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age or arthritis? petplan pet insurance on spotting osteoarthritis in feline friends

While working in the clinic last week, I had one of my favorite patients (and clients) come in to see me – let’s call them Perfect Kitty and Mrs. Observant.

Perfect Kitty was in for a routine visit, and to discuss a couple of odd behaviors that Mrs. Observant had been noticing recently. Perfect Kitty is a 9-year-old cat who had been adopted by Mrs. Observant at the age of 10 weeks. Recently, Mrs. Observant had noticed that Perfect Kitty wasn’t jumping up on the counter anymore while she prepared Perfect Kitty’s breakfast and dinner.

Instead, Perfect Kitty was at Mrs. Observant’s feet, waiting “patiently” to be served. Also, Perfect Kitty wasn’t sleeping in her cat tree anymore. And just this week, Perfect Kitty had urinated outside of her litter box. She was still eating and drinking well, she wasn’t vomiting or having diarrhea, and she was just as social as ever. Mrs. Observant wasn’t sure if these signs meant anything, or if it was just an aging cat’s normal change in behavior.

After further discussion, a full physical exam, and a few tests, we determined that Perfect Kitty was suffering from osteoarthritis, a painful disease that can be difficult to diagnose in cats, since radiographs don’t always give us the full picture. It is most often discovered based on a pet parent’s observations, and by ruling out other underlying diseases. Sometimes cats will show overt signs of pain, such as limping, but oftentimes it is more a matter of changes in their normal behavior. And as every cat owner is aware, what is normal for one cat may not be normal for another.

The most common signs of osteoarthritis that pet parents report include:
  • Sleeping more
  • Unwillingness to jump up or down when they normally would
  • Hesitation to leap, play or run around
  • Unkempt coat/disinterest in grooming
  • Inappropriate urination or defecation

As you can see, these signs are quite vague, which is why they are often attributed to becoming an “older cat.” If you notice any of these signs (or any changes in behavior from your cat’s “normal”), it is worth bringing it to your veterinarian’s attention.

If your vet determines that your cat is likely suffering from osteoarthritis, there are a variety of different therapies that can be used to give your cat some comfort. While not a disease that we can cure, we can manage osteoarthritis for many years. Your vet may discuss any combination of the following therapies to help your feline friend feel more comfortable.


Every cat requires a unique combination of therapies for maximum benefit; keeping your vet informed about what is working and what isn’t is essential for successful long term management.

As for Perfect Kitty, Mrs. Observant reports that she is responding well to our initial therapy. Just yesterday, Perfect Kitty jumped up on the counter to “help” Mrs. Observant prepare dinner. A happy pair!

To more waggin’ and purrin’. RWKJ
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Chris AshtonCo-Founder and Co-CEO of Petplan Pet Insurance
vet tip of the week

Visit your vet at least once a year to keep your pet protected from preventable diseases.