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Lameness in cats

My kitty took a tumble.  It’s certainly not the first time she made a misstep or that she has fallen off the stairs. But a fall for a cat of fifteen is not the same as it is for a cat of five. And although at first Morwen seemed fine and hopped back up immediately and started back up the stairs swatting the offensive kitten who caused her fall, later that night I noticed she was limping on her right hind leg and stopping to rest after a few steps.

The next morning, I took her to the veterinarian who poked and prodded and then recommended x-rays. She found signs of osteoarthritis in Morwen’s hips (not unexpected for a kitty her age,) but no signs of breaks or muscle tears. When Morwen wasn’t better in another week, an MRI and bloodwork were taken – again showing no issues beyond the general wear and tear you’d expect on a kitty of fifteen. Having ruled out more serious conditions like renal disease, Diabetes, and tumors, was well as a muscle tear or break, the vet recommended ‘bed rest’ and gave her Metacam for pain.

Now Morwen is on a long road to recovery that, given her age, may take a few weeks’ (or even a few months’ ) time. Cats are not great fans of ‘sitting still.’ So Morwen is now confined to a very small room with stairs that allow her to move from the bed to floor without jumping and a large pillow placed so that she has a good view of the bird feeder.

Lameness in cats can have many causes and, although I had seen Morwen fall, we did full blood work to rule out issues like Diabetes and renal failure. X-rays, in addition to detecting things like breaks and even severe tears, can also be used to look for tumors or even a thrombosis – both causes for concern with lameness comes into play suddenly.

Morwen’s sprain/muscle strain is complicated by underlying osteoarthritis which, before her fall, wasn’t noticeable. True, Morwen uses the ‘kitty stairs’ rather than jumping more than she did in the past, but she never openly limped even during cold or wet weather like my Maine Coon, Tig. Maine Coons are genetically prone bone and joint conditions and Tig, who could stand to lose a few pounds, has been on preventative glucosamine/chrondrotin supplements for years. She also makes ready use of the sets of stairs I installed years ago for my geriatric cocker-spaniel, Lady, who has, long since crossed the Rainbow Bridge.

Morwen, compared to Tig, is positively spry even though they are only a year apart in age – Tig being the elder. But a muscle sprain (or worse a tear) can take more time to heal than even a break. This is as true in pets as it is in humans. Morwen’s sprain (and the x-rays and MRI its diagnosis required) brought to light the beginnings of osteoarthritis which, now, we can deal with using preventative care.

Osteoarthritis is caused by the gradual breakdown of the protective cartilage that covers the ends of the joints. There is no real cure for this progressive disease—although there are several ways to slow its progress. Approximately 25-30% of family pets suffer from osteoarthritis and it is relatively common in the human population as well.  his particular form of arthritis is usually seen in older cats (and dogs,) but can occur in middle-aged animals that are highly active. Obesity in pets is often a contributing factor and some breeds of cats and dogs are genetically predisposed to this condition. 

Morwen is now on an ongoing regime of glucosamine and chondroitin, as well as VETiONX® Promaxol™ for pain management. I also switched her senior care pet food to a brand with a higher amount of Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids, as well as glucosamine, and invested in a pet massager with a heating option. Morwen is already a fan of her pet heating pad, and, for the next month or so, has bi-weekly laser therapy sessions scheduled at the vet.

Since NSAIDS are dangerous for cats, heat therapy is a great alternative for cats with pain management issues.  Morwen already had a heated bed, but I have purchased a heating pad to put under her favorite perch as well as a heated disc (that can be re-heated in the microwave and slipped under her when she isn’t sitting near an electrical outlet). I’ve also added heated massage to her therapy and laser therapy, as well installing a few additional pet steps so that Morwen can more easily reach the beds and window sills.

While my cocker-spaniel, Lady was recovering from her ACL injury, she used water therapy. But water therapy isn’t usually an option for most cats although my Maine Coon, Tig, enjoys swimming. I would highly recommend it for water-loving cats (There are a few!) as well as dogs since it allows pets with diminished mobility to exercise and reduces stress on the joints.

Although Morwen isn’t a candidate for surgery, cats suffering from secondary (traumatic) arthritis can sometimes benefit from surgery and more aggressive treatment. Traumatic arthritis is caused by trauma to the joint and chronic sprains. Cats involved in severe falls or car accidents often suffer this type of arthritis. X-rays and MRIs can identify  arthritis of this type. It is usually treated using heat and water therapy, massage, and glucosamine and chondrotin, as well as arthroplasty procedures, such as hip replacements. Arthrodesis or permanently freezing of a joint is sometimes used when a joint is particularly unstable. Your vet can provide you with a range of options depending on your pet’s type of arthritis, age, and activity. 

Although the prognosis for cats with joint disease is good, in most situations you can expect to see a slow progression of the disease with time. This is especially true with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, a rare autoimmune condition in cats that can strike at any age and causes degeneration in the joints and tissues. Symptoms for all types of arthritis include:  reduced motion, limping or favoring one side of the body, general lethargy, fever, loss of appetite, and reluctance to climb and jump.  If your cat is not very active, then it may be very difficult to evaluate lessened activity. Morwen has always been very active cat and her change in activity was noticeable. Some of my other kitties (I’m looking at you, Tig!) are much less active—literally lying on cushions for hours and mewing when moved—so diagnosing a decrease in activity would be very difficult in their cases.

If you have an older pet, your vet will usually include a joint assessment during his (or her) geriatric check-up. But, like Morwen, your pet may hide their condition until something more traumatic, like a fall, makes it evident. Cats are notorious for hiding their pain, unlike dogs who will usually seek out their owners to let them know something is wrong. If there is any change in your cat’s behavior for more than a day or two, it is always best to visit your veterinarian. Hiding under beds or in closets, seeking out dark places, or refusing to socialize with other pets could be a sign that your cat is feeling under the weather. Any indication of pain in a pet should not be ignored. 

Arthritis, though less common in cats than in dogs, is a growing problem as our pets live longer lives.  Just as arthritis is more common in older humans, it also develops more frequently in older pets. So, if you have an older cat (or dog,) keep a sharp eye for changes in their behavior. Make sure that they stay slim—no easy task.  And you might want to start them on glucosamine and chondrotin supplements on a lesser preventive dose just in case. 

No one likes to think that their pet is getting older, but your pet can grow old with grace, and, hopefully, with proper care, live a long life with relatively few health problems.  

Beverly Forehand

Beverly Forehand is a freelance writer, editor, and social & digital media marketer living in Nashville, TN. Her stories and articles have been published in Atriad Press' Haunted Encounters, Bewildering Stories, FATE, Fine Gardening, Muscadine Lines, the Ghost Story Society, and other publications. She published a pet recipe book with Dawson Progressive and was a monthly columnist for Critter Exchange/All Creature’s Exchange, an animal advocacy newspaper, for many years. She has published a book of ghost stories, Haunted Homeplace: Tales from the Borderlands of Tennessee and Kentucky with 23House Publishing. If you like a scary story with a cat or two thrown in, you can find it at: Her hobbies include cultivating her medieval herb garden and begging her cats (unsuccessfully) to stay off the sofa. Follow her blog at or on Twitter at @Beforehand

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