaps he hurt himself on one of his adventures? Both him and his brother Ramses were large boys from a young age and loved their food so weight is another major factor in his case.

What can we do to help our pets?

Observe and make note of the date

I think the main thing will be to observe closely and make note of any changes in behavior and habits. If we make note with the date (say in a journal, log, or a post it on the fridge) we can more objectively see what is happening over time.

For example, in January after the holidays you notice your cat is no longer going up to the top of the cat tree for their afternoon nap. Write it down with the date. Then in March when you wonder when you last saw your cat go up on their tree you can look back and see it has been over 2 months. I know for myself keeping track of time and dates are difficult unless I write it down. Work is busy and time just flies by. I even said Hal was “9 years old” for at least 3 years and I was “38” for at least 2 years. But, maybe that’s just me!

Regular Check-Ups

Regular Vet visits and tests are also critical. Particularly as a pet ages they should be getting a yearly blood test, X-ray, Urine analysis, and whatever else your Veterinarian recommends. Then if they reach a certain age or if there are other health issues you may need to increase those check-ups and tests to twice a year, or even more frequently depending on the results. For Kidney disease, as an example, it is recommended to get check ups ideally every 3 months.

Make things easier to Access

A difficult part of osteoarthritis is the pain so one thing we can do in our homes is to make Access to important things easier for our pets. We should try to make things more comfortable and prevent further injury or pain.

With just a few adjustments we can really improve our pet’s daily life:

  • Slippery surfaces (laminate, tile, hardwood ): Consider adding additional non-slip mats around their beds, favourite chair, below the couch, at the bottom of the cat tree, and high traffic areas like entry ways and hallways
  • Add ramps, stairs, or chairs and sturdy stools next to your bed or couch and next to a cat tree or favourite perch
  • Use elevated bowls and/or a comfy mat large enough for your pet to lay down on or sit there more comfortably
  • Litter boxes: place them near where your cat spends their time, not way down in the basement or another spot that is difficult to get to
    • ensure it is easy to get into so no high boxes, large steps, or top entry boxes. The entrance should be only a few inches high, just enough to keep the litter inside but super easy for them to step into. If you can modify your existing box you could just enlarge and lower the entrance for your pet or you can buy a new box that is easier to get into.
      • they even make litter boxes specifically for this problem such as the Tucker Murphy Pet “Babbie Plastic Standard Litter Box” (available on wayfair.ca)
    • you may need to switch from pellets to a softer sandy type litter so it’s more comfortable for their sore paws
  • Stay active but also pay attention to your pet’s behaviour and reduce the length or pace of the activity/walk if they slow down or run out of steam.
    • Play with your cat, just modify it to suit how they are feeling. They probably cannot jump and zip around the house like they used to but more gentle play can still be fun and keep them moving.
    • If your dog is struggling to move after their normal walk it may be time to shorten the route or have a slow leisurely sniffari rather than a run.
    • If your pet is very food motivated try feeding in puzzle feeders, snuffle mats, treat dispensing toys, or in different spots around the home so that they need to move around more. Ziggy for example only eats kibble out of 3 or 4 different treat/kibble dispensing toys or I spread it the kibble around the room so he has to hunt for it.

Pain management

Another important piece of the puzzle is pain management. Moxie’s Vet recommended Solensia. But between recovering from the pancreatitis attack and subsequent onset of diabetes that treatment ended up on the backburner. It will be something we revisit on Moxie’s next check up and may explore the topic more in a future blog post.


Your Vet will likely recommend that your pet should lose weight if they are heavier than they should be. So, if that comes up the important thing to do will be to adjust their diet, treats, and ensure they exercise more.

It may be necessary to reduce the amount of food, but it is critical to note that cats in particular are very sensitive to change. It is important to reduce their food intake in very small increments over time. The experts recommend a loss of only 1-2% of their body weight weekly. Anything more extreme can lead to fatty liver disease which can be fatal. It would be better to look at food created specifically for weight management. Then you can slowly adjust their food over to that. Once they have transitioned, then slowly decrease the amount you feed them over a longer period of time. Be sure to consult with your Vet along the way to ensure your cat is doing well.

Most Veterinarians will also offer nutrition consultations so that would be something to look into. Moxie and I are still learning about this so I may do another post just about the feeding and weight in the future.

For more resources specifically on this topic check out: https://vcacanada.com/know-your-pet/creating-a-weight-reduction-plan-for-cats

Also check out @iambronsoncat on Instagram and their story at https://www.catastrophicreations.com/healthy-weight-loss-for-cats/

Additional resources:



https://vcacanada.com/know-your-pet/arthritis-in-cats and arthritis-in-dogs

More information on Solensia: https://www.zoetispetcare.com/products/solensia

Moxie is a large tabby with white around his mouth and a bit of a stripe down his neck. Here he is sitting on my lap looking upwards with the sun from the patio doors shining through behind him.
Moxie cuddling with me on the couch.

Read more about Moxie’s recent health issues here:

https://furryornotpetcare.ca/illness-in-cats-observe-and-act-fast/ https://furryornotpetcare.ca/moxie-has-diabetes-our-experience/

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