Both in human and veterinary medicine, we’ve come a long way in our understanding of pain, and pain management. We now know that besides just plain hurting, chronic pain can suppress the immune system making animals more susceptible to viruses and infections.
Cats provide a particular challenge in the area of identifying and diagnosing chronic pain. A study at Texas A&M found that 90 percent of cats who presented for other issues showed x-ray evidence of painful arthritis, even though they showed know signs to their owners.
So why don’t we know when our kitties are hurting? Well, there are a couple of reasons.
First, cats instinctively mask, or hide, outward signs of pain or illness. In the wild, animals who appear vulnerable are in danger of becoming someone’s dinner. Cats still have that protective instinct.
Second, cats are motivated to behave how they normally behave. Cats prefer routines and stick to their habits as much as they possibly can. This makes it easy for cat owners to miss pain, or other health problems, in the early stages.
As cat owners it’s important to understand that signs of chronic pain in cats are almost exclusively behavioral. Watch for changes in behavior: A cat may stop jumping to her favorite high perch. Changes in appearance can mean a cat isn’t grooming properly because it hurts. Changes in litter box habits could indicate difficulty getting in and out of the box, or up and down stairs.
Personality changes can be another sign. Keep your eye out for the friendly cat who is now aloof or the aloof cat who is suddenly clingy.
Here are some ways to help a cat in chronic pain:
Make an appointment with your veterinarian! No animal needs to suffer with chronic pain. Once it is identified, we can help to manage pain with medications and/or dietary supplements.
Weight reduction is a priority for any overweight cat in chronic pain. Excess weight puts pressure on already painful joints. We also now know that fat secretes inflammatory hormones which contribute to the pain. Cats with chronic arthritis pain are not equipped to be outside on their own. They can easily injure themselves or get into fights that they can not win.
Give your kitty a nice warm bed to snuggle into. You may want to look into a pet-safe heated bed. Re-arrange the furniture a little so kitty has “stepping stones” to get to her favorite perches. Place a litter box on every level of the house.
Never give your cat over-the-counter pain medications. Aspirin, Ibuprofen, and Acetaminophen can all be deadly to cats.
Watch your cat closely for any changes in behavior, weight, grooming, eating or drinking habits. These are our best clues to catch health problems in their early stages. Also, try to get your kitties in to see us at Nob Hill Cat Clinic at least once a year, bi-annually for senior cats