Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: February 6, 2023 by Crystal Uys
Cats are masters at masking pain. Their ability to hide pain goes back to their wild origins. In the wild, a sick animal becomes prey. While acute pain may be more obvious, chronic pain from conditions such as arthritis can be challenging to discern for even the most dedicated cat parent. Even veterinarians often overlook signs of feline pain.
3 in 10 cats suffer from arthritis, but only 7% of cats with arthritis receive treatment
Osteoarthritis is often not diagnosed in cats because it is so difficult to recognize. The signs can be subtle and it often remains untreated. As many as 3 in 10 cats suffer from this debilitating condition, but only 7% of cats with arthritis receive treatment.
Pain is not what you feel, it’s how it makes you feel
Identifying pain is so much easier in human medicine. Mary Margo McCaffery, MS, RN-BC, FAAN, a pioneer in the field of pain management, defined pain in 1968 with these words: “Pain is whatever the experiencing person says it is, existing whenever he says it does.” This definition has been embraced by health care professionals around the world. Of course, cats can’t tell us what they feel, so it’s up to us to learn what to look for. Since cats are so good at not showing signs of pain, recognizing behavioral signs is critical to managing their pain.
Thankfully, there are more and more tools being developed to help both cat parents and veterinarians identify feline pain. The following websites offer a wealth of information to help you determine whether your cat may be experiencing pain.
Pain Free Cats
Painfreecats.org is a product of the North Carolina State University (NCSU) College of Veterinary Medicine’s Comparative Pain Research and Education Centre. The Centre sponsors painfreecats.org as a vehicle to assist cat owners and veterinary professionals to recognize pain in cats and develop suitable clinical strategies for treating and managing that pain. This website is under the direction of Dr. Duncan Lascelles, BVSc, PhD, DACVS, Professor of Small Animal Surgery and Pain Management at NCSU, Director of the Comparative Pain Research and Education Centre, and Director of the Integrated Pain Management Service.
The Feline Musculoskeletal Pain Index (FMPI) is a tool for scoring the degree to which a cat is suffering pain associated with a chronic musculoskeletal disorder such as arthritis. It is the only clinically validated instrument for diagnosing and monitoring feline chronic pain arising from degenerative joint disorders.
The New Science of Feline Osteoarthritis Pain
This website, curated by Zoetis, offers a wealth of resources for veterinarians and veterinary staff, including a series of fantastic videos in which Dr. Lascelles demonstrates what a complete feline OA exam should look like.
Feline Osteoarthritis Checklist
Zoetis also offers a checklist for cat parents to identify activities and behaviors in cats that may be signs of osteoarthritis. You may be surprised that some of the behaviors shown are signs of to arthritis, underlining just how important it is to increase our understanding of this painful condition. You can save a personalized report that can be printed or emailed to share with your veterinarian.
Tably is a new AI based app that is designed to monitor your cat’s mood by simply pointing your phone at her face. You can use the app in one of two ways: you can either take a live photo with your camera from within the app, or you can upload an already existing photo to the app. Tably uses AI trained on vet-approved pain scales such as the Feline Grimace Scale to determine how your cat is feeling, based on subtle facial cues.
I would like to encourage you to explore these tools – you may be surprised at what you learn.
Image Pixabay stock photo
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.