September 12, 2023

The Silent Sufferers: Recognizing Pain in Cats

September marks Animal Pain Awareness Month, a dedicated time to shed light on a crucial issue close to every pet owner's heart. At Countryside Veterinary Services, we're deeply committed to the well-being of our beloved feline companions.

Cats, renowned for their stoic nature, often conceal signs of pain, making it a challenge to recognize when they're suffering. Furthermore, many medications effective for pain management in other species may not be safe for cats. In this blog post, we explore the various facets of feline pain, from its types to identification and treatment options.

Types of Pain in Cats:

Just like humans and other animals, cats can experience different types of pain, broadly categorized into acute and chronic pain:

  1. Acute Pain: This type of pain is sudden and typically results from injuries, surgery, or trauma. It is intense but short-lived.
  2. Chronic Pain: Chronic pain persists over an extended period and often arises from conditions like arthritis, dental problems, or cancer. It significantly impacts a cat's quality of life.

Understanding Feline Arthritis:

Degenerative joint disease (DJD), commonly known as feline arthritis, is a prevalent chronic pain issue among cats. DJD occurs when the cartilage, the protective connective tissue covering the ends of bones within a joint, deteriorates. This loss of cartilage in the joint leads to chronic and sometimes unbearable pain, drastically affecting a cat's quality of life.

DJD typically affects the lower back, elbows, knees, hips, shoulders, and hocks (similar to our ankles). Surprisingly, even young cats can develop DJD, though symptoms may not manifest until the condition worsens with age. Unlike dogs, cats with DJD usually don't limp, as the disease typically affects the same joint in both legs.

Recognizing Signs and Symptoms of Cat Pain:

Identifying pain in cats can be challenging due to their innate ability to hide discomfort. To determine if your cat is in pain, watch for the following signs and symptoms:

Behavioral Changes:

  • Increased irritability or aggression
  • Withdrawal, hiding, or clinginess
  • Vocalization, especially when touched or picked up
  • Changes in grooming habits, such as neglecting grooming or over-grooming painful areas

Mobility Issues:

  • Limping or favoring a particular limb
  • Decreased jumping or reduced height in jumps
  • Stiffness or reluctance to move
  • Difficulty or hesitation on stairs, moving slower on them
  • Reduced activity and playfulness

Appetite and Weight Changes:

  • Loss of appetite or alterations in eating habits
  • Weight loss due to reduced food intake

Changes in Litter Box Behavior:

  • Straining or urinating outside the litter box
  • Diarrhea or constipation

Treatment Options for Cat Pain Management:

At Countryside Veterinary Services, we offer a range of effective treatment options to address and manage cat pain:

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) for Cats:

These drugs are frequently employed to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation in cats. While the FDA has not granted approval for long-term NSAID use in cats, specific NSAIDs have been cleared for short-term relief. Your veterinarian may recommend robenacoxib in pill form, which is also available as an injectable. Alternatively, meloxicam, another NSAID, can be administered via injection, particularly following surgery, or as an oral liquid.

In some cases, your vet might suggest aspirin, but only in small, infrequent doses, often in liquid form. It's essential to adhere strictly to the recommended dosage, as cats require only a small amount, and excessive or frequent use can be harmful. Please avoid assuming the correct dosage, and never overuse NSAIDs for cats, as they are typically approved for a maximum of three days of use.

Adequan® (Polysulfated Glycosaminoglycan):

Officially approved for dogs and horses, this injectable drug can provide much-needed relief from joint pain. But here's the secret: it's also used safely in cats, addressing their joint discomfort effectively. Derived from cow tracheas and slightly modified for stability, Adequan is more like a nutraceutical than a traditional drug. It's considered safer than NSAIDs, but it's not without risks, though it's uncommon. Administered as a muscle injection (and inside the joint for horses) it is currently prescription-only.

Adequan has anti-inflammatory and cartilage-protecting properties. It likely inhibits enzymes that break down joint cartilage and increases joint fluid thickness. The usual treatment involves eight shots over four weeks. We will sometimes adjust the dose for cats with kidney or liver issues and we may reduce or eliminate NSAIDs or steroids if needed. This isn't necessarily a standard treatment option for cats, but we find that Adequan can be a safer alternative for managing pain and inflammation in cats. With our cats living longer, it's crucial to find effective, low-risk options. Don't hesitate to ask us about Adequan for your cat's comfort and well-being.


Solensia, developed by Zoetis, stands as the First and Only FDA-Approved Treatment for Controlling Osteoarthritis Pain in Cats. This monthly injection, administered at your veterinarian's office, effectively manages the pain your cat may endure due to OA. Solensia is designed to control OA pain in cats, restoring them to their usual state by enhancing mobility. It operates similarly to your cat's naturally produced antibodies, diminishing pain signals.

Nutritional Supplements:
  • Omega fatty acids, glucosamine, and chondroitin can assist in managing joint pain and arthritis.
Non-Invasive Pain Relief Options
  • Heat/ice, laser therapy, chiropractics, physical therapy, massage, and acupuncture can complement pain management.
  • Laser Therapy: Which harnesses the power of light waves to stimulate growth, facilitate cell repair, muscle relaxation, inflammation reduction, and pain management for feline arthritis, tendon and ligament injuries. Laser therapy can be employed as a standalone treatment or in conjunction with other pain management approaches. The number of sessions and treatment frequency vary based on the specific injury, with sessions typically lasting approximately 15 minutes. Following a comprehensive physical assessment of your cat, your veterinarian can devise a laser therapy treatment plan to complement overall pain control strategies.
Modifying Your Home:
  • Make adjustments to your cat's environment, including lowering food and water bowls, providing easy-access litter boxes, using ramps or stairs for furniture access, and ensuring non-slip flooring.


Prioritizing the health and comfort of our feline friends is paramount. This Animal Pain Awareness Month, we encourage you to consult the experts at Countryside Veterinary Services if you suspect your cat is in pain or discomfort. Our team will conduct a thorough evaluation and create a tailored pain management plan to ensure your cat enjoys a happy, pain-free life.

Lastly, please remember never to administer any medication to your cat without guidance from your veterinarian, including over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or aspirin, as they can be lethal to cats. Once a diagnosis is made, your veterinarian will guide you through a treatment plan, incorporating both medication and simple home adjustments to maintain your cat's normal behaviors.