As concerned and loving cat parents, we hate to think of our beloved little ones experiencing pain. And if that happens, we want to be ready to help them successfully manage the discomfort. The problem is that felines are incredibly good at hiding pain. Evolutionarily, predators displaying any outward signs of pain are at a disadvantage in the wild so cats instinctively hide their symptoms.

Fortunately, veterinary medicine has advanced, and we are better able to detect and understand pain in cats. This, in turn, has made pain management much easier and more feasible for cat parents.

How can you tell if your cat is in pain?
Veterinarians use a standardized pain scale assessment to help determine if your cat is in pain and if so, what their pain level is. This assessment takes place at Just Cats Clinic at every examination either as part of a preventive care plan to ensure your cat stays pain free and subtle signs are not missed. The scale ranges from 0 to 4 with 0 being content and comfortable and 4 being severe pain.

Observation at home can be one of the best places to observe some of the more subtle signs of pain. Ultimately, you know your cat best and any behavior that’s different or unusual should be noted to your veterinarian. When assessing pain at home, look for these more subtle signs or symptoms:
– Avoiding “going vertical” (i.e. jumping to high places, climbing stairs, etc.)
– Sleeping more than usual (not always easy to determine with your average lazy house cat!)
– Litterbox issues
– Resisting being handled or picked up
– Change in normal routine or normal behavior
– Withdrawing or hiding
– Displaying unexplained aggression
– Increased or decreased grooming
– Walking with a stiff gait or limping
– Change in appetite

How is pain in cats treated?

Just Cats can treat pain in a variety of ways including medications, acupuncture, and laser therapy. Just as in human medicine, different types of pain medications work for different ailments and levels of pain. The doctors at Just Cats Clinic will work with you to choose the best and safest medication for your cat.

Some of the more common pain medications are:

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) – These drugs interfere with the body’s production of inflammatory molecules that trigger pain and swelling. They are generally used to treat mild to moderate pain and discomfort. Though effective, NSAIDs must be used with caution because they can cause liver, kidney, stomach and/or intestinal problems. Examples of NSAIDs used at Just Cats Clinic include Onsior and Metacam.

Opioids – Opioids are stronger than NSAIDs and are used to treat more severe or chronic pain. This class of pain-relief medications includes morphine, codeine, fentanyl, buprenorphine and hydromorphone. Your veterinarian will generally use these to treat surgical pain, dental pain, as pain management for hospice patients, or even to help control severe arthritis pain. Examples of opioids used at Just Cats Clinic are buprenorphine (Buprenex) and hydromorphone.

Corticosteroids – Cortisone and synthetic cortisone-like drugs such as prednisone, prednisolone, methylprednisolone, and dexamethasone are potent anti-inflammatory medications. While not necessarily a pain medication, corticosteroids help reduce inflammation which can aid in pain management for arthritis or severe allergies. Examples of corticosteroids used at Just Cats Clinic include prednisolone, triamcinolone, and methylprednisolone.

Gabapentin – This medication works to relieve neuropathic pain which is pain originating from the nervous system. It works well on chronic pain and can also be used as a mild sedative.

Acupuncture – Acupuncture works by using tiny needles to stimulate specific points in the body, which are chosen for each individual cat based on its specific ailment. Acupuncture, in addition to other benefits, helps increase the production of natural anti-inflammatory agents and endorphins, which help with pain control, in order to help restore balance to the body. Dr. Laura Golden is our Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and she has successfully treated cats with chronic conditions like arthritis and decreased mobility as well as acute conditions such as pancreatitis, diarrhea, constipation, and decreased appetite.

Laser Therapy – Laser therapy uses a beam of laser light to penetrate tissue deeply without damaging it. The laser energy induces a biological response in certain cells leading to increased healing, and decreased pain and inflammation. Laser therapy is used at Just Cats Clinic after all dental and surgical procedures unless there is a concern for neoplasia (cancer). We have also used it with success in treating chronic conditions like arthritis and decreased mobility and acute conditions like urinary bladder inflammation, pancreatitis, and wounds.

Local and Regional Anesthesia –These are blocks used prior to surgical procedures to numb the area before any tissue damage or pain has started. The doctors at Just Cats Clinic use local blocks on all dental extraction procedures, excisional biopsies and abdominal surgeries.

Never give your cat human medications like Tylenol (acetaminophen) – they are toxic and can be fatal! Never give your cat any pain medication without it being prescribed by your veterinarian.

If you notice any signs of pain or discomfort, contact your Just Cats Clinic team at 703-520-2702 or email us at