For the love of your pet: Managing pain in cats is tricky business

Dec. 8, 2011 at 6:08 a.m.

By John Beck

My cat has been limping on his front leg for a couple of days now. I really don't have a lot of money to take him to the vet, but I'm concerned he might be in pain. Can I give him something I have in my medicine cabinet to help?

Cats are tricky, especially when it comes to pain medication. You have to be very careful when choosing a medication to manage pain in felines. Cat's internal organs have proven sensitive time and time again to a lot of pain medications, those over the counter and those given by pharmacists and veterinarians. Aspirin, Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and Ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) can all be harmful to your cat and should not be used. Canine medications do not transfer to felines. If your veterinarian prescribed a pain medication for your dog, you probably cannot give it to your cat. Call and check with your veterinarian before giving anything that was prescribed to a certain pet to a different pet. Dog's livers have a higher level of a certain enzyme that cat's livers cannot produce as much of. This enzyme is what makes dogs capable of handling pain medications more easily.

There are a select group of medications that seem to actually help cats with pain without causing any damage to their liver or kidneys. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents) have been found to be beneficial in cats when given in small doses. Two approved medications in that category are meloxicam and ketoprofen. Both of these medications require and veterinarians prescription and are not available over the counter. Even though these specific medicines are approved for feline pain, they are still used cautiously and for the shortest time possible to obtain results.

If your cat is hurt and appears to be in pain, the very best thing to do is take them to the vet. You should not give any oral medications, human or canine. If the cat will let you, you can apply an alternating hot/cold compress to help him out until you can get him to a vet. This will not eliminate the pain but it might help sooth it. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can be used to help cause drowsiness or help your cat sleep until he can be seen by a veterinarian.

As a side note, dogs can receive over-the-counter pain management. You should always contact your veterinarian for the proper dose, but Aspirin and Acetaminophen are all safe for short-term use in dogs. Ibruprofen use in dogs can quickly reach a toxic level, so it is not suggested.

If your pet is injured, always contact your veterinarian for the best advice. Each case is different. If you have any other questions or concerns, feel free to contact me or your local vet for more advice.

Dr. John Beck has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. Submit questions to Dr. Beck at



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