By Kim Campbell Thornton
Before starting cats in rehab, it’s important to identify and treat the source of their pain, said Carolina Medina, DVM, at her 2018 VMX presentation Purrfect Rehab: Mobility and Pain Management Techniques for Cats. This ensures that they aren’t reluctant to participate in therapeutic exercises. Among the many causes of pain in cats are degenerative joint disease, trauma, urinary obstruction, aortic thromboembolism, bladder or renal calculi, pancreatitis, glaucoma, and neoplasia.
Middle-aged cats are most likely going to develop degenerative joint disease, Dr. Medina says. It’s seen in 61 percent of cats older than six years and 90 percent of cats older than 12 years.
Behavior, of course, is the most accurate way to assess a cat’s pain, in tandem with a thorough history. Changes in normal behaviors or development of new behaviors may be a response to pain. In middle-aged cats, common behavioral changes include decreased activity at night, decreased frequency of jumping, resisting handling or petting, and stiff limbs.
Physical expressions of pain include facial grimaces, flattened ears, glazed eyes, tucked abdomen, low head carriage, excessive licking of certain areas, or difficulty rising. Vocalizations that may indicate pain range from meowing to hissing and growling.
During the exam, look at changes in the shape of the cat’s ears and muzzle. When a cat is in pain, the ears tend to flatten sideways, the muzzle flattens, and the whiskers come forward.
A pressure-sensitive walkway can aid in assessing lameness. Cats don’t limp like dogs do, Dr. Medina says, making it more difficult to tell if they are lame or determine which limb is painful. They are more likely to have a stiff gait or develop reluctance to jump up on beds or counters that in the past were easy for them to access.
Evaluation aids include the UNESP-Botucatu Multidimensional Composite Pain Scale and the Glasgow Composite Measure Pain Scale. The American Association of Feline Practitioners and the American Animal Hospital Association have also put together guidelines on recognizing and managing feline pain.
“Think of all these things when you’re looking at cat patients, and ask the client about them,” Dr. Medina says.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.