September is Pet Pain Awareness Month. At Just Cats Clinic, we are passionate about alleviating and eliminating pain in our feline friends, but unfortunately, detecting their physical discomfort can be incredibly difficult. As natural predators, cats instinctively hide pain, because visible suffering sends a signal of weakness and vulnerability. A wild cat who is perceived as weak quickly becomes a victim. Because untreated pain can harm your cat’s health, quality of life, and the cat-owner bond, prompt diagnosis and treatment are necessary, to ensure your cat enjoys nine lives of comfort.

Acute and chronic pain in cats

Identifying pain in cats is also complicated by their pain type, which can be acute or chronic. 

  • Acute pain —This is sudden and intense pain brought on by a traumatic event, illness, inflammation, or surgery. Acute pain is protective, triggering the body to guard itself from further harm.
  • Chronic pain — Chronic pain causes maladaptive changes in a pet’s body and their health, creating a cascade of damaging side effects, and is difficult to identify and manage.

How will I know if my cat is in pain?

Unless their pain is severe, cats tend to hide their discomfort at the veterinary clinic. Close at-home observation for physical and behavioral changes is critical, to ensure early diagnosis. Painful cats may exhibit a range of abnormal behaviors, including:

  • Decreased Appetite
  • Altered litter box habits
  • Abnormal aggression
  • Increased vocalization
  • Excessive sleeping or isolating
  • Limping, stiffness, or changes in mobility 
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Reluctance to jump, climb, or use stairs
  • Excessive grooming, resulting in bald spots 
  • Matted hair, or dirty appearance from a lack of self-care

Pain often indicates osteoarthritis, but may also suggest other common feline medical conditions, such as stomatitis (i.e., oral cavity inflammation), periodontitis, urinary cystitis, ear and eye problems, or a combination of ailments. A thorough veterinary examination is necessary to determine the exact cause of your cat’s discomfort.

How is pain assessed at Just Cats Clinic?

Advances in veterinary medicine have expanded our knowledge and recognition of feline pain, leading to faster, more accurate diagnoses. In addition to a thorough veterinary examination, your cat’s behavior and appearance provide essential clues to their true state of health.

Since we can’t ask your cat to describe their pain from 1 to 10, we combine our low-stress feline-friendly physical assessment and diagnostics with specialized tools to measure their pain.

  • Physical examination — Our comprehensive nose-to-tail examination looks for signs and sources of illness and pain. As a standard part of every examination, our veterinarians assess your cat’s gait and mobility, and apply gentle pressure to key body points, which we assess for a reaction and grade from 0 to 4, with 0 being no reaction, and 4 representing extreme pain. 
  • Colorado Feline Acute Pain Scale — This assessment uses your cat’s psychological and behavioral actions, physical appearance, and response to palpation, to grade acute pain.
  • Feline Grimace Scale — This validated and reliable assessment tool measures five characteristics of the feline face—ear position, eye shape, muzzle tightening, and head and whisker positionsto determine the presence and level of pain. This scale also provides a set point for providing medical intervention for painful cats, resulting in more effective pain control and management.  

In a continuing commitment to providing your cat with the best possible care, our Dr. Elizabeth is a proud member of the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (IVAPM). As a member, Dr. Elizabeth has access to the latest discoveries and research in the advancing field of feline pain.

How is pain treated in cats?

After diagnosis, we develop a targeted treatment plan for your cat’s specific needs. While pain medication is often an appropriate first choice, a multimodal strategy that incorporates non-pharmaceutical options creates the most effective, long-term pain control. 

  • Gabapentin — This medication can be helpful for nerve-related pain, and helps calm stress-related anxiety.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories — Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) work by blocking inflammatory processes in the body, and are best for mild to moderate pain. Close monitoring of the kidneys and liver are necessary with long-term use. Human NSAIDs are toxic to cats—give your cat only veterinary prescribed medications.
  • Opioids This class of drugs is reserved for severe pain, such as cancer, trauma, and post-operative surgical pain, or for severe arthritis that no longer responds to alternative treatments.
  • Supplements — Joint supplements such as Dasuquin Advanced and Duralactin, which contain glucosamine and chondroitin, can help ease osteoarthritis-related pain.
  • Weight management — Fat tissue is pro-inflammatory, and extra weight on joints causes stress and pain. Weight loss provides natural pain relief. 
  • Environmental management — Lowering the litter box, placing your cat’s bed on the floor, and adding ramps to your furniture can improve a painful cat’s quality of life.

Do you offer non-pharmaceutical options for feline pain management?

At Just Cats Clinic, we provide several drug-free pain control therapies, including acupuncture and laser therapy. These treatments are not only effective on their own, but are also a powerful complement to pharmaceutical pain relief.

  • Acupuncture — Acupuncture involves placing small needles at specific points along the body to initiate healing responses, such as improved circulation, nerve conduction, and immune system stimulation. Dr. Laura provides this excellent non-invasive option, as well as herbal therapy, as an in-clinic or house call appointment. 
  • Laser therapy — A beam of light beyond the visible spectrum is used to penetrate tissues to the cellular level. Laser energy activates specific cells and accelerates their function, resulting in healing, decreased inflammation, and pain relief. 

Feline suffering can be subtle, but its effects are painfully obvious. Help your cat get the most out of their nine lives by scheduling an appointment with our Just Cats Clinic veterinarians.