The Truth About Cats and Pain

Do cats REALLY suffer from chronic pain?

Anyone who is a cat lover wants to keep their pet as healthy and happy as possible for as long as possible, right? I think we all agree on this. However, can you tell if your cat is suffering from low-grade, chronic pain? Many owners cannot and are surprised when during an examination I point out something that is likely pain related. For those of you who think you can tell, here is a quick quiz. Pick the painful cat:

Did you do it? It’s hard isn’t it!? Did you know the NUMBER ONE sign of osteoarthritis in cats is an increase in “sleep” and a decrease in movement overall? Many owners interpret this as “aging”, however, many older cats continue to run, play and chase toys well into their upper teens! Other signs of arthritis may include: inappropriate elimination (near but not in the box), decreased grooming, difficulty jumping (up or down) or even a change in eating patterns.

The answer, by the way, is the black cat. He was 22 years old at the time of this picture and suffering from arthritis and a host of other illnesses. You’d never know it to look at him!

Of course, arthritis isn’t the only chronic pain our cats may “suffer in silence” with. Oral pain, bladder pain, intestinal pain and neurogenic (nerve pain) are commonly seen in our feline companions. Just like arthritis pain, the signs of discomfort are often subtle in cats. At times we perform an oral exam on a cat that has severe resorptive lesions in its mouth (similar to cavities eating your teeth away) and the owner has not noticed that the cat is uncomfortable!

This is urine from a “normal” person (or cat) and a person (or cat) with interstitial cystitis. Either way it looks uncomfortable, right?! If your urine was red, you’d go straight to urgent care!

Do the human teeth below look painful to YOU? Then you can imagine how painful the kitty on the right is!

I think most of us would agree that if it was US in the above pictures, we would be painful and on our way to a doctor or dentist ASAP. Because our kitties have no way to directly tell us they are uncomfortable, it is up to us to look for subtle signs of pain in our friends!

Coming next – what can we do about chronic pain in cats??

by Dr Diane Scott

Dr Scott - Oakview Vet Stevens Point Plover WI

Dr. Scott is a 1986 graduate of Michigan State University. She has advanced training and a special interest in avian, exotic and feline medicine.
A member of the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the Association of Avian Veterinarians, she is also associated with Houserabbit Society and Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians.
Dr. Scott and her husband have two children as well as two cats, one dog, and four horses.

From Scared to Happy: Inara’s Story

Following is a testimonial about the effectiveness of Happy Visits from Inara’s mom and dad:

When we adopted Inara, we were told that she was severely afraid of going to the vet. The humane society would have such a hard time keeping her still that often times Inara would be sedated for examinations. We were also told that she had “no touch zones.” Specifically, she did not like others touching her butt, feet, belly, or tail. Being first time dog owners, we were nervous about what this meant for taking our dog to the vet. I had called a different vet in town, and when I expressed concerns about my dog’s “vet aggression” I was told that “we won’t know until your dog gets here.” I wasn’t comfortable with that response and decided to call Oakview. When I called and explained my situation I was greeted with empathy and understanding. The kind person on the other end of the phone explained to me that we could bring Inara by the day before so that she could be introduced to all of the smells of a new place. This was our first happy visit. We walked her around the building, brought her inside, and were even allowed to bring her into an examination room, all the while getting treats and attention from everyone who met her. The next day for the official examination, we ended up having an accidental happy visit. We were supposed to meet with the vet, but his dog happened to get out that afternoon and so we had a makeshift happy visit instead. That’s when we met Emily and got to ask all of our first time dog owner questions, and Inara received attention, praise, and many treats. After this, in the first few months of owning Inara we were trying to manage her weight, so we would regularly bring her into the vet to get weighed. And of course, every time she went she would get lots of attention and a few treats. After a few months of doing this, we could see Inara getting excited when we would pull into the Oakview parking lot. She was associating it with good things, which made her first annual check-up go very well. We couldn’t believe at how well she handled the examination. She sat still for the vet, let others touch her feet, butt, and belly, and even allowed blood to be taken with almost no reaction. In a year, our dog went from not wanting to be touched in certain areas, nipping at the vet, and having to be sedated, to being excited about going to the vet, getting up on the table on her own, and sitting still (for the most part) during her examination. Happy visits were not only good for Inara, but also for us as well. We are able to ask all of our questions that we may have, follow up on concerns or behaviors we have noticed, all the while our dog is conditioned to having the vet be a happy, positive, and safe place to be. We will be eternally grateful for the care that Oakview has provided our four legged family member and the kindness and support they also provided us.

What to Expect at a Happy Visit at Oakview Vet

Last week I told you how “Happy Visits” can help your anxious pet. But, what can you expect to happen?

  • The first thing to remember is that a Happy visit is designed to be well, happy! These visits are short and can take time to see dramatic progress depending on the Fear, Anxiety, and Stress (FAS) signs your pet is showing at the clinic.
  • Ideally most of the time we recommend to bring your pet in 1-2 times per week (more is never wrong either!) Having multiple short positive visits can help to speed up the progress of your pet.
  • Please bring your pets HUNGRY. This is huge, especially if your pet is fed free choice. If that is the case, pick up the food at least 2 hours prior to the visit. One of our best tools is to offer tasty smelly, even stinky treats. Coming in hungry makes them more eager to take treats from us so, then can learn and form a bond with us. We offer a variety and can do special diet requests. In fact, we encourage you to bring in a very special treat that you know your pet loves.
  • Speaking of treats, we feed a lot of them during the visit. So it’s best to use treats that can be broken apart into very small pieces so we don’t make them sick! Feeding small treats very frequently also helps to encourage good behaviors.
  • Please give any pre-visit medication as directed by the veterinary team. Sometimes we need to start with anti-anxiety medications (either prescription or more mild, natural medications) until your pet has started to have very positive experiences and shows less signs of stress. Not every pet will need this before a visit.
  • We always end on a positive note! This is the way we set your pet up for success at the veterinary clinic! Each visit is tailored and documented specifically for your pet. Please do not get discouraged if all we get to do is feed treats on the table. For some patients this is a HUGE success!
    Happy - Oakview Vet Plover Stevens Point WI
    After a series of Happy Visits, Regan gets on the exam table willingly!
  • Sometimes we do the best we can yet ultimately recommend sedation. In that case, we structure happy visits towards accepting an injection of sedatives. This can be discouraging as a pet owner, but remember our ultimate goal is to provide the best care physically and mentally to your furry friend. Sedation can help us to sometimes get a more through exam on your pet, especially if there are urgent concerns to address.

If we have recommended happy visits for your pet or if you feel your pet can benefit from them, please contact Oakview Vet! We want to see your pets excited to see us!

by Emily Karpinski, CVT

Emily - Oakview Vet Plover Stevens Point WI

Emily earned her Associates Degree in Veterinary Technology at Madison Area Technical College and joined us as a CVT in 2004. She shares her home with her husband Jaime, daughters Violet and Abigail, a black lab called Clyde, Chloe the cat, and 3 horses named Nikki, Cody and Poppy.

She has a strong interest in animal behavior. Emily is certified in Fear Free handling and experienced in low stress techniques. She is a member of the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians.

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