It's always difficult to see our pets in pain, especially when it's your normally-rambunctious cat. Whether it's short-term acute pain or long-lasting chronic pain, signs of discomfort in cats can be tricky to pick up on. Your cat might experience pain due to an injury (trauma), dental problems, surgery, digestive issues, or even cancer.
Treating pain in cats can be challenging, but it's crucial for keeping your friend comfortable and happy. We'll explore some all-natural pain relief for cats in this article, covering some alternative options as well.
Symptoms of Pain in Cats
While dogs and cats can't tell us where it hurts, symptoms of pain in cats can be exceptionally subtle. Many cat owners will feel like their cat is "just being shy" or "slowing down" from old age.
Instead, there's usually a medical reason behind these changes in cats. Since pain often worsens over time, it's worthwhile to recognize the signs earlier rather than later. Common symptoms of pain in cats include:
- Increased hiding
- Withdrawn or irritable behavior
- Unusual aggression when touched or picked up
- Not eating or drinking
- Changes in posture or walking pattern
- Jumping or climbing less often
- Licking or biting the painful area
- Reduced grooming with unkempt or greasy fur
- Breathing faster than normal
- Restlessness or anxiety
If you notice any of these symptoms in your cat, it's time to visit your veterinarian.
Cats are stoic and tend to hide their pain; unlike people, they don’t usually vocalize or draw attention to themselves. Tell your veterinarian about any changes in your cat's behavior, even if you think they're not significant. Your veterinarian will feel your cat's joints and abdomen, examine their skin, and look for potential dental issues.
Based on their findings, your veterinarian may also recommend running blood tests or taking x-rays to find the underlying cause of the pain.
Causes of Pain in Cats
There are many potential causes of pain in cats. While older cats are more prone to pain, cats of any age can experience significant discomfort due to injury, surgery, or illness.
Since symptoms of pain in cats can be similar across multiple causes, it's critical to have your cat diagnosed by a veterinarian so they can receive the correct treatment. Common causes of pain in cats include:
- Physical trauma (cuts, sprains, bone fractures, dislocated joints)
- Dental issues (gum disease, broken teeth)
- Recent surgery
- Tick-borne illness
- Digestive issues
- Neurological problems
Types of Pain
Your cat may experience several different types of pain depending on the underlying medical cause. The primary pain types are:
- Acute pain: Injuries like cuts, scrapes, bone fractures, and surgery cause short-term (acute) pain. This type of pain improves during healing and eventually goes away. While it's essential to treat pain after an injury or surgery, acute pain has a biological purpose -- it provides a signal that something is wrong.
- Chronic pain: Acute pain has a purpose and a recent, specific cause. In contrast, chronic pain lasts for weeks to months past the expected healing time of an injury or illness. A damaged interpretation of pain signals causes it. Chronic pain is stressful for your cat and does not serve a biological purpose.
- Cancer pain: This type of pain is related to cancerous masses, or tumors, in the body. Cancer pain can come from a growing tumor pushing on organs or nerves. Pain can also stem from cancer treatments, like radiation and chemotherapy. Cancer pain can last for short or long periods depending on your pet's specific situation.
- Neuropathic pain: Neuropathic pain occurs when an injury or illness damages nerves. Amputations, diabetes, blood clots, and certain infections might cause neuropathic pain.
Treating Pain in Cats
As a rule, never give your cat any medication intended for humans--not even medicines available over the counter! Many human drugs can be toxic to pets and cause severe illness. Additionally, always consult a veterinarian before starting any new pain relief medications or supplements for your cat.
Your veterinarian's recommendation for pain relief will depend on the cause of your cat's pain. Their prescription may include more than one medication, which can be a good thing! Some pain medicines work better together than alone. This effect allows your veterinarian to prescribe a lower dose of each medication, reducing side effects for your cat.
Your veterinarian's pain relief recommendations for your cat might include:
- Nonsteroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs relieve discomfort by interfering with inflammatory molecules that induce pain and swelling. They are used to treat mild to moderate pain. While NSAIDs are usually safe and effective at the correct dose for short periods, they can potentially lead to liver, kidney, and stomach problems with chronic use (1). Never give your cat over-the-counter NSAIDs; they can be dangerous.
- Opioids: Veterinarians prescribe opioids for more severe pain, like pain after surgery, cancer pain, or pain from severe arthritis. The most common opioid pain medication used in cats is called buprenorphine. Other opioid medications include morphine, hydromorphone, codeine, and fentanyl. Fentanyl patches slowly release medicine through your pet's skin. Opioids can be necessary for maintaining a good quality of life in cats with severe pain.
- Steroids: Corticosteroids, often called steroids for short, are hormones naturally produced in your cat's adrenal glands. Veterinarians prescribe manufactured steroid medications like prednisolone for pain caused by inflammation. Your cat may receive steroid medication for arthritis, for example. Steroids can have both short-term and long-term side effects.
- Other medications: Gabapentin and amitriptyline are newer medications prescribed for pain in cats. Gabapentin is used to treat chronic pain and neuropathic pain. Amitriptyline is an antidepressant in people, but it may also help with nerve pain and anxiety in pets. While these drugs are thought of as mild pain relievers, cats can still experience side effects when taking them.
Complementary Options for Pain Relief in Cats
In addition to prescribed medications from a veterinarian, some cats can also benefit from alternative therapies to relieve pain. Depending on the source of your cat's pain, natural relief for cat pain might include supplements like:
- Glucosamine chondroitin, which can help support joint and connective tissue health (2)
- Fish oil, which contains omega-3 fatty acids that support a healthy inflammatory response (3)
- CBD oil, which helps maintain a normal inflammatory response and relieves occasional stiffness and soreness (4)
Remember, non-prescription supplements have not been formally reviewed for safety or effectiveness. Always consult with your veterinarian when considering supplements or alternative therapies to support your cat's pain relief regimen.
Natural Pain Relief for Cats at Home
While working with your veterinarian is the foundation of treating pain in cats, you can also take steps at home to promote pain relief.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Natural pain relief for cats isn't just about medication. One of the best ways to prevent and alleviate pain, especially joint pain, is to manage your pet's weight. Many veterinarian-approved online resources can help you determine whether your cat might benefit from weight loss (5).
- Maintain a safe, calm environment. If your cat is recovering from an acute illness, injury, or surgery, keeping things quiet at home can help them heal. Bring their food and water closer to where they like to rest and make sure they can reach the litter box without any obstacles. If needed, keep other pets in another part of the house while your cat recovers.
- Get some exercise. If your cat suffers from chronic pain, encouraging them to move around, burn some calories, and build muscle may be beneficial. Toys are a great way to help cats exercise. Your veterinarian can help you determine the right activity level for your cat's needs.
Pain Relief for Cats is Possible
Managing pain in cats can be a challenge, but your feline friend can still enjoy a high quality of life.
Recognizing signs of pain in cats depends on learning normal cat behavior and monitoring how your cat usually acts at home. When you recognize signs of pain, good veterinary care and a few easy lifestyle changes can help your cat feel better quickly and safely.