How to know when your cat is hurting.


CJ:  You said arthritis in cats is widely under-diagnosed, why is that?


Dr. White:  Cats don’t show the signs as readily as dog do, they’re a stone’s throw away from being feral again- so that instinctive drive to hide an illness- pain, injury, is so much greater.  What we think of as signs of pain aren’t necessarily what to look for in a cat.  If it is severe, you can still see some of the usual things you see in dogs like changes in their gait or limping.  Often you’ll have to notice behaviors.


Cats with arthritis might have trouble going up and down stairs.
Cats with arthritis might have trouble going up and downstairs.


CJ:  How do you know if a cat is in pain, or has arthritis?


Dr. White:  Some of the signs people can look for at home, the biggest really, is defecating or urinating outside of the litter box. We like deep litter boxes for our cats, so they’re not spreading the litter everywhere.  Cats with osteoarthritis do not like to make that step into and outside of the litter box.  Or, the litter box is in the basement, and the cat doesn’t like to make the trip up and down the stairs.


Cat’s also show decreased grooming when in pain.  If they are uncomfortable they might jump less.  People say, my cat used to jump up to the windowsill, they don’t make that leap anymore.  Sometimes they get really grumpy and aggressive when you go to pet them as they age.  And they can get constipated because they’re not moving around as much.  Owners might notice changes in the cat’s posture, or weight loss because they’re not eating as much, because they’re hurting.


CJ:  Most people just assume the cat isn’t jumping because it’s getting older.


Dr.  White:   It IS because they’re older, but it’s also because their joints are older and it’s uncomfortable for them.


CJ:  Around what age does this start to happen?


Dr. White:  It really depends on the cat, although as soon as the cat starts to reach teenage years, osteoarthritis becomes prevalent.  Another thing we commonly think of in dogs but not cats, is that cats get hip dysplasia too.  You can see that at an earlier age and not just late onset osteoarthritis, normal wear and tear will show.


CJ:  What do most vets do for pain management in cats?  I know pain killers can be much more toxic for cats than dogs.


Dr. White:  There are no pain killers approved for long-term use in cats, all the prescriptions are only approved for short term use.  That’s because to list on the label that a drug is safe for long-term use, a pharmaceutical company to do long-term studies to prove it, and that’s expensive.  They’re only willing to do those long-term studies for larger markets, so most vets go ahead and use these pain killers “off-label.”


Right now we’re using NSAIDs for long term treatment of cats, even if it’s not for on-label use.  That’s often part of my treatment plan for long-term pain management in cats.


Pain killers can be toxic for cats, more so than for dogs or people. Especially for long term treatment, it’s best if pain medications can be avoided.


CJ: What else is there to be done for a cat?  I can’t see one on an underwater treadmill.


Dr. White:  (Laughs) I actually have one cat who I’m doing it with right now, but it’s not a lot of fun!  Laser is great for cats because you don’t have a big problem with cooperation, but that can only be done in-clinic.  There are joint supplements, joint diets that are approved for use in cats.  But there’s no pharmaceutical available.  The Assisi Loop fits really well into a multi-modal approach, especially because the owner can take it home and continue treatments between visits.


If you’re located near Kingston, Ontario you might stop in at an open house, or schedule a consultation for your pet.  You can find out more about the Arlington Park Veterinary Services Rehabilitation & Fitness Centre at