Cat Health

When Kitty Hurts: A Guide to Pain Management in Cats

pain relief for cats

Every concerned pet owner cares about the well-being of their pet. Since cats cannot communicate with us so well, we need to learn their signals and language to be able to tell when they are in pain.

After owning your cat for a while, you should be able to understand the basic signals of your cat.

However, as we shall see, it is not so easy to tell when your cat is in pain. As it turns out, evolution has made it harder to understand exactly what your cat is feeling. For the basics of cat communication, according to WebMD.

Why Cats Hide Their Pain 

You might think that you know your feline friend inside out. After taking care of a cat for many years, you would think that you would recognize the signs of pain and illness. According to the Okaw Vet Clinic, things are not so simple.

Cats actually hide the fact that they are sick or in pain. It is a survival strategy to disguise the fact that you are ailing.

If a predator recognizes that you are sick, they understand that you are an easier target.

Therefore, you are going to have to be somewhat sly and observant to be able to tell that your cat is sick or in pain.

Nine Ways to Tell That Your Cat Is in Pain 

Since your cat is so good at hiding its pain, you will need some help recognizing the signs. The following is a list of nine signs that will indicate to you that kitty is suffering.

According to Catster.com, these ways are as follows: 

1. A cat in pain might exhibit changes in behavior.

If you have a cat that is very active and you notice that she is spending most of her time sleeping, this could be a real sign of pain.

Similarly, if you have a cat that is getting grumpy, it is not just a sign of age. A regularly calm cat might also get hyper and jumpy when she is suffering.

2. Resistance to handling and wanting to be left alone can indicate a problem.

When a cat starts growling or snapping when handled, that could be a sign that something is up.

3. Sick cats might stick to one sleeping position.

If your cat has a limb or joint that is troubling her, then she might prefer sleeping in only the position that does not affect them. This is only natural.

4. A cat that is in pain may hide.

As I discussed above, pain makes your cat more vulnerable. This may make your cat want to hide to avoid stronger animals.

5. Excessive licking can be a sign of a problem.

Another natural reaction is that your cat will try to lick an affected area to try to give relief to it.

Even when a cat has an internal problem, she may try to do this. So, a cat with a urinary tract infection may try licking herself to relieve the pain.

6. A sick cat might cease grooming.

A cat may start to look greasy and scruffy. This is because it has stopped grooming itself. Your cat might stop grooming if it is too difficult to stretch its limbs into position. Arthritis is a condition where this can happen.

7. Watch out for abnormal body positions.

A cat in a lot of pain will sit hunched up with her feet tucked under her with her nose pointed towards the floor.

Other abnormal positions may not be so easy to spot. Be watchful for any body position that is even slightly abnormal.

8. Beware of a faraway look in the eyes.

This is especially a problem if it is combined with abnormal body positions.

9. Look out for any changes in litter box habits.

If your cat has any bodily pain, it may be difficult for her to use the litter box. Holding the proper positions for relieving herself can be hard for a cat with a sore back.

Other Symptoms of Pain in Cats 

The following are some other signs that your cat is in pain: 

  • Lack of appetite
  • Vocalization
  • Aggression
  • Rapid or shallow breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Restlessness
  • Change in mobility
  • Withdrawal from activities

Causes of Pain in Cats 

There are many conditions that may lead to pain in your cat. The following is a list of the more common conditions:

  • Surgery
  • Trauma
  • Infection
  • Cancer
  • Urinary tract blockage or stones
  • Digestive problems
  • Exposure to extreme heat or cold
  • Tissue complications
  • Arthritis
  • Bladder inflammation
  • Eye conditions
  • Dental conditions
  • Neurological conditions

The Diagnosis of Pain in Cats 

According to Wagwalking.com, diagnosis of pain in cats goes according to the following procedure:

First, your vet will need to localize the pain to narrow down the possible causes. Remember that your cat cannot communicate directly with the vet.

A physical examination can find any obvious causes, such as an injury. You will need to give the vet a thorough history of your cat and its symptoms.

Depending upon what your vet finds in the examination, she will recommend performing other diagnostic tests. Oral and eye exams will detect if a dental or visual issue is present.

Examination of the genitalia and the ears can detect problems in those areas. The vet will need to take a complete blood count and a biochemical profile to check for infection and systemic illnesses.

Other tests include x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs. Your vet may want an ultrasound of the heart and abdomen as well.

Your vet may need to take more invasive tests as well. These include tissue biopsies and cerebrospinal fluid taps.

Relieving Your Cat’s Pain 

You should always talk to your vet before doing anything. Sometimes, the cause of your cat’s pain can be an underlying condition. Obviously, the condition must be treated directly to relieve the pain.

With respect to medications, many medications can make your cat very sick. This includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen.

Acetaminophen, a medication that is not an NSAID, can be fatal for cats. Their bodies are not able to break it down.

NSAIDS for Cats

NSAIDs are usually the first choice of medication for pain. The FDA has not approved any NSAID for long-term pain management.

However, there are certain ones that are approved for short-term use. The vet may prescribe Robenacoxib. It is also available as an injection.

Meloxicam is an option that is also injectable. It is many times used after a surgery. It is also available in a liquid form.

The vet may suggest aspirin. This needs to be used only in small doses. It can be given as a liquid.

You need to make sure that you always give medications according to their directions. A cat needs only small doses of medication, and too much can be dangerous for her.

NSAIDs are approved for no more than three days of use for cats.

Other possibilities 

Although NSAIDs are a common choice, there are other options as well: 

Opioids

These include codeine, fentanyl, hydromorphone, and morphine. They are only used for extreme cases of pain.

They are many times given after surgery or for chronic conditions like arthritis and cancer. Be careful not to give your cat any combination of codeine with acetaminophen.

Corticosteroids

These medications ease pain from allergies or arthritis. They work by diminishing inflammation. Examples are dexamethasone and prednisolone.

Gabapentin

This is a seizure medication that can treat pain in nerves, muscles, and bones.

Amitriptyline

This drug is used as an antidepressant in humans. It can ease nerve pain in cats.

Buprenorphine HCL

This is an opiate partial agonist. It comes in both oral and injectable options. It is a rather safe option.

Precautions 

Before you give any medication to your cat, you need to read the label well and speak to the vet. Be aware of exactly how much of the medication you need to administer.

Speak to the vet about side effects and warning signs that something might be wrong. Unless told to do so, you should not administer multiple drugs to your cat.

There are NSAIDs that are safe to give to your cat. However, they may sometimes damage your cat’s organs or intestines.

Be on the lookout for the following symptoms: 

  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Changes in the amount she drinks or urinates
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea or dark feces
  • Yellowing of the skin, eyes, or gums

Medications are usually given with meals or directly after.

Natural Remedies for Cats 

Mom.me recommends the following natural remedies for feline pain.

Feline Massage

You can learn to give your cat a gentle massage. This will provide comfort and some pain and stress relief.

You should always do your massages in a quiet location in your house. Stay away from the distractions of other pets or family members.

Begin the massage with light, downward strokes in the direction that her hair grows. Keep one hand on the cat, while your other hand gently massages the other parts of the body.

You should also try the technique called “passive touch.” Place your hand on a muscle group, without pressure.

Let your hand remain there for a few minutes. Don’t use passive touch on an injured location of your cat’s body.

Acupuncture for Kitty

You can ask your vet about the benefits of acupuncture for your cat. If she doesn’t do acupuncture herself, she will recommend a practitioner who performs veterinary acupuncture.

The way that this works is that the practitioner inserts tiny needles in precise points on your cat’s body.

These insertions transmit signals throughout the nervous system to the brain. This aids in restoring balance to the feline body.

Acupuncture is many times used to relieve symptoms of feline arthritis. However, it is also used for other conditions.

This is particularly the case for long-term illnesses that ordinary veterinary medicine by itself can’t help.

Acupuncture can lead to faster remission with less pain for some illnesses or injuries. It is safe to use in combination with other treatments. This includes medicinal treatment.

Herbs for Cats

There are some herbs that might ease some kinds of cat pain. These include dandelion and cat’s claw. Both of these have substances that can relieve itching.

Other herbs, like calendula, chamomile, and echinacea, also can relieve itching. Licorice root can help cats who suffer from arthritis or cold symptoms.

MSM, Glucosamine, and Chondroitin

If your cat has stiffness or limping because of arthritis, there are over-the-counter nutraceutical supplements that can aid her in moving better.

Products that contain glucosamine, Chondroitin, and MSM can relieve arthritis symptoms. Some products contain all three of these substances.

You should note that it can take several weeks of daily administration to get results. All three of these substances are present in your cat’s body already.

They all have anti-inflammatory properties. Unlike with your dog, you can’t simply wrap a medicine inside some food to administer it.

Consider instead purchasing joint supplements included in treats or in a paste form. The paste is placed on your cat’s paws. She then licks it off of them.

Conclusion 

While it is hard to determine when your cat is in pain or suffering, changes in behavior can indicate when there is a problem.

It is always a wise idea to bring your cat into the vet for regular exams to determine if she has any treatable underlying condition.

You should always remember that a cat that is well-cared-for is less likely to be prone to conditions that will require more invasive treatment.

Also, if you put effort into making your cat a happy pet, she will suffer fewer aches and pains in general. A happy cat is a healthy cat.

There is a lot of information available on the internet about cat care and remedies for relieving pain in your cat.

You should also look at the following YouTube video for more information about understanding pain in cats.