Medication, Weight Loss, And Other Therapies For Cats In Pain

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Once the cause or source of pain is determined, the goal is to help cats without creating disharmony between them and their owners, said Carolina Medina, DVM, at last week’s VMX presentation Purrfect Rehab: Mobility and Pain Management Techniques for Cats. That starts with medication and nutraceuticals.

Opioids and NSAIDs are available for cats, but no FDA-approved products are available for long-term use in cats. Gabapentin can be a good choice for cats because it is available as a flavorless liquid, making it easy to mix into a cat’s food. Chondroprotectants that are chewable or in capsule form are also easily added to a cat’s food by pulverizing the tablet or removing the contents of the capsule and mixing the substance in.

Other therapies include weight loss, acupuncture—both electro and dry needle methods—and laser therapy.

“We don’t have studies to prove that weight loss improves lameness in cats, but we do in dogs,” Dr. Medina says.

For owners with obese cats, it can be helpful to explain that excess weight stresses joints and excess adipose tissue releases pro-inflammatory cytokines that lead to chronic inflammation. Obesity reduces a cat’s lifespan and adversely affects quality of life. Show owners the nine-point body composition scale, with five being ideal. A visual is helpful. Take before-and-after photos: what the cat looks like now, in one month, in three months, in six months and so on.

Acupuncture releases beta endorphins and serotonin, decreases pain and inflammation, and improves blood flow. “There’s a lot of research to support that it helps with pain control,” Dr. Medina says.

Depending on the amount of pain the cat is in and the other modalities in use, she usually starts acupuncture treatments once or twice a week and then gradually increases the amount of time between treatments. She prefers electro acupuncture to dry needle acupuncture but says some cats don’t like the wires touching their skin.

“Most cats tend to do surprisingly well,” she says.

Laser therapy decreases pain, releases beta endorphins and serotonins, decreases inflammation, and promotes angiogenesis.

Cats don’t have reputations as the most tractable of animals, but with the right handling and motivation, they respond, 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.