About Us    Donate    

Small Animal Topics

What is a Diplomate?
The term "ACVS Diplomate" refers to a veterinarian who has been board certified in veterinary surgery.

Bookmark and Share

Text Size

Current Size: 100%

Osteoarthritis in Cats

Associated Terms:

OA (Cats)

The term "ACVS Diplomate" refers to a veterinarian who has been board certified in veterinary surgery. Only veterinarians who have successfully completed the certification requirements of the ACVS are Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons and have earned the right to be called specialists in veterinary surgery.

Your ACVS board-certified veterinary surgeon completed a three-year residency program, met specific training and caseload requirements, performed research and had research published. This process was supervised by ACVS Diplomates, ensuring consistency in training and adherence to high standards. After completing the residency program, the individual passed a rigorous examination. Only then did your veterinary surgeon earn the title of ACVS Diplomate.


In general practice OA in cats still remains overall underdiagnosed disease although there is an increasing awareness for the disease in recent years leading to more cats being treated.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a chronic disease characterized by loss of the smooth cartilage that covers and protects the end of the bones in a movable joint. When the cartilage wears away the bone is exposed and when the two bone ends in the joint touch each other it leads to pain and inflammation. In association, there are other abnormalities present that include new bone formation around the joint (osteophytosis) as a response to increased instability and inflammation in the joint also leading to pain. 

In cats the primary cause of OA often times cannot be identified and is less well understood compared to dogs where it usually occurs secondary to some other abnormality (hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament disease). The joints most commonly affected in cats are the hip, stifle, tarsus, and elbow.

Signs and Symptoms: 

Due to their reluctance to be manipulated and held, cats are challenging to examine. Different types of performance tests are used to assess their mobility and impairment. In these tests cats are encouraged to walk from one side of the room to the other and they are placed on a chair and encouraged to jump down and jump up to get to the carrier. If they are resistant to jumping that may be an indication of pain and discomfort.  



As in dogs, diagnosis of OA in cats is made by combination of physical exam and different imaging modalities such as X-rays. In cats, X-ray changes of OA are apparent in up to 90 percent of cats, with only an estimated 50 percent of these having clinical signs of impairment due to joint pain.


A multimodal approach is recommended in treating OA in cats. The basis of this approach is to use a combination of drugs that act at different levels of pain pathway and have synergistic effect with the idea of improving pain control. It is important to note that all treatment decisions are made based on individual patients and in discussion with the animal owner and surgeon.  

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. There are only two FDA-approved drugs for use in cats: meloxicam and robenacoxib and most evidence exists for efficacy of these medications. Potential toxicity deters many clinicians from routinely using them in older cats, especially those with kidney disease.
  • Adjunctive drug therapy (gabapentin, amantadine, tramadol) is used although, as in dogs, there is lack of studies evaluating their efficacy.
  • Dietary supplements (omega-3-fatty acids, glucosamine, chondroitin).
  • Weight control
  • Environmental modifications including using steps and ramps for cats unwilling or unable to jump; providing soft bedding.
  • Physical therapy is an area that is not yet developed in cats but includes different exercise that owners can perform at home such as massage and range of motion.
  • Surgical techniques are less common in cats and include joint replacement (reported for hip and stifle), arthrodesis (fusion of painful joints), and joint debridement.
Aftercare and Outcome: 

It can be challenging for clinicians to diagnose OA in cats, especially if the physical exam is difficult to perform or in some instances unremarkable. Nonetheless management should include attempting to improve cat’s living environment and minimizing stressful situations.

Content Theme: 
Also known as: 
Degenerative joint disease
OA (Cats)

This Animal Health Topic was written by and reviewed by Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.  Any opinions stated in this article are not necessarily the official position of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

The American College of Veterinary Surgeons recommends contacting an ACVS board-certified veterinary surgeon or your general veterinarian for more information about this topic.

To find an ACVS Diplomate, visit www.acvs.org/find-a-surgeon.