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 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.