Animals can experience pain, just as humans do, with an endless list of causes. Obviously, we want to be able to manage this pain, and we can do so with painkillers. However, with some conditions, these may be needed for a long time. Does this ultimately have a negative effect on an animal’s life? 

Why does my cat need painkillers? 

Pain is defined by the International Association for the Study of Pain as ‘an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience, associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms as such damage’. It is very likely that cats experience pain in the same way that we do. Therefore, this pain needs to be managed, and we can do so with certain drugs – as prescribed by your vet of course! 

There are different types of pain your cat may experience, dependant on the condition they’re suffering from:

Acute pain

This is sudden pain, that can occur due to things like cutting, crushing or burning. It has a protective role, ensuring that an animal reduces injury as much as possible. Chronic pain 

This kind of pain occurs for long periods of time (usually longer than 3 months), and can be caused by conditions such as arthritis.

What painkillers are available to cats?

Your vet may prescribe a range of medicines, alone or in combination, to help manage your cat’s painful condition. What medications are chosen will depend upon the type of pain, it’s cause, your cat’s health otherwise, and how your cat responds to treatment.

NSAIDs 

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) are commonly used as a first-line painkiller in cats due to their proven effectiveness, ease of use and being relatively inexpensive. They work to reduce the production of substances called prostaglandins, which cause pain and inflammation. The most common NSAID, and licensed for use in cats is Meloxicam (marketed as Metacam, Loxicom, Meloxaid etc). This should be given once daily with food and comes in liquid form.

Gabapentin 

This is mainly used to control neuropathic pain (meaning pain that occurs when the nervous system becomes damaged. This can be given in the form of a capsule or in liquid form, although it is not licensed in cats so would be used by your vet based on the risks and benefits.

Tramadol

Tramadol is a type of opioid that may be given alongside other pain killers to provide extra pain relief. It is rarely used alone, mostly used as an additive alongside other more commonly used painkillers. 

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How could painkillers affect my cat in the long term? 

There is a risk involved with the use of any drug over long periods of time. For example, NSAIDs may impact on the liver and kidneys with long term use. Therefore, your vet will recommend regular check ups and blood tests to ensure that your cat is still responding well to their medication, and be able to monitor for the development of harmful side effects. So yes, there is a small risk that these medications might eventually end up having a negative effect, but on balance, it is far more important that your cat’s pain is managed.

If you start to notice that your cat is experiencing side effects from their medication, then you should contact your vet immediately.

Are there any painkillers cats can’t have?

It is very important to remember that cats can’t have paracetamol. They are unable to process the drug in the same way that humans and dogs can, leading to a build-up of toxic compounds in their blood, affecting red blood cells and their oxygen carrying ability. Ultimately, ingestion of even a tiny amount of paracetamol can be fatal.

If you have given your cat paracetamol or are concerned that they have ingested it, contact your vet immediately. 

In conclusion…

It is incredibly important that pain is managed – for our cats, a life in constant pain probably isn’t worth living. Work with your vet to ensure that your cat receives appropriate treatment, and continues to benefit from it if they are receiving it over the course of many months. If you are concerned that your cat is still experiencing pain despite being on medication, seek help from your vet straight away.

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