Safe Pain Medications for Cats

Your cat is more than a pet -- she's part of the family. You don't want to see her in pain. When you notice your furry friend sleeping more, limping, or suddenly unwilling to leap off the sofa, you want to make her feel better. But don't open your medicine cabinet looking to help her. You may do more harm than good.

Call the Vet

Talk to your vet before doing anything. He'll want to find out what's causing your pet's discomfort. There may be something going on that needs treatment beyond pain relief.

Many medications people use can make animals very sick. That includes common nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen.

Acetaminophen -- which is not an NSAID, but is a common medication found in products like Tylenol -- can be fatal for felines. Their bodies can't safely break it down.

NSAIDs for Cats

NSAIDS are usually the first line of defense. The FDA hasn't approved any NSAIDs for long-term pain management, but certain ones are cleared for short-term use in cats. Your vet may prescribe the pill robenacoxib, which is also available as an injection. Meloxicam is another NSAID that's injected, usually after surgery. It can also be administered orally in a liquid form.

Your vet might also suggest aspirin, but in small doses. Sometimes it's given in liquid form. Make sure you give the medication exactly as recommended. Cats only need a little bit, and too much or too often can harm them. Don't assume you know the right amount. And don't over use the meds. NSAIDs for cats are approved for no more than 3 days of use.

 

Other Options

Although NSAIDs are common, there are other types of medication, too:

  • Opioids. These include codeine, fentanyl, hydromorphone, and morphine, and are used for severe discomfort. They're often given after surgery or for chronic conditions like arthritis or advanced stages of cancer. Make sure not to give your pet codeine in combination with acetaminophen.
  • Corticosteroids. These drugs relieve pain from allergies or arthritis primarily by reducing inflammation. They include dexamethasone and prednisolone.
  • Gabapentin. This seizure medication helps treat pain in nerves, muscles, and bones.
  • Amitriptyline.An antidepressant in humans, it can help with nerve pain in cats.
  • Buprenorphine HCl. An opiate partial agonist that does not fit any of the above categories, comes in both injectable and oral forms. It is considered quite safe.

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Be Aware

Before giving your pet any medication, read the label closely and talk to your vet. Make sure you understand exactly how much to give your pet, how often, and for how long. Talk to your vet about side effects and warning signs that something is wrong. Unless the doctor prescribes it, don't put her on multiple meds at the same time.

While some NSAIDs are deemed safe, they can sometimes damage your cat's kidneys, liver, heart, stomach, or intestines.

Be on the lookout for these symptoms:

  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Changes in how much she drinks or pees
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea or dark feces
  • Yellowing of the skin, eyes, or gums

Call your vet if you notice these or any other problems.

Usually, you should give meds while your cat is eating or right after. Your vet may recommend canned food over dry to make sure she's getting enough fluids. If she won't eat, hold off on the medication until you talk to your vet.

Managing an animal's pain isn't easy. Being attentive to your pet and talking with your vet should make both you and your kitty feel better.

WebMD Veterinary Reference Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on June 18, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

FDA.

VCA Animal Hospitals.

American Association of Feline Practitioners.

Lorenz, N. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, June 15, 2013.

Chew, D. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Nov. 1, 1998.   

Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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