Helping Cats with Arthritis

Could feline arthritis be helped by nutraceuticals? An expert weighs in.


As cats age, many will develop arthritis. In one study, it was determined that 90 percent of cats over the age of 12 show some radiographic signs of arthritis. However, young cats can suffer from this condition, as well.

“Reduced activity is the clearest sign that a cat has become arthritic,” explains Cailin Heinze, VMD, Assistant Professor of nutrition in the Department of Clinical Sciences at the Cummings School. “She’ll be less able to jump up on furniture, and she may have trouble getting into and out of her litter box.”

In some cases, the cat will start limping, or become more sedentary, and may indicate that she is in pain when her lower back or limbs are touched. The disorder and its discomfort tend to be more serious in overweight or obese cats, explains Dr. Heinze.

Joint Supplements for Cats

Unfortunately, osteoarthritis in cats is incurable. However, a number of treatment options are available to relieve the pain. Veterinarian-prescribed drugs can be effective for relatively mild, sporadic discomfort, while anti-inflammatory medications may be useful for long-term pain relief. And over the past two decades, a variety of over-the-counter dietary supplements called nutraceuticals − most notably glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and omega-3 fatty acids − have gained widespread popularity for their purported ability to ease the joint discomfort associated with feline arthritis.

In general, gastrointestinal upset tends to be the only side effect caused by glucosamine and chondroitin, which are typically combined in a single formulation. Dr. Heinze says that omega-3 fatty acids are useful dietary supplements because they have known anti-inflammatory effects and thus may be effective in easing joint discomfort.

“At least one study has shown that arthritic cats whose diets were supplemented with fish oil were, according to their owners, happier, could jump higher, and so forth, than arthritic cats who were given a placebo,” says Dr. Heinze. “Of course, the owners’ opinions were subjective, so I don’t know how much we can conclude from the study. But on the whole, the data — including data derived from studies on people, dogs, and rodents as well as cats — suggest that supplements containing fish oil offer some degree of benefit.”

In theory, it makes sense that glucosamine and chondroitin additives might also be of some value in improving the health of a cat’s joints. “These substances are basically sugars that are among the natural building blocks of the cartilage in those joints. So the idea is that, since osteoarthritis is caused by a breakdown of that cartilage over time, the remaining cartilage would theoretically be improved by supplementing the animal’s diet with these cartilage precursors. But glucosamine and chondroitin don’t do that, since damaged cartilage really can’t be rebuilt,” says Dr. Heinze. “The good news is that there are studies in other animals and anecdotal reports indicating that these substances may improve comfort in some situations – perhaps through an anti-inflammatory mechanism. And if you’re using a high-quality product from a reputable source – a product that actually contains what the supplier says it contains – then the safety level is pretty high.”

Regarding potential risks posed by the routine consumption of dietary supplements, Dr. Heinz says: “Glucosamine and chondroitin are generally safe, although they can possibly have gastrointestinal side effects. As for fish oil, lower doses of high-quality products are quite well tolerated, with mild gastrointestinal side effects being most common. With higher doses of fish oil, however, there is the possibility of bleeding problems, immunosuppression, and several other side effects. Because dietary supplements in general fall into a kind of gray area — they’re neither drugs nor foods —they don’t require FDA approval of their safety and efficacy before they can be marketed. This is really important for cat owners to know. While dietary supplements can be helpful, some are of poor quality, can contain contaminants, and can cause health problems.

“Discuss the situation with your veterinarian first to make sure that you select a high-quality product. And after feeding the supplement to your cat for a few months, if you see that a supplement is not helping, it doesn’t make any sense to continue.”


  1. One of our cats had very bad arthritis, but he was not overweight. What helped him immensely was laser therapy. This is the same type of laser therapy that is done on humans muscle and joint injuries; only specifically designed for cats and dogs. We had to take Jazz to the vet once a week to get his treatment, but it was a world difference for him.

  2. I am trying to find something to help my kitty with her arthritis. Can you give me any more information like what type of laser and how often and how did they do it? Anything you can tell me would be appreciated. Thank you!

  3. *** I am not a veterinarian and please speak with your vet, who knows your particular cat’s health issues, before starting any medication or supplement ***
    I blog about cats and our online community includes a lot of cat people using Adequan injections to help arthritis. At first, our vet refused to write a prescription because its use in cats is off-label (right now, I believe it’s on-label for dogs and horses only) – but I presented him with quite a bit of research and he used his sources as well – and he finally agreed. My boy had pretty much stopped jumping entirely – and we’re at week 7 now, and he’s back to jumping short distances and annoying his sister. A lot of us also use gabapentin for arthritis pain though I don’t have any direct experience with it myself (that was our next step after a couple months of the Adequan). My boy still gets Dasuquin Advanced supplement (recommended by our vet) – but I don’t think that’s helped (he was on it for almost two months before we started Adequan – and I’ve continued giving it to him too). I don’t feel comfortable repeating information I’ve found online, but if you search, “adequan injections for cats,” you will find several sources of information to provide your vet to discuss if Adequan is right for your cat.

  4. My almost 20 year old cat’s arthritis is being treated with acupuncture treatment twice a month. She is now even able to jump up on the bed without using the pet stairs.

  5. I have had my 15 year old cat on Desuquin for 3 years, and the improvement has been outstanding. She is more active resulting in a 5 pound weight loss, good thing because she was getting pretty porky. I also give her 1/4 tsp of Pure Icelandic cod liver oil daily.

  6. Thirty years ago, before trained and licensed veterinary acupuncture was around, I came across a local acupuncturist who had done his own research about acupuncture for companion animals and was offering services for them. I had two
    old arthritic cats, both in their late teens at the time, who were painful and had limited mobility, and I started them both on acupuncture. The results were very positive, and helped them both enormously. They had another several good years
    before they died, and I’m sure without the pain relief , minus drug side effects, I would have had to euthanize them humanely. Both lived out their lives at home
    and passed gently , on their own time, at ages 21 and 19. Acupuncture will always be my first go to for arthritis, for myself and my animals.


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