I think my cat is having joint pain, can't really tell, want to help
January 13, 2022 9:15 PM   Subscribe

I have a male cat who is, um... maybe 13-15 years old, who is fairly overweight and is very sedentary. And I'm starting to think his sedentary state is because his front joints hurt when he walks. mr. hippybear says he doesn't see it, but I spend more time with him, and he seems to be really moving differently and not very happy about it. I'd like to know how to be more clear if he is in pain, or not, and what I can do about it to help (food additives, OTC medications) that might help before restoring to a vet visit.

Of course, he will go to his food and water and his litterbox, and his bed is up on a shelf so he has to jump up to it, but he isn't doing that jump is quickly anymore. And he has a different shelf he used to sleep on, but doesn't anymore -- it has a different way to get on it that might be less friendly to bad front leg joints.

When I try to gently feel his, um... "elbows" (which might be wrists for all I know, but you know which joint I mean), he really gets unhappy about it. He's not that way about his shoulders or wrists.

I'm wondering if his weight isn't a factor, both stemming from him having bad joints, and also probably exacerbating the bad joint situation. Maybe if he felt better he'd move more and he'd weigh less and then move more. (not fat shaming here -- he's suffering somehow, and I'm concerned about that, not his weight.)

Anyway... insights into cat pain, understanding pain signals in cats, treatments for cat pain, solutions for helping a cat feel better... the "go to a vet" thing is a given, but I don't have $$$ so I'm wanting to try other things first.
posted by hippybear to Pets & Animals (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You can try glucosamine supplements. Make sure to get the cat or toy dog dosage.
posted by freshwater at 9:23 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: How are those administered?
posted by hippybear at 9:29 PM on January 13

Best answer: Does he have a warm place to sleep to ease his joint pain? Human heating pads can be too warm, but a microwaved rice sock or a warm water bottle or an electric blanket might be things to try before you spend money for a pet heat mat. Move his bed close to a heater?

Cats tend to hide pain, the behaviors you mention are the sorts of things that indicate he’s likely hurting. If you can move his bed so he doesn’t have to jump and generally make getting to the things he needs easy, that would be kind.

I think you can get pet joint supplements in a treat format, although I haven’t used them.
posted by momus_window at 9:56 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]

Best answer: A warm well padded spot to sleep and making it easier to get up and down from things helps. Hopping up didn't seem to be as big issue for cats I've known but getting down got slower as they got older.

Glucosamine comes in chews or something you can sprinkle on food.
posted by oneear at 9:56 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]

We use this green lipped mussel powder for my dog's joint health. I like it because there are no additives, since he has a lot of ingredient sensitivities. We just scoop some on top of his food in the morning.

If you don't have a knee jerk bad reaction to the very idea, consider CBD oil, either in chews or dropped directly into their food in a dropper. It helped my old dog with her pain SO much in the last few weeks of her life. We could tell when it was wearing off because her breathing would get shallow and labored. It's not cheap either, but might be cheaper than a vet visit.
posted by potrzebie at 10:01 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've also begun feeding my cat joint supplements as well. Likely you have better access to the available products in the market. I can't get CBD oil here but there are hemp oil for felines. The active ingredient via hemp iirc is meant to be less addictive (? idk, it's just less illegal here) but the anti-inflammatory and soothing effects do seem to help.

For the joint supplements, it depends on how well your cat tolerates being made to eat stuff. Mine hates being told to eat chews and will not abide any tablets (and too smart to take it via fakery), but Nutramax has one (Dasuquin) that's also a sprinkle formula, so you can administer as tablets or sprinkle it into the food. That one has glucosamine and other whole food extracts. I'd take something with green-lipped mussels but the cat will not abide anything visibly medicinal.

In addition, black soldier fly oil is also sold here, and that has palmic and lauric acids and omega-3, -6, and -9. Every other day i squeeze a bit into her wet food. It tastes and smells fairly inoffensive, and somewhat nutty. I'm trying to explore more sustainable resources, and this seems to be a viable substitute to salmon/fish oil.

I can say I've noticed a difference from a place of similar suspicions. She doesn't seem as upset when I touch certain joint parts and I've noticed she's started jumping a bit more again.
posted by cendawanita at 10:17 PM on January 13

So, I have 4 elderly cats, approximately 14-19 years old. The oldest has been cranky about her hips for years. Got a heated bed for her recently, and she's enjoying life more! For the first few weeks, she just slept and slept and slept there. Recently she's been spending more time up and awake, more active, even sleeps on nonheated beds sometimes. Still a bit cranky about having her hips touched, but she doesn't spend so long trying to find a comfortable position.

As far as supplements go, 2 of my other cats just today started on these senior cat vitamins. My cats are anemic because of kidney failure, they're on it for the iron, but they do have glucosamine, too. And 2 out of 3 cats in my house approve the flavor, at least for today! They are fickle beasts, will probably reject the treats entirely by the weekend.
posted by dorey_oh at 10:37 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]

Ramps. Make him some ramps, or incrementally-tall boxes like mini stairs, to help him get to his bed and anywhere else he needs to go.

Be cognizant of the types of movement he needs to do -- try to work around anything too extreme, but let him walk gently when possible.

And let him stay as warm as he likes.
posted by amtho at 10:47 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]

Best answer: If you live somewhere that it's obtainable, you might consider trying a cbd product for pets. It's really helped my pupper in his old age, and he moves a lot better, even during the winter. Granted, I'm in Oregon, but some of the techs at the vet's office were even willing to recommend it and tell me where to get it, as an alternative to pills that are harder on his tummy.

Bonus, it also helps calm him and let him sleep when things such as thunderstorms, fireworks, gunshots, cars modified to sound like gunshots, transformers exploding during high wind, and all that fun sort of stuff are going on. So then I get to curl up with my snuggly, sleeping emotional support animal instead of emotionally supporting a shivering, shaking, terrified little chicken of a dog.
posted by stormyteal at 12:47 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Not to be gloomy but our cat went from behaving similarly to how you describe to being almost unable to walk and having to be put to sleep in quite a short period of time. She had arthritis and some bone had splintered in her back "elbows". This was discovered via X-ray. If we'd known we'd have made sure she didn't have to jump to get anywhere important for her much earlier on, and could have given her a better pain management and made decisions about euthanasia in a more considered way. Hope this is not the case for your boy!
posted by Balthamos at 1:27 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

I got my elderly gentleman step stools to get up on the bed and sofa, and he seems to appreciate them. He also likes to snuggle in piles of blankets for his achy joints.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 2:21 AM on January 14

Yeah, if he's clearly in pain, that's extreme - stop him from having to jump _anywhere_. Make him a nice soft warm nest, or several, in places that are accessible by ramp. If he likes to follow you around, figure out how to gently pick him up and carry him and put him where he'd like to be.
posted by amtho at 2:53 AM on January 14 [4 favorites]

Others have given good ideas about how to soothe his pain. If he's overweight that's going to put more stress on his joints too, particularly when landing. Maybe try reducing his food intake a little to gradually coax that extra weight off? Adding exercise is not an option given the joint pain, but controlling food is more important for weight loss anyway.
posted by schroedinger at 4:35 AM on January 14 [5 favorites]

Also: make litter box access as easy as possible: put a step or ramp up to the entry edge if it's over about 2" (seriously), and maybe keep the litter deep so he doesn't have to step down very much.

Make sure the litter box is big enough that he doesn't have to squish himself down to turn around inside.
posted by amtho at 5:58 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

When our cat was having issues the vet gave us Osteo TruBenefits tablets, with instructions to give him 1/4 tablet daily (a full tablet is 300 mg). We just crushed it and mixed it with his morning food. The bottle says the active ingredient is Perna canaliculus, which is Glycoprolex Green lipped mussel extract.

We have a lot of tablets left we could pass on to you, if you wanted to try it for yours, but I would recommend at least talking to your vet about it before adding any supplements to the diet of an older cat. (We stopped giving it to our cat because he is currently getting chemo for cancer and on 3 meds. so we wanted to cut down to a minimum the stuff we were having to give him.)
posted by gudrun at 6:41 AM on January 14

IANYV, but IAAV. Please visit your area feline veterinarian. They will be able to assess his pain level and prescribe meds appropriately, as well as advise on which over-the-counter things are safe and helpful in your individual cat's situation. Cats can't take NSAIDS the same way dogs can because of some species differences in metabolism. But there are other options! Seconding getting the weight off, which is not impossible but takes discipline and possibly a diet change. Osteoarthritis is 1) common in older cats, 2) underdiagnosed by general practitioners unless they are savvy about feline medicine specifically, and 3)exacerbated greatly by extra weight. Hope this helps some.
posted by SinAesthetic at 6:55 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]

Hey there, long time cat owner including one that made it to 18.5.

First of all, if the cat is fat, and you are feeding dry food, I would highly encourage you to switch over to wet food. That is literally the only way my cat ever lost weight, and as a bonus, it has more water in it, so it's good for their kidneys especially as they age.

Secondly, my vet prescribed Cosequin which you can literally get through Chewy. I'd make sure with your vet if possible that this is the right route, but it helped my cat until she was Very Aged and then they switched her to a different supplement (and I can't remember what that one is, unfortunately).

Thirdly mobility aids! I got a floor pouf that was about 1/2 the height of my couch to help her get up on the couch more easily and since she was allowed on my bed, I got her some cat stairs (one - cheaper, two - slightly more expensive).

Losing weight is HUGE though; if you can switch food and get your cat's weight down, it will go a long way. Happy to answer questions as the former owner of an extremely old cat with mobility concerns.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:03 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]

Nthing on several fronts - weight, mobility aids, warm places to lie, but as soon as you can, please do go to the vet. You'll want to rule out an injury that could need care, and to get a script for pain meds if it's arthritis. It's very much possible to make at least some arthritic cats more comfortable and mobile via meds.
posted by Stacey at 7:07 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Another vote for heated cat beds or just a warm soft space for the cat. We have a cat bed in front of a heating vent and the eldest cat LOVES it. Also had a handy family member build cat steps to every fav roosting spot in the house... bed couch etc. Ofc you can buy pet steps online and some are pretty cheap. I think keeping the cat from having to jump down and loading a bunch of weight on joints is key.

Weight loss: seconding switch to wet food if that's not already the diet. We literally have to track one of our cats' intake bc if not he will go from person to person meowing piteously as though he hadn't just been fed (though rapid weight loss for cats can be dangerous so don't feed too little)

If you do end up going to vet then adequan injections have been a literal miracle cure for two cats I've had with arthritis. Took them from sedentary and creaky to running and playing again. Giving the injections suck and if I recall it's pretty expensive but worth it.

Also throwing in this random anecdote: we had a 16 yo cat who literally hobbling around. We thought he had arthritis. Turns out he was in beginning stages of kidney disease (very common in senior cats) and his potassium was very low. Potassium supplementation completely fixed the problem. I wouldn't supplement potassium without bloodwork and vet advice but just another possibility that neither we nor our vet had considered.
posted by whistle pig at 7:15 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]

Our middle-aged fat cat lost weight when we switched all the kitties to wet food and her quality of life improved dramatically. She started playing again! Chasing after toys, wrestling with her kitty siblings, running down the stairs. I couldn't believe the difference in her. The motivation for us to switch them to wet food was her apparent distress at walking. She clearly was in pain. I'm so glad we changed their diet.
posted by cooker girl at 7:18 AM on January 14

Cats are very good at hiding pain, or rather it is really hard to tell, so if you feel that possibly the cat is in pain (and from your description i think he is in pain), assume the pain is strong.
Do see a vet. I know this is expensive. Make a video so you can show the vet. Rearrange so he does not need to jump in the meantime.

(My mother's cats, three of them, all lived to 20years. My own two lived to 16yrs, unfortunately both developed kidney disease. I think the difference was my mother cooked for the cats. Mine ate mostly ready made). All the best
posted by 15L06 at 9:10 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

My experience was very similar to Medieval Maven's. My cat also lived to around 18 years old, and he also started to show signs of osteoarthritis around 14ish. I 100% believe you about your cat's pain signs -- my cat showed very similar subtle signs at first, which became more obvious as time went on and the problem progressed. I noticed it first because I knew him best; others picked it up later. This is definitely worth a discussion with your vet whenever you're next able to get in -- they'll will be able to offer more specific advice and rule out other possible problems.

Weight loss / wet food, Cosequin, and mobility aids all helped with the arthritis. You might consider setting up a second bed for your cat in a location that doesn't require him to jump. You might also consider litter box access. As my cat's pain got worse, he had a harder and harder time squatting to do his business, and some waste made it over the side of the box. We got him a much bigger box (a cut-down Rubbermaid bin) with a step/ramp contraption (built out of cardboard boxes), which helped a lot. CBD did nothing for him, though he did really enjoy the butter I mixed it with. Your results might vary on this, since CBD is so poorly regulated that one product or batch might be nothing like the next.

I did notice that my cat's joint pain seemed worse when the weather changed (just like many humans). When it got bad, he seemed to really appreciate a hot pad, heated gently and placed in such a way that he could easily scootch away from it if he wanted to. I just used the same hot pad I have for myself, but you could also get a heated cat bed. Best of luck to you and your kitty.
posted by ourobouros at 9:47 AM on January 14

Weight loss can really help animals with mobility issues. We saw a marked improvement in our 14 yo dog after the vet suggested our dog would have an easier time if she lost a couple pounds (like from 12 to 10). She's still stiff occasionally but is much more spry and seems far more cheerful generally. I agree with several posters above that higher quality wet food can be enough to make a difference.

If you are in a legal cannabis state/place, the best place to get legit CBD products, even for animals, is from a dispensary. We use Vet CBD -mostly for acute pain in either our dog or cats, along with whatever the vet has prescribed, or when the animals seemed stressed (fireworks nights).
posted by oneirodynia at 12:22 PM on January 15

Nthing weight loss, no jumping, heated sleep, ramps, more cushioning.

Agree with cosequin (chewable, liver flavor), adequan (injectable) will depend on the cat. For some it's great, others no effect.

Would suggest fairly aggressive weight loss, while always making sure he's eating -something- and drinking. If you can get the weight off him, it has an enormous effect on joint pain for these guys, especially when jumping!

Also second feline vet if you don't have one - often older kitties are subtle, and while annuals and vax are fine with a multi-species vet, our senior friends do a lot better with specialists. If the vet suggests a blood panel (I bet they will), say yes to the thyroid add-on or the bundle that contains it. Thyroid drugs can be oral or an ointment applied to ears, and if that's any part of his jumping issue, results of tx can be gratifying! Watch those kidneys and keep him drinking. Hugs to both of you from my geriatric crew! :)

Edit - forgot CBDs and THCs.... unlike I think everyone, I haven't found them very helpful for mine... Sedating yes, but if I want that I can give extra gabbapentin much more safely and be certain of effects and manufacture. Try but only continue if you're confident of improvement.
posted by esoteric things at 12:10 AM on January 16

Response by poster: Thanks for the kind answers and attention to this question, everyone. I've gotten a heating pad, CBD stuff and two different joint aids, omega oils and glucosamine/etc. I looked around the area for a cat specialist vet and found this wonderful (seeming) office run by women in the sort of "cool" part of the city so I'll try to get him an appointment there soon. I'm also restricting his diet which he is going to hate but oh well.

Thanks again, and I'll post more if I learn more!
posted by hippybear at 7:54 PM on January 22

Response by poster: So, my cat is entirely unwilling to eat either wet or dry food that has been mixed with any of the supplements, either separately or in different combinations. We've cut back his rations a lot and he's grumpy enough about that, but he starved himself for two days before I gave up and gave him unadulterated food, which he ate.

So, I'm not sure how to get any of these helpful things I bought into him. But I'll keep trying!
posted by hippybear at 10:00 PM on January 25

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