Cat Pain Management
If you suspect your cat is in pain, perhaps you turned to the internet for answers. When it comes to a sudden change in behavior that could indicate a pet in pain, it’s best to err on the side of caution and get your cat to the vet. Still, we’re glad you found us, as plenty of misinformation floats around online from well-meaning but ill-informed pet parents and bloggers. At GeniusVets, we believe that pet care information should come directly from veterinarians, which is why we’ve taken frequently asked questions on cat pain management, sent these questions to renowned veterinarians across the U.S., and compiled their replies to get you the helpful information that you need and can trust.
While we've sourced all of the cat pain management information and recommendations below directly from leading veterinarians across the country, please make sure to seek out the advice of your own veterinarian or find a trusted vet near you using the GeniusVets Directory.
It can be very subtle, or it can be very obvious to you. Cats are pretty stoic animals on the whole. Dogs show pain a little easier. What cats will often do if they're in pain or if there are abnormalities is hide. If they're usually very social, that's a great way to assess whether or not something's up, along with vocalization, changes in urination, or not eating and drinking, etc.
Some questions to ask yourself in regards to signs and symptoms that your cat may be in pain are:
- Is the cat hiding?
- Is the cat acting abnormally?
- Is the cat aggressive when we go to pick them up or touch them in different places?
- Are there changes in behavior related to not using the litter box properly or getting in and out of our litter box?
- Is that cat not getting up or down on certain counters or stairwells that they usually would?
- Is there an overall reduction in play or activity?
- Is the cat more vocal than usual? Often vocalization can indicate some type of discomfort.
You know your cat best, but definitely call your veterinarian if you suspect your cat is in pain.
Self-diagnosing pain in your cat can not only increase their pain, but it can also possibly damage something more, whether it’s a fracture or they have severe GI upset. You don't want to press on their stomach at home. You can also get injured. Cats have teeth and claws and can hurt you with those by reacting out of fear or pain.
We know based on what you're telling us from a historical standpoint, what you see at home, and how we're seeing them move around in the exam room. We perform a good physical exam, starting with the nose and going to the tail, examining how well our range of motion in our joints is. Are there any painful spots that we pick up on as we're going through our exam? And if nothing's turning up, that's pretty obvious to you or us; sometimes, we have to do more advanced diagnostics.
The most common conditions for pain are going to be some type of injury or trauma. Obviously, with those, we want to use pain medication to help decrease discomfort.
As they get older, cats get more chronic pain issues like osteoarthritis, so they’re not jumping up, going up and down stairs, and not getting around as easily as they once had. The treatment for that might be a relatively short course of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to help reduce that initial inflammation. There are also diets and supplements we can use to help manage arthritis in cats.
Take note of GI signs, as cats can get illnesses like IBD and inflammatory bowel disease. We’d likely treat that with gastric protectants. Perhaps there's vomiting and diarrhea involved, so we’d give antibiotics.
Cats also get cancer and have cancers that require chemotherapy or pain medication to help with the discomfort associated with that disease. So the situation and what may be hurting the cat often dictate what type of pain medication or protocol we should use.
If it's joint or bone involvement, we’ll use non-sterile anti-inflammatories. Whereas, if there's a GI component, we don't want to use anti-inflammatory drugs for that, so something like Gabapentin would be beneficial.
When we're talking about a geriatric cat, we want to know —can the pain be managed or, ideally, treated? If it can't, we may have to consider the quality of life, and overall, maybe a humane death might be the best for them. However, if we can, we will try to manage the pain and treat it as best we can. Unfortunately, we are much more advanced in pain management for our canine patients than we are with cat patients. There's no one suitable medication that helps all cats, and a lot of that has to do with how they process those medications.
So it's important to remember that if we're trying to manage pain in your cat—it's often going to require a multiple modality approach. And that may be pharmaceutical uses only, or pharmaceuticals combined with maybe some alternative type care. So to get the best protocol may often require us to use multiple treatments to figure out what's going to work best for us.
If you have any further questions about cat pain management, or you’re confident your precious pet is in pain and want to get them in for an appointment, please reach out to your vet. Don’t have one? We can help you find a local veterinarian!