Posted on: September 12th, 2014 by Dr. Dale Rubenstein

It’s hard to believe that people used to think that animals “don’t feel pain”. All mammals have the same basic nervous system, so this never made any sense. Fortunately, people no longer believe this; we also have safer analgesics (pain medications) available. This is especially important for cats, who are very sensitive to a number of medications. (For example, 1 acetaminophen/Tylenol can kill a cat!)

As prey animals, it is essential for survival that cats show as little weakness as possible. Therefore, a cat will be in considerable pain before it is obvious. Where a dog might vocalize, cats usually are quiet – which they are normally. So, we have to look for more subtle signs: is the cat going up or down stairs more slowly? Is the cat no longer jumping on a favorite chair or window perch? Is the cat having litter box issues with no other changes in the environment? (This may indicate a urinary infection, which is definitely painful). Does the cat have a chronic condition such as pancreatitis, dental disease, Inflammatory Bowel Disease or even cancer? All of these conditions cause pain.

It is important to have an exam performed, to address medical concerns (such as antibiotics for a urinary infection). But, while some problems can be “cured”, others need to be controlled and have the potential for ongoing pain.

Our best test for “Is my cat in pain?” is his/her response to treatment. If he feels better, acts better, eats better, moves more easily – yes, he needs pain medications. If she is having a dental procedure with extractions or even a routine “spay” (which is still major abdominal surgery!), pain medication should be addressed both prior to and following surgery.

Please discuss any subtle changes in your cat’s behavior with your veterinarian. We want our cats to be as comfortable as possible, and living with chronic pain just “because he isn’t showing pain” is missing what is going on internally with your cat.