Feline Degenerative Joint Disease

Feline degenerative joint disease, also known as feline arthritis or feline osteoarthritis, is a condition common to older domesticated cats. It's characterized by the degeneration of the cartilage in a cat’s skeletal joints. It can cause the bones in a cat’s joints to rub together as they move, causing irritation or pain for the affected cat.

What is Feline Degenerative Joint Disease?

In healthy cats, there is a layer of cartilage that covers the ends of bones, where they connect at a joint. The cartilage is very smooth, and does not contain any nerve endings (so there's no pain for the cat as the bones rub together). In cats that suffer from feline degenerative joint disease, this cartilage layer has started to wear away, leaving the bones unprotected as they rub together. Since bones are rough and do contain nerve endings, this rubbing can cause pain and irritation. Feline degenerative joint disease also elicits the growth of osteophytes, or small bony projections, around the cat’s joints, increasing the level of pain experienced by the cat. The condition will continue getting worse throughout the rest of the cat’s life.


The longer a cat has been alive, the more total movements its joints have undergone. Wear and tear will eventually start to accumulate on the cartilage in a cat’s joints as it grows older. In older cats, feline degenerative joint disease usually occurs as a result of this wear and tear. Other conditions, such as hip dysplasia, can also potentially cause feline degenerative joint disease.


Cats have a natural tendency to hide their weaknesses, and many will not display noticeable symptoms if they can avoid it. Many owners fail to recognize that their cat suffers from feline degenerative joint disease. The most obvious symptoms in cats with this disease are a limp, usually most pronounced for a few minutes right after the cat wakes from a period of sleep, or excessive licking or biting at affected joints in an attempt to relieve pain. Other possible symptoms include a reluctance to move around or a significant decrease in the cat’s normal level of physical activity. You may notice that your cat suffers from feline degenerative joint disease when it stops jumping onto furniture, because the action is too painful, or when it stops eating much and develops litter box problems. It may be too painful for the cat to move to the food bowl or the litter box.

Feline degenerative joint disease does not usually constitute a great health risk for affected cats, but it is a very uncomfortable or painful condition. There is little you can do to cure your cat of this disease, so the least you can do is to try to make your pet as comfortable as possible.