Help for Cats in Pain

The image on the left is a person who is going to have a hip replacement. The kitty on the right doesn’t have this option but would certainly benefit from pain relief!

Why all the pictures? Sometimes it is hard for us to “think like a cat”! Cats are not tremendously social creatures by nature. They are “loners” and as such, they don’t always come to someone with their problems (i.e. their pain). While a dog might walk right up to you and put their sore foot in your lap, cats tend to “suffer in silence” and are much more likely to just take a nap. We, as their friends and caretakers, need to notice early signs of pain and consider intervention.

So what can be done for chronic pain in cats?

Cats are unique creatures and they lack some basic enzymes that help other animals (including dogs and people) break down medications for elimination from the body. This means they can be easily overdosed and some medications can actually be deadly to cats! Tylenol is one of these deadly medications! Cats have no way to break down and eliminate acetaminophen (Tylenol) from their bodies and it is often fatal in cats! Other medications (such as NSAID’s) are broken down more slowly so they are administered less often. Here are some medications that are used in cats for pain:

Gabapentin – a neurogenic pain reliever. It provides mild sedation and basically tells the brain they don’t hurt. It is a mild pain reliever with almost no side effects (other than sleepiness).

Onsior – an approved NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug). This is given once daily and is often used for surgical pain, urinary/bladder pain and orthopedic pain. Overdoses may cause damage to the kidney’s and/or liver.

Metacam – a NSAID that initially got a bad rap! When it was first released it was dosed by the DROP (1 drop per 10 lbs) and as anyone who has tried to medicate a cat can tell you, they don’t sit still for you to put a drop in their mouth. There were several cases of kidney issues and the FDA issued a “black box” warning on the label about this. Further investigation points to accidental overdoses as the problem, not the medication itself. It can be very helpful with chronic arthritis pain. In a recent study, cats with kidney failure and arthritis were put into two groups. Group A got Metacam, group B got a placebo. They found that cats in group A not only did NOT experience a kidney problem, they actually lived longer!

Buprenorphine – an opioid pain reliever. This provides good pain control but also causes sedation and euphoria. Some kitties will run a fever after opioids so if your cat doesn’t seem to feel well and is taking buprenorphine your veterinarian may want to check for this.

Glucosamines/glycosaminoglycans – oral glucosamine/chondroitin supplements may help in cases of mild joint pain. There is always debate as to whether or not these substances ever make it to the joints or if they are simply digested in the intestines. Many people feel they are helpful and that their kitties do better when they get them regularly. Look for a product with the NASC seal on the label (National Animal Supplement Council). This means that the product has been tested by an independent laboratory and found to contain the amount of product the label states! Other options include Adequan, an injectable glycosaminoglycan that also seems to help joint health. These products may also help our lower urinary disease cats by helping form a protective mucous layer in the bladder.

Heat/cold – many cats benefit from warmth as they age. There are a variety of electric pet beds that cats seem to love, especially in our Wisconsin winters! On the flip side, swollen/painful joints or injuries may benefit from a cold compress. Never underestimate the value of ice!!

So what should you do with all this information??

Be sure to look at your cat through “fresh eyes”. Are they jumping onto the kitchen counter like normal, or do they jump from a box to a chair to the counter? Are they hesitant to jump on or off the bed? Are they content to just stay in their bed instead of playing with toys or other pets? Are their gums red or irritated? Are their litterbox habits normal?

If you think your pet may be experiencing a problem, start with an examination by your veterinarian. They can help determine if your cat is experiencing pain, what the source is and help develop a treatment or management plan. Remember, your cat is unlikely to complain so you will have to speak for them!

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.

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.

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