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Caring for Older Cats with Joint & Mobility Issues

Caring for Older Cats with Joint & Mobility Issues

Caring for older cats can be quite challenging for most. A recent study found that nearly 90% of cats over the age of 12 years old developed osteoarthritis.

Another study found that 48% of cats over 6 years old were likely to develop two different joint-related conditions. For example, arthritis and joint inflammation or joint inflammation and cartilage deterioration.

If your cat has some sort of joint issues, it will need very special care and attention. It will not be able to move around as quickly or easily as it had previously. You will need to make special accommodations for your cat to live a fulfilled life.

If you suspect your cat has joint issues, the first thing you need to do is seek veterinary assistance.

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How Old Is Old?

As the saying goes, you’re as old as you think you are…or something like that… But in general, there are certain ages where living organisms have a greater chance of experience certain or more increased conditions, diseases, etc.

The is usually a range of time and is always dependent on several factors like:

  • living conditions
  • health conditions
  • quality of food eaten over the years
  • how much exercise it has had over the years
  • genetics
  • the cat’s size
  • and much of the same factors we have to consider as humans

For cats, ‘old age’ can start as young as 6 years old but is typically 10 years and above. A 14-year-old cat is well into is senior years.

Once your cat reaches these ages, you should spend time with them daily so that you can catch any signs of discomfort. If you suspect they are ill, injured or ailing in some way, you should take them to your vet immediately.

Signs Your Cat May Have Joint Issues

Since joint pain is detrimental to your cat’s ability to move, most of the signs are movement-related such as:

  • less frequent or no jumping, climbing, or running
  • less activity in general
  • sudden weight gain
  • lays around doing nothing
  • careful going up and down steps

Caring for Older Cats with Arthritis or Joint Issues

1. Talk To Your Cat’s Vet

Caring for older cats with arthritis is different but very doable. Your first step is to get your cat’s veterinarian involved.

You will need them to do a physical examination that includes x-rays. This will not only help them to see the issues your cat is having but it will also help to confirm the same to you.

Don’t take your own awareness for granted. Ask questions. Dig deep into understanding what is going on with your cat and what you need to do to make him/her feel comfortable. The more informed you are the better you will be at caring for your older cat(s).

Ask about food requirements, furniture requirements, and anything that you think that you might need to know. I know sometimes asking a lot of questions from your perspective might seem invasive but remember, your cat’s vet is there to help and answer your questions. 🙂

2. Change Their Diet

In general, cats require a high amount of protein and in particular animal protein. This is because only animal meat contains the type of protein and minerals cats need such as taurine and arachidonic acid.

If you are vegetarian or vegan you will need to feed your cats what they require at this point. I know it is a tough cookie to swallow but you have to think about your cat first.

If you wanted to save the bunny, a cat isn’t the right pet to have in the first place as they are natural born hunters. Giving them up for needing what they need isn’t a viable option either as far as we’re concerned.

You should also make sure that your cat is eating grain-free cat foods as grains and fillers are known to worsen inflammation. My personal favorite is ‘Whole Earth Farms Grain Free’ cat food.

My cats love it and are actually satisfied after eating it. Their coats shine, their eyes are clear and beautiful, and I’m going off on a tangent but it really is a good place to start if you need one. 🙂

Just be sure not to overfeed your cat. You might even need to feed them less because they will likely be less active. If you find that they are turning into skin and bones, you’re feeding them too little. It will take some trial and error to find the right amount for each of your senior cats.

3. Supplements

Another thing that you can add to your senior cat’s diet is supplements. Certain vitamins and minerals may help improve your cat’s condition such as:

  • DHA
  • EPA
  • Glucosamine
  • Chondroitin

Although these are study proven to help improve feline arthritis and other joint diseases, make sure to discuss them with your cat’s vet before adding them to their diet.

4. Caring for Older Cats By Giving Them Special Conditions

As we talked about earlier, your cat will not be able to move around as easily as it used to. They won’t be able to climb or jump which means that you will need to make special accommodations for them.

Litterbox & Litter

Some things might be more apparent than others. The first thing you will want to do is get a litter box that is easier for him/her to climb into. Look for one with low sides that is about twice the size of your cat so that they can also move around in it more comfortably.

I like to use hooded boxes because they consolidate the mess but it doesn’t have to be hooded if you don’t prefer. You can find some good ones at your local hardware store too. That’s what I used to do before I could afford the hooded kind and they work just as well 😉

You can also use a fine, soft litter. This will make it more comfortable for them to walk on but also easier for them to move around. I like to use one by Oiko cat but the price is so bipolar on Amazon sometimes it’s frustrating, lol. But it is a good litter in my book!


Provide your cat with a comfortable place to rest. This might take a bit of trial and error as well.

cat_climbing_structures_old_cat_care_furniture_cushionsPersonally, I don’t use cat beds (or dog beds even) for my pets. I go to Walmart and get the kiddy couches, pillows, etc. They are cheaper and I find my animals like them better than ‘pet beds’.

I know this because my daughter always comes to me and asks if I could move the cat and more recently the dogs from her Minnie Mouse Couch, lol.

Whatever you choose, make sure that it is soft but supports your cat’s body. You don’t want something that will deflate after a couple of uses either.

I think this is one of the reasons my animals like my daughter’s kiddie couch is because the cushions are foam instead of fluff that compacts after a couple of uses.

Easy Access To Food and Water

If you’re like me and have cats and dogs or multiple ground dwelling pets, you probably put the cat food off the floor since they don’t mind jumping up to get it anyways. I usually put their food bowls up on their cat trees while the water is communal. If you have a different setup, please feel free to share in the comments below 🙂

The problem with this setup is that older cats will have trouble getting all the way up to those high heights. Of course, there are accommodations that you can make with cat trees for older cats, and I’m going to get to that in a minute but one way or the other, the old tree with high platforms isn’t going to work anymore.

Their food will need to be either low to the ground or easy for them to get to. If you have dogs like I do who seem to love cat food better than dog food (grrrr!!! lol) you have one or two options.

1) You can watch your cat the whole time they’re eating on the ground

2) Get or create a sheltered area to place your cat’s bowl.

Since cats are sort of munch through the day eaters, option 2 is preferable. There are some really cool options like a modified box with a small cat door that dogs won’t be able to get into.

I saw one where a person made a cat house out of a modified chicken coupe. But my favorite configuration is this one where a cat-friendly ramp softly inclines on top of a piece of furniture that is out of reach of dogs.

You might think your cat will have trouble climbing the ramp but I also feel like it will make them feel more at home because they are used to climbing. Think about something you always could do then all of a sudden it is difficult to do like walking if you have an injury or after a certain age for example.

It is the same with your cat. They might get up there a little slower but it may feel more normal if they can still get some sort of ‘climbing’ in their day.

Cat Furniture, Trees, and other Cat Climbing Structures

Since we are on the topic, let’s talk about feeding your cat’s natural instincts to climb. Having joint issues makes moving and jumping difficult but perhaps there is a way that we can give them some upward mobility.

Just like with people, you can make accommodations for cats to continue to live happily, fulfilled lives. They might not be able to get to the heights that they are used to but we can certainly help them to get to some heights!

One of the easiest ways to do this is with ramps. There are cat trees that come with them installed already. These tend to be shorter as well.

cat_climbing_structures_caring_for_older_cats_stairsLikewise, you can look for cats stands that have close platforms like a staircase so they can climb up instead of having to jump. This way their muscles will still get some exercise as well.

You can also get wall mounted platforms that go up with ramps instead of using separate platforms.

Lastly, whether it be some kind of cat climbing structure or a small ladder, you should have some around so that your senior cat can get to its favorite spots like a window, your’s or your kid’s beds, the couch, or wherever they usually like to hang out. You can even get one going to the counter if you’re into that sort of thing! 🙂

We will be writing a separate post about our recommendations for the best cat trees for older cats.

Hopefully, by now you feel comfortable with caring for your older cat whether it has arthritis or other joint issues. Your tasks will likely be very different but very doable.

If you have any questions, comments or other feedback please leave them in the comments box below. Click the button below to see the best cat furniture for senior cats.

Learn More About The Best Cat Trees for Older Cats

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