Many cats have arthritis, especially over the age of twelve. Animals can’t tell us when they feel pain verbally so we have to watch subtleties in their behavior and body-language. Often when cats get older, they will hesitate jumping off of surfaces. Although cats can climb, jump, and leap on higher surfaces, most cats, given a choice, would rather walk or hop up with easy intermediate steps to get to higher elevations rather than leap their way to them. This is especially true for getting off or climbing down a surface. Many cat trees and cat condos are flimsy, too narrow, or steep for adult cats to easily maneuver, rest, or climb on.
It’s important, too, when carrying cats to keep their bodies nicely aligned. Often handling older cats can be painful for them, so it’s important to be gentle, supportive, and steady when carrying cats.
Also, speak to your vet about pain medication, especially if your cat is older, seems uncomfortable, or hesitates getting on and off surfaces. Here are some extra tips for arthritic cats.
Alana Stevenson’s Tips
- Heating sources and heated beds. Soft surfaces.
- Intermediate steps to make climbing easier and so cats can use vertical territory (platforms or surfaces that are higher up and off the ground). Wide platforms that are steady and sturdy.
- Plenty of water — separate food and water bowls and leave out large ceramic or glass soup bowls or serving bowls near where your cat sleeps and socializes.
- Enrichment — place bird feeders outside windows or play in a way that can entice your cat’s hunting ability. Cats sit and ambush prey. Prey quivers, slinks, and hides from the cat. Place wand or pole toys underneath pillows and sweatshirts. Use black string and make it slither around a box or corner. Even older cats like to hunt. End play with treats.
- Use a soft brush or moist paper towel to groom your kitty. Often as cat’s get older they need more maintenance with grooming and cleaning. This also applies to clipping nails, especially back nails.
- Speak to your vet about pain medication.
- If your cat is older, it might be good to put on nightlights in hallways, along stairs, and near food, water bowls, and litter pans.
- Make sure litter pans are easy to get to and wide and shallow so your cat can easily enter and exit without having to jump or climb.
Dr. Coryn Vickrey’s Tips
- HEATED BEDS are readily available in pet stores, online, etc.
- Make sure all resources (litter box, water dish, food, choice “perches”) are made accessible. An arthritic cat will not enjoy walking down an entire flight of stairs to use the litter box. Some arthritic cats can’t climb over the tall walls of larger litter boxes. Make things easier for them by having everything they need on one level and/or by providing a step (as simple as the right size overturned cardboard box) or moving furniture to create a staircase to the window sill.
- When picking up, support the chest and pelvis to keep the spine in a nice line. Don’t pick up from the middle or from limbs.
- Keep nails trimmed. Scratching behaviors often decrease due to pain, so nails grow longer. These can get stuck, and it’s even harder for them to get unstuck with painful joints.
- Talk to your vet about whether regular pain medication is appropriate.
- When handling, try hard not to pull legs fully straight or flex the lumbosacral areas. Keep body more in line.
- If lots of handling is needed (e.g. in shelters or clinics), be generous with pre-treatment pain medications or sedation.
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