Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: October 31, 2022 by Crystal Uys

Guest post by Lorie Huston, DVM

None of us want to think that our cats might be in pain. And no responsible and caring cat owner would refuse to provide his/her cat with pain relief. However, pain is not always as easy to recognize in cats as one might think.

Recognizing Feline Pain

It makes sense, from a logical perspective, that if your cat has just had surgery or is recovering from an injury, he is likely to be painful. But how can a cat owner evaluate how much pain the cat is experiencing?

And what about chronic pain? Do you think you would easily recognize that your cat is suffering from arthritis? It is estimated that as many as 80-90% of senior cats show radiographic evidence of arthritis. However, very few cat owners recognize that their older cat may actually be painful from arthritis. Worse, many veterinarians overlook this possibility as well.

One of the problems in evaluating feline pain is that cats are so good at masking their symptoms. If your cat is experiencing a great deal of pain, it may be immediately obvious to you. However, especially in more chronic diseases like arthritis, the signs of pain may be very subtle and difficult to spot even for the most observant of cat owners.

What are the signs that you may see if your cat is painful?

  • Crying or vocalizing
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Inability to sleep or rest comfortably
  • Soiling outside the litter box
  • Seeking solitude
  • Seeking extra attention
  • Experiencing pain when handled or held
  • Licking or chewing at the painful area
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Lack of appetite
  • A sudden or gradual change in behavior

The Importance of Treating Pain in Cats – Why Is Pain Control Important? 

Of course, the obvious answer is that you should manage your cat’s pain because pain hurts. However, the problem actually goes much deeper than that. Being in pain will not only cause discomfort for your cat, but it can also have a deleterious effect on your cat’s health.

Pain can adversely affect your cat’s body by causing stress and resulting in a number of physiological changes. Ultimately, pain can delay wound healing, can affect major organ systems (such as the muscles and kidneys), can alter your cat’s ability to metabolize nutrients and can inflict emotional damage on your cat.

In the worst case scenario, pain can cause a cat to become so unresponsive and so depressed that a decision to euthanize may be reached erroneously assuming that the cat’s condition is not improving and is beyond hope.

If there is any doubt about whether your cat is in pain, some form of pain management is in order.

Methods to Control Pain for Your Cat 

There are many different ways to treat pain and the solution for your cat will depend on your cat’s individual situation and health.

In most cases, pain control should be multi-faceted, involving more than one form of pain medication or pain control technique. In this way, drug doses can often be reduced to safer levels and different parts of the “pain cascade” can be targeted, resulting in more effective pain control.

Some of the drugs commonly used in controlling pain in cats are:

  • Tramadol
  • Buprenorphine
  • Butorphanol (very short acting pain relief)
  • NSAIDS (such as meloxicam) – the use of these drugs is controversial in cats
  • Gabapentin
  • Amitryptiline
  • Amantadine

Other forms of pain control that may be used in cats include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Laser therapy
  • Hydrotherapy

These forms of pain control can be coupled with pain medications to provide more complete pain relief. In addition, pain medications can often be used in tandem also. For instance, buprenorphine may be combined with an NSAID to assure adequate pain control.

A note about aspirin and acetaminophen is warranted here. These drugs are not generally used for pain control in cats and should never be given unless advised by your veterinarian to do so. Aspirin does have some uses in cats but the dosage strength and dosing interval is much different in cats than in people. Acetaminophen and aspirin both have the potential to be toxic to cats. Both of these drugs can cause fatal toxicities.

By recognizing that cats suffer pain in much the same way humans do and being able to recognize the signs of pain in your cat, you will be better prepared to determine if your cat requires pain control. Providing adequate and complete pain control will not only make your cat more comfortable, but it will also help your cat heal faster and keep him healthier.­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

Lorie Huston has been practicing veterinary medicine for over 20 years. Besides a successful career in a busy small animal hospital in Providence, RI, Lorie is also a successful freelance writer specializing in pet care and pet health topics. 

Photo by Kim Newburg, Public Domain Pictures

About the author