Arthritis in Cats

Arthritis in cats can be a challenge to treat because many medications that are used in other species for arthritis are toxic to cats.  Treating arthritis in cats involves using medications that are safe for cats and also instituting environmental enrichment methods.

Alternative Medications

Glucosamine/Chondroitin Sulfate

Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are nutritional supplements that protect and rebuild the joint.  Glucosamine is an amino monosaccharide produced by chondrocyte cells (cartilage cells) and used to make glycosaminoglycans and proteoglycans which are substances that help lubricate and cushion joints.  The best results are obtained if these products are used before extensive changes in joint structure occurs.  If your cat is going to respond to glucosamine/chondroitin therapy, improvement should be noted within 4 to 6 weeks.  Side effects, which are rare, include softening of the stool and increased intestinal gas which are dose dependent, and reversible.

Glucosamine is easily obtained over the counter but due to the fact that the FDA considers it to be a vitamin versus a medication, the effectiveness of different glucosamine brands have not been tested, and therefore it is important to choose a quality brand.  We recommend Cosequin for Cats that comes in capsules containing tuna flavored powder that can be sprinkled on the food.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Certain dietary fats, such as fish oils, have anti-inflammatory properties that benefit arthritic cats.  These products require at least one month to build up to adequate levels in the body. Effects are not usually dramatic but can be helpful.  The average 1 g fish oil capsule that humans take contains 300 mg of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) + DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). We recommend a total of 300 mg to 600 mg of EPA + DHA per day.

Prescription medications

Adequan Injections

Adequan (polysulfated glycosaminoglycan [PSGAG]) is given by subcutaneous injection for arthritis.  In joint tissue, PSGAG inhibits proteolytic enzymes that can degrade constituents of the cartilage, increases the synthesis of proteoglycans, reduces inflammation by reducing concentrations of prostaglandin E(released in response to joint injury), and increases hyaluronate concentrations in the joint, thereby restoring synovial fluid viscosity.  With Adequan you should see signs of improvement within four weeks.  The medication is generally given twice weekly for 4 weeks, then once weekly for 4 weeks, then every other week for 6 weeks, and then every 3 to 4 weeks long term.  It can be given in combination with other arthritis medications for optimal effectiveness.  

Gabapentin is a neuropathic pain reliever.  It is considered to be one of the safer medications in cats.

Buprenorphine is an opioid which can be given as needed to control arthritic pain.  It is effective and safe.

Metacam has rare side effects such as kidney issues in cats.  It can be used in severe cases.

Environmental Enrichment 

Steps and Ramps

Institute steps and ramps to beds, sofas, and window ledges to allow easier accessibility for arthritic cats.


We recommend lower cat beds that are easier to access.


Cats are highly territorial animals and like to feel secure in their core territory (home) and the immediate outside.  This can be improved by providing places to hide and ideally more than one access route.  Cats really prefer to be up high but it can be tricky for arthritic cats to access the tall perches, and other high places.  Providing easily accessible cat walks can help.  A major disturbance in a cat’s territory, such as the introduction of other pets, can cause anxiety and stress and make coping with chronic pain more difficult.  Changes that cannot be avoided should be introduced gradually.


It is important to ensure the arthritic cats have easy access to food and water, and also to litter boxes.  

More that one food bowl and water bowl should be distributed throughout the house.  Shallow water bowls are preferable. 

There should be at least one litter box per cat in the household and litter should be sufficiently deep.  Litter boxes need to be of generous size for cats with mobility problems and which is achieved by custom built litter boxes.  We recommend that litter boxes are two times the length of the cat and constructed using a Rubbermaid bin with a door cut out in the front of it that is no greater than one to two inches off the floor.  The lower door allows cats to step into the litter box easily.  Cats prefer unscented, fine grained litter and non-hooded, unlined litter boxes.  The litter box should also be located in an area that is easily accessible and away from loud noises.  If you have more than one floor, make sure there is a box on every floor.  

Scratching posts are  another resource that should not be overlooked.

Other treatments

Weight loss

Weight loss for obese cats make a significant difference.

Trimming Toenails

Regularly trimming the toenails.  Often geriatric cats with arthritis have overgrown nails which can make walking difficult. 

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