Recommendations for Managing Arthritis in Cats

Many cats start developing arthritis at 5 years of age. Most have it by the time they reach 12. Arthritic pain can affect their appetite, make it harder to use the litter box, and lower their quality of life. The goal of therapy is to slow down the progression of arthritis and manage the pain and inflammation associated with it. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Arthritis is often best managed with more than one therapy. Different therapies target different parts of the problem, and multiple therapies are often synergistic (meaning they enhance each other’s effects).
  • A cat may respond better to one therapy than another. If one doesn’t seem to help, your veterinarian will recommend another. 
  • Maintaining an ideal body weight is an important part of managing arthritis. Excess weight is a major contributor to the progression of arthritis.
  • Mild-to-moderate, regular, low-impact exercise is also important because it improves blood flow and helps build and maintain the muscles that support joints.
  • For cats with advanced arthritis it may be helpful to provide a litter box that’s easy to enter. (Look for a Rubbermaid (or other) storage container that has a low lip for easy entry.)
  • While there are many diets and supplements for arthritis available on the market, not all of them contain appropriateamounts of the right types of ingredients (or the right type of a particular ingredient) and so, may not be readily absorbed by your pet or effective at managing arthritis. Many products also haven’t been properly tested to determine whether they really work. It pays to do some research and discuss options with your veterinarian before choosing over-the-counter products.

The following is a list of treatment options available at Royal York Animal Hospital.

Pain Medication

In addition to being unpleasant, pain can do a lot of physical damage, especially if it persists as it does with arthritis.

Different pain medications tackle different pain pathways. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (Metacam for cats – used “off label” for cats that are on it long term) have the added
benefit of addressing both pain and inflammation. Blood monitoring is required to ensure your cat is tolerating the medication.

Your veterinarian will determine the best type of pain medication for your cat based on the degree of arthritis present, your cat’s age, health, and other factors.

Note: The use of additional therapies (such as mobility diets, cartrophen or adequan injections, and acupuncture) can help reduce the amount of pain medication your pet needs.

Nutritional Support

There are two diets designed specifically for cats with arthritis that are available only at veterinary clinics: 

Hill’s J/D Feline Mobility and MediCal Mobility Support

Both are nutritionally balanced diets with key ingredients such as omega 3 fatty acids that promote healthy joints and reduce joint pain.

Note: It can take 6-8 weeks to see the benefit of any dietary change, but you may see results sooner.


Oral Supplements (Nutraceuticals)

There are many products available. For building and protecting cartilage and inhibiting pain, we like GLYCO-FLEX, 4CYTE™, or Dasuquin for cats. Keep in mind that it can take about 4 weeks
to see the benefit of a supplement.

Note: Many nutraceuticals contain glycosaminoglycans (proteins and sugars found in different tissues – glucosamine and chondroitin being the major ones in joints). While the use of these supplements is very safe, if you have a diabetic cat on supplements for arthritis your veterinarian may recommend more frequent monitoring of blood glucose levels.

Disease Modifying Osteoarthritis Agents

These are agents with anti-inflammatory and protective properties that promote cartilage and joint fluid production, inhibit inflammation, and improve blood flow to joints.

Cartrophen Vet (pentosan polysulphate) – an injection given under the skin every 5-7 days for 4 weeks with boosters as needed (some pets go for months without needing a booster).

Adequan (polysulphated glycosaminoglycan) – an injection given either intramuscularly or under the skin every 3 to 5 days for up to 4 weeks with boosters as needed.

Note: Cartrophen and Adequan are used “off label” in cats. “Off label” (also referred to as “extra label”) means used in a species or way not mentioned on the product label.

Low-level Laser Therapy

Royal York Animal Hospital offers top-of-the-line (Class IV) laser therapy. A laser probe sends a concentrated beam of light with very low-level electro-magnetic radiation through the skin’s surface, stimulating a variety of reactions at the cellular level (a process called photostimulation). It has wide-ranging effects, including:

  • stimulating the release of natural pain killers and the production of energy needed for cells to function
  • activating cells that clean up damage from inflammation and inhibiting the production of factors that cause damage
  • activating cellular processes that promote tissue repair and cell growth
  • improving circulation (and therefore oxygen and nutrient delivery to joints)

Single applications can be helpful, but the effects of laser therapy are cumulative (each treatment improves on the previous one), and animals with arthritis typically need a series of treatments. Some pet insurance companies will cover part of the cost of treatments.

Laser therapy is non-invasive, safe, and well tolerated. Most animals relax during the therapy and seem to enjoy it.


Dr. Luisa Alvarez offers acupuncture at Royal York Animal Hospital. This therapy involves inserting very fine, sterile needles into specific points on the surface of the skin. The stimulation of these
points is believed to help with the pain, inflammation, and stiffness associated with arthritis by:

  • activating nerve pathways that trigger the release of natural pain killers 
  • triggering a variety of immune responses, including the release of corticosteroids
  • dilating blood vessels (and therefore improving circulation to the muscles that support joints)

Depending on the patient and condition being treated, pets usually need 3 to 7 treatments to start (20 minutes per session every 1 to 4 weeks). Some pet insurance companies will cover part of the
cost of treatments.

Acupuncture is considered non-invasive, safe, and well tolerated. Most animals relax during the therapy (some even fall asleep during it).

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