What To Do When Your Cat Is In Pain? Causes & Medication You Can Give To Them 2021

A New Way Of Thinking: Until recently, veterinarians believed that animals do not feel pain. But that way of thinking is changing, and a 2007 American Animal Hospital Association Journal article urges veterinarians to consider pain the fourth vital sign, after temperature, pulse, and respiration. The article also encourages vets to provide pain relief before and during medical procedures, as well as using pain killers afterward. What to do when a cat’s in pain? Today, veterinarians have many options to choose from.

Fentanyl Patch

Fentanyl is an opiate and works the same way as morphine. The patch provides pain relief for cats after surgery or injury and is also helpful for cancer patients. Side effects include respiratory depression, or inadequate breathing, and skin irritation caused by the adhesive on the back of the patch. The euphoria of the drug can lead to an excessive appetite. Or just the opposite can occur, and the cat will feel nauseous and refuse to eat. Removing the patch should resolve any side effects.


Buprenorphine (brand name Buprenex) is a synthetic opiate that acts quickly to relieve moderate pain. Although it’s an injectable drug, the liquid can be used at home as oral drops. Since it’s absorbed from the mouth, the medicine does not have to be swallowed. Side effects of Buprenorphine can include decreased blood pressure and heart rate. Respiratory depression is another possible side effect.


Tramadol (brand name Ultram) is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug used to relieve both post-surgical and chronic pain in cats. Side effects are rare but can include upset stomach, pupil constriction, panting, decreased heart rate and constipation. If you discontinue Tramadol after long-term use, your cat’s dose needs to be tapered down over a few weeks, rather than stopping the medication abruptly.


Meloxicam (Metacam) is also a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. Metacam is approved for one-time use as an injection in cats following surgery. However, many veterinarians use it “off label” to provide pain relief for arthritis and other chronic diseases.

This off label use can be dangerous and even fatal for cats. In September 2010, Boehringer Ingelheim, the manufacturer of Metacam, added a boxed warning to its product label stating that “repeated use of meloxicam in cats has been associated with acute renal failure and death.”

Over The Counter Medications

Low-dose aspirin can relieve mild pain, and cats can safely take a quarter tablet every three or four days. Regular strength aspirin, Tylenol and other drugs containing ibuprofen are toxic to cats and can be deadly.

Homeopathic Remedies

Many conventional veterinarians use traumeel, a homeopathic remedy, to relieve the pain of acute trauma and arthritis. Arnica, too, can relieve pain in cats.

Health food stores sell homeopathic remedies, and they’re easy to give because they just have to touch the cat’s gums and don’t need to be swallowed. But they work best when customized for the individual cat and its symptoms and should be given under the supervision of a holistic veterinarian. 

Fish Oil

The omega-3 fatty acids in fish or wild salmon oil reduce inflammation and can ease the pain of arthritis. Health food stores sell fish and wild salmon oil gel caps. Using a push pin, prick a hole in a capsule and add the contents to your cat’s wet food.


Acupuncture is an effective pain reliever for cats. But treating animals is very different from treating humans, and only a trained veterinary acupuncturist should treat your cat.

Causes Of Pain In Cats

Injuries and surgery aren’t the only causes of pain in cats. They can feel pain after such medical procedures as ear-cleaning and dentistry. And gum disease, pancreatitis, urinary tract infections, arthritis and cancer are all painful. Declawing causes pain immediately after the procedure and sometimes for the cat’s entire life.


It can be hard to know whether a cat is in pain because cats rarely cry out when something hurts. Signs that your cat might be in pain include hissing or growling when touched, loss of appetite, depression, sleeping more than usual or being less active, and sitting or resting in an unusual, crouched position.

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