Categories: pain

Cats in Pain: Prompt Veterinary Intervention/ Treatment are Crucial

By Jo Singer

Cats are masters at hiding pain as a survival strategy. However, kitty guardians who are “tuned into their cats will most likely recognize the more subtle symptoms of pain that their kitties are displaying. These signs can range from appetite loss, personality changes, aggression, difficulty walking, hiding, hissing or growling when they are touched in painful body areas to depression, panting or rapid breathing.

Since pain in cats may be indicative of a serious underlying medical condition, it is essential that the cat be evaluated and treated by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Unfortunately some folks consider cats as “little dogs”, but there is nothing further from the truth. Cats cannot metabolize many of the more common pain medications that dogs or humans routinely can use. There is a wider selection of pain control medications from which veterinarians can choose for dogs; but many of these drugs aren’t safe for kitties.

A few common nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs include ibuprofen and aspirin. Since felines are extremely sensitive to the side effects of NSAIDS in general, extreme caution needs to be used in cats (of at all) with this class of medications, and if used – only under strict veterinary supervision.

One of the most popular non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs used for dogs is meloxicam (Metacam). Although this drug is considered safe for post-operative pain control in cats, using this drug for long-term pain management remains extremely controversial.

In 2010 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced an addition to the “boxed warning “on the Metacam label issued by the drug’s manufacturer, Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc. (BIVI). It reads, “Repeated use of meloxicam in cats has been associated with acute renal failure and death. Do not administer additional injectable or oral meloxicam to cats. See Contraindications, Warnings, and Precautions for detailed information.”

However, according to Healthy Pets’ veterinarian, Karen Becker, DVM a 2011 Canadian study claimed that research conducted at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Universite de Montreal, Saint-Hyacinthe, QC, Canada, concluded that “Daily oral meloxicam administration of 0.025 and 0.05 mg/kg for 4 weeks significantly improved night-time (17:00–06:58 h) physical activity in cats suffering from Osteoarthritis, which suggested that meloxicam provides clinically relevant pain relief.”

In fact, since this study was sponsored by the drug’s manufacturer, there possibly may be a conflict of interest in their findings and recommendations. As a result, Dr. Becker isn’t at all sold on its long-term safety for cats.

According to Pet MD, cats are about two to five times more sensitive to NSAIDS than are dogs. As a result dosages for cats are greatly reduced from the routine use of other species, are given for only a short time, are generally used only when safer forms of pain control medications aren’t sufficient and the dosing intervals are prescribed at greater intervals than they are for dogs or humans.

What about Tylenol (Acetaminophen)? This is a drug that is far more dangerous and toxic to cats than NSAIDS. This medication should never be given to a cat under any circumstances. Since just one 500 Mg tablet of Regular Strength Tylenol can kill a cat, kitty guardians must be extremely careful about handling the drug in the presence of cats, or accidentally leaving a bottle of the drug where little feline paws can reach it. Acetaminophen causes damage to the kidneys, destroys liver cells and produces other lethal effects. However, this drug can be given to dogs under certain circumstances; but only if a veterinarian recommends it.

Today there are safer drugs for cats to alleviate severe pain that veterinarians may prescribe. For cats experiencing severe pain, an opioid drug called Buprenorphine is highly successful; however for long term use it can be quite costly.

Other opioid drugs available for cats include Tramadol, Butorphanol and Fentanyl Patches for post-surgical pain management and for treating pain in terminally ill feline cancer patients.

As an alternative or in conjunction with pain control medication, acupuncture and laser therapy can also provide relief from chronic pain in cats. Additionally, some holistic (Integrative) veterinarians may prescribe certain Chinese herbal medications to alleviate pain in cats.

Of course, if you suspect your cat is hurting, always first consult with your veterinarian before dispensing any pain control medication. What may be safe for one cat may be contra-indicated for another.

What types of pain control methods do your veterinarians use for alleviating pain for your cats? Please share your experiences in a comment.


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Jo Singer

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  • If I see that they're in pain, I take them to the vet. I can ONLY take acetaminophen myself and would be very wary of giving my cats NSAIDS as well, since the one strong one I took (on RX from arthritis docs) sent my kidneys into a tizzy and I am much larger than my cats.

  • As I do in my own case, I don't believe in western "medicine" which treats symptoms, often with harmful drugs which have terrible and sometimes life-threatening side-effects. Feeding top-quality food, providing plenty of fresh clean water, and enriching cats' lives with lots of cat furniture, scratchers, toys, windows for watching the world, comfortable relaxing/sleeping places, and personal loving attention are best for ensuring a comfortable life. Pain is nature's way of telling us that something is wrong; we shouldn't take drugs to mask pain, but rather address what is causing the pain in the first place. And no one is immortal; we need to stop thinking that "quick fix" is the answer to everything.

  • Ofcourse, pain relief for cats is tricky.
    For those of us who have experienced how well Metacam can work, we know that we can pretty much throw it out the window. Buprenorphine is costly and has mixed reviews.
    Cats CAN take aspirin in small doses. I rely on that a lot and have good results.

    • Dee, Metacam scares me. When you read about it damaging kidneys I don't see how we can give it too cats especially old cats who are likely to have kidney failure anyway.

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