Cats are masters at masking pain. This ability to hide pain goes back to their wild origins; in the wild, a sick animal becomes prey. While acute pain may be fairly obvious to cat guardians, it may be more difficult to discern whether your cat is in pain when it comes to chronic pain from conditions such as arthritis. Sadly, many veterinarians still overlook signs of feline pain, or are not aggressive enough in treating it.
Pain management for pets has undergone significant changes in the past decade. In 2007, the American Association of Feline Practitioners, in conjunction with the American Animal Hospital Association, issued pain management guidelines for cats and dogs. The guidelines focus on anticipation and prevention as well as treatment of pain.
Global Pain Council creates guidelines to recognize, assess and treat pain
More recently, the Global Pain Council of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association created guidelines for recognition, assessment and treatment of pain. Winn Feline Foundation highlighted some of the key points as they pertain to cats on their blog:
(1) Pain is an illness, experienced by all mammals, and can be recognized and effectively managed in most cases
(2) Pain assessment should accompany every patient assessment
(3) Treat predictable pain; pain associated with surgery is 100% predictable
(4) Pain assessment is key to determining the degree and duration of pain treatment but should not replace the mandate to treat predictable pain
(5) Perioperative pain extends beyond 24 hours and should be managed accordingly
(6) Practice pre-emptive pain management; initiate appropriate treatment before a procedure to prevent the onset of pain, and continue this to prevent the occurrence of pain for the duration of time commonly recommended for the problem or which the patient requires
(7) Response to appropriate treatment is the gold standard to measure the presence and degree of pain
(8) We cannot always know that our patient does hurt, but we can do our best to ensure that it does not hurt.
Excerpted from Acute and Chronic Pain in Cats, Part One, Winn Feline Foundation Blog
What does this mean for cat guardians?
When it comes to pain in cats, you will often be the first to notice that something is wrong. Because cats are so good at hiding when they’re not feeling well, pain can be difficult to identify, and it’s up to cat guardians to notice even subtle changes, such as irritability or restlessness, seeking solitude or extra affection, licking or chewing a painful area, lack of appetite, or sudden changes in behavior.
It’s also important to discuss pain management with your cat’s veterinarian – and the time to discuss this is when you select a veterinary clinic. Ask questions! Ask how the vet treats pain in cats. Is pain medication given for all dental and surgical procedures? If this is not routine, this should be a red flag for you. Pain management is not optional in quality veterinary practices.
Pain management options for cats
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, laser treatment, acupuncture, Reiki and holistic remedies can be important components of comprehensive pain management.
For more information about the Global Pain Council document, visit the Winn Feline Foundation blog.
The Winn Feline Foundation enhances the relationship between cats and humans by fostering improvements in feline health through research and education.
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.
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