Cats are masters at not showing pain. This instinct to hide pain is a legacy of their wild origins. In the wild, an animal that appears to be sick or disabled is vulnerable to attack from predators, and survival instinct dictates to act as if  nothing is wrong, even when something most definitely is.

This presents a challenge for cat guardians trying to assess whether their cats are experiencing acute, or even chronic, pain. Often, subtle behavior changes are the only clue that something is wrong. Look for the following:

  • decreased appetite
  • hiding
  • decreased activity
  • lethargy
  • increased grooming, or biting, of a specific body part
  • vocalization
  • aggression
  • restlessness
  • altered facial expression or posture
  • increased body tension or flinching in response to gentle touch
  • rapid breathing
  • dilated pupils

Any or all of these signs can be an indicator that your cat is in pain.

As cats age, they become more susceptible to chronic pain from osteoarthritis. Unfortunately, this condition is often underdiagnosed because the signs can be so subtle. Your cat may not be able to jump as high as he used to, but frequently, cat guardians will just chalk this up to “old age.”

Two studies funded by the Morris Animal Foundation are looking at ways to help cat guardians and veterinarians identify and treat pain in cats. Researchers from the University of Montreal are developing two different arthritis pain scales for cats: one designed for use by owners and another for use by veterinarians. So far, their work shows promise, and next steps for the project include laboratory trials to increase the tests’ sensitivity and make them even better at detecting pain.

At North Carolina State University, another study funded by the Foundation is also building a tool for diagnosing pain by developing a subjective owner-based questionnaire that could help owners and veterinarians assess how well cats are responding to treatments.

Pain management options for cats are limited because of the unique physiology of the cat and how drugs are metabolized, and treating your cat’s pain may often involve multiple medications or modalities. In addition to medication, holistic remedies, acupuncture and Reiki can be important components of comprehensive pain management.

If you suspect that your cat is in pain, consult with your veterinarian. Don’t leave pain untreated – of all the measures of good quality of life, pain ranks at the top.

Photo by Paulo Ordoveza, Flickr Creative Commons

12 Comments on New tools to manage feline pain

  1. Glad to read all of this. My 15 yr old cat (rescued when she was 12) has arthritis and hyperthyroid. We know she has some pain and I can see the mobility problems (I found a really nice little carpeted stairway which allows her to get onto and off of the bed easily). Our vet, and I believe he is excellent, has been unwilling to Rx any medication for pain. He likes omega-3s, and I do, too. I take them for my own arthritis; but sometimes the cat does not like them, and eats little of the food with the oil added. (I tried every one I could find looking for one she would like, and this was the least objectionable.) So, not very effective.
    Now, I will research Adequan .
    thank you.

  2. I’m glad to see more options available for our pets. I use PEMF (pulse electromagnetic frequency) treatments and Infrared Light Therapy with my cats and it makes a huge difference for them.

  3. I’m glad the vets are starting to recommend Adequan – although many have never heard of it! I searched for relief for years to help my Ozwald as he started arthritis at about 9 yrs of age. The vets all told me to give him Cosequin which I did, but it did nothing to help him and he ended up with Pancreatitis and I have my suspicions that it was caused by the Cosequin. He suffered moderate pain (it got severe in winter, even with the heat up) for a long time before we found Adequan and it was just soul destroying to see him hobble about and know I could not give him pain meds like Bupronex to help him. Anyway, I am very grateful to a wonderful young veterinarian who joined the local clinic as she told me about Adequan. Ozwald and Teddie were the first cats to go on Adequan at our local vet and they are recommending it for other arthritic cats too. I did not have any hopes at first – I’d heard/tried so many ‘miracle cures’ that never worked, but this actually did the trick, and it was not prohibitively expensive. We’ve also heard of the Companion Therapy LiteCure laser for pain management that my vet uses in conjunction with the Adequan for some cats but we have not tried it as we feel the Adequan is doing the job nicely by itself.

    • I’m sorry I missed this comment until just now, Teddie’s Mom! I’m so glad that Adequan is helping your Ozwald. If you ever decide to try the laser therapy, I’d love to hear from you.

  4. I have 3 active senior cats – 2 with severe with arthritis – and my vet has them on Adequan. They started out with a round of 5 injections under the skin every 3 days and now it is given to them monthly. I cannot tell you what a difference it has made to my 13 yr old and 16yr old. They used to have difficulty jumping onto the bed and getting up the stairs but now they are able to get about easily. I was hesitant to try Adequan on the cats at first, however I did tons of research and followed up with trusted feline vets who gave me their independent opinions – so far so good. They have been on it for 2 years and I have 6 monthly urinalysis and bloodwork done and they are absolutely fine. I highly suggest giving Adequan a try if you have arthritic cats.

    • My former (now retired) feline vet really likes by Adequan for arthritic cats, too, Teddie’s Mom. She’s seen some amazing results with it. One of my Reiki clients is a 17-year-old cat with severe arthritis who also gets regular Adequan injections. The combination of Adequan and Reiki has kept him pretty comfortable so far.

      • Sorry the last reply was suppsoed to go in reply to your message – I’m new to this forum and it posted below by mistake!

    • Lisa and Layla, I believe the studies are based on pain assessments during veterinary exams, but I’m trying to get more information from Morris Animal Foundation.

      • I just heard back from Morris Animal Foundation. They assure me that these studies do not involve inflicting pain on cats. Rather they are evaluating methods for owners and veterinarians to better recognize pain in cats.

  5. This is an area that sorely needs more research and I’m happy to hear about the new pain studies (not sure I want to know who their test subjects are! ). Cats being as subtle as they are, require humans to be equally subtle intuitively. I was up most of the night with a cat who has half symptoms on the list and the only way I was certain he wasn’t in pain was intuition. When Merlin feels pain he welcomes Reiki and when he refuses but still vocalizes, I know it’s cognitive.

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