Cats in Pain: Please Seek Prompt Veterinary Intervention

Cats are masters at concealing their pain as an instinctive survival strategy. However most tuned in kitty guardians will recognize some of the subtle symptoms that indicate their cat is in pain. Several of these signs can range from a loss of appetite, personality changes, aggression, limping, hiding, hissing or growling when touched in painful body areas; to depression, panting or rapid breathing. Since pain in cats may be indicative of a serious underlying medical condition or injury, it is essential that the guardian take their cat to their vet for evaluation and treatment as soon as possible.

Some folks may want to treat their cat for pain with an over-the-counter medication. However, cats cannot metabolize most of the common pain medications that humans routinely can use. While there is a wider selection of pain control medications veterinarians can dispense for canines; many of these drugs arent always safe for kitties.A few of the popular nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) include ibuprofen and aspirin. Since felines in general are extremely sensitive to the side effects of NSAIDS, extreme caution needs to be used in cats (of at all) with this class of medications, and if used - only under strict veterinary supervision. One of the most popular non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs used for dogs is meloxicam (Metacam). Although this drug is considered safe for pain control in cats, long-term use of this drug remains controversial. We recommend discussing long-term use of Metacam with your veterinarian.

According to Pet MD (, cats are about two to five times more sensitive to NSAIDS than are dogs. As a result dosages for cats are greatly reduced from the routine use of other species, are given for only a short time, are generally used only when safer forms of pain control medications aren't sufficient and the dosing intervals are prescribed at greater intervals than they are for dogs or humans.

What about Tylenol (Acetaminophen)? This is a drug that is far more dangerous and toxic to cats than NSAIDS. This medication should never be given to a cat under any circumstances. Since just one 500 Mg tablet of Regular Strength Tylenol can kill a cat, kitty guardians must be extremely careful about handling the drug in the presence of cats, or accidentally leaving a bottle of the drug where little feline paws can reach it. Acetaminophen causes damage to the kidneys, destroys liver cells and produces other lethal effects. If a cat accidently ingests acetaminophen, this is a life and death emergency! The cat must be brought to a veterinary hospital immediately for treatment.

Today there are safer drugs for cats to alleviate severe pain that veterinarians are able to prescribe. For cats experiencing severe pain, an opioid drug called Buprenorphine is highly successful; however for long term use it can be quite costly. Other opioid drugs available for cats include Tramadol, Butorphanol and Fentanyl Patches for post-surgical pain management and for treating pain in terminally ill feline cancer patients.

As an alternative or in conjunction with pain control medication, acupuncture and laser therapy can also provide relief from chronic pain in cats. Additionally, some holistic (Integrative) veterinarians may prescribe certain Chinese herbal medications to alleviate pain in cats.

Of course, if you suspect your cat is hurting, always first consult with your veterinarian before dispensing any pain control medication. What may be safe for one cat may be contraindicated for another.

What types of pain control methods do your veterinarians use for alleviating pain for your cats? Please share your experiences in a comment.

Photo credit: Jo Singer
By Jo Singer, MSW, CSW, LCSW (Ret.)