What is Pain?
In the event that you believe your cat is experiencing pain, whether mild or severe, prompt evaluation by a veterinarian is always the best option in order to discover exactly what is causing the discomfort.
When specialized sensory nerve endings (pain receptors) are stimulated, it leads to unfortunate sensation known as pain. For cats, it is a defense mechanism, telling the body that it is injured and urging the cat to move away from what may be causing it. It is a subjective reaction that is difficult to detect in cats as they typically hide the fact that they are in pain.
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Symptoms of Pain in Cats
It is not always simple to detect that your cat is in pain. Tolerance for pain can affect how a pet will react. Some are more outward, while others are subtle. However, careful observation of your cat performing everyday activities should help with identifying pain. The following are some of the signs to look out for:
- Lack of appetite
- Vocalization (e.g. howling, moaning)
- Aggression (e.g. biting, scratching)
- Rapid or shallow breathing
- Change in mobility (e.g. limping, stiffness, refusal to use stairs)
- Resistance to being handled or picked up
- Withdrawal from activities
Causes of Pain in Cats
There are many conditions that can cause your cat to experience pain. Some are more obvious, while others can go undetected. Listed below are common conditions that can bring about pain:
- Urinary tract blockage or stones
- Digestive problems
- Exposure to extreme heat or cold
- Tissue complications (e.g. inflammation, tissue death, loss of blood supply)
- Bladder inflammation
- Eye conditions
- Dental Conditions
- Neurological condition
Diagnosis of Pain in Cats
To first determine what is causing your cat's discomfort, your veterinarian will want to localize the pain to narrow possible causes down. A physical examination can determine any obvious causes such as an injury. Providing the vet with a thorough history of your cat and its symptoms can also aid in this process.
Depending on what is found in the history and physical examination, your vet will recommend performing other diagnostic tests. Both oral and eye examinations can detect if a dental or visual problem is causing your cat pain, while looking at the genitalia and the ears can rule out complications in those areas. Your vet will also want to conduct a complete blood count (CBC) and a biochemical profile to check for infection and systemic illnesses.
Further tests include X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs of any area that is identified to be feeling pain, as well as ultrasounds of both the heart and the abdomen. Depending on what your vet feels is causing the pain, he or she may wish to perform more invasive procedures such as a biopsy of the tissue or a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) tap.
Treatment of Pain in Cats
Once your cat's pain has been narrowed down to a specific area(s), your vet can begin proper treatment to resolve your pet’s discomfort.
Treatment options will vary with the nature and source of a cat’s pain. Procedures and therapy may be administered to treat underlying conditions, which could range from medication or dietary changes to a dental cleaning or surgery. Treating and resolving the primary condition or injury should help relieve the cat’s discomfort.
Your vet may recommend the use of various pain medications to alleviate your cat's suffering. Some of these include the likes of opioids (e.g. morphine) which are more commonly prescribed in the event of extreme distress. They will typically be given following a surgical procedure or in the management of a cat who deals with chronic pain in order to give them better quality of life.
In the case of inflammation being the culprit behind the pain, anti-inflammatory medicine will work best. For example, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can treat mild to moderate levels of pain. Corticosteroids are used to generally handle cases of arthritis or allergies, but they do run the risk of long-term side effects. As cats are very susceptible to the side effects of pain and anti-inflammatory drugs, you should always thoroughly consult with your vet before beginning any medication.
When possible conditions are still being diagnosed, your vet may place your cat under supportive care to make it as comfortable as possible. This care includes measures such as changing the environment temperature, administering IV fluids, and providing supplemental nutrients.
Recovery of Pain in Cats
Any prescribed medication should be administered exactly how your vet specified. It is easy for a cat to overdose or experience harmful side effects, so it is important that you follow the medication plan laid out. Be sure to pay close attention to your cat's behavior. This includes monitoring their activity level, gait, and even their appetite. Pain is not something that goes away overnight, so continued monitoring is important, just as having frequent follow-ups with your veterinarian.