Pain Relief For Cats - What To Do When Kitty Hurts

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 afterwards. How do you provide pain relief for cats? Today, veterinarians have many options to choose from.

Fentanyl Patch

Many vets use Fentanyl patches to provide pain relief for cats after surgery. But the patches are also helpful for cancer patients.

Fentanyl is an opiate and works the same way as morphine. 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.


Buprenex (Buprenorphine) is another popular choice for cats who have just had surgery or dental work. Vets also use it to relieve the pain of bladder stones and crystals and other medical conditions.

Buprenorphine 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 cat doesn't have to swallow the medicine. Side effects of Buprenorphine can include decreased blood pressure and heart rate. Respiratory depression is another possible side effect.


Tramadol is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) 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.


Think twice if your veterinarian offers you Metacam (meloxicam) for long-term pain relief. This NSAID 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."


Onsior is a newer NSAID that is FDA approved for cats. But think twice about this one, too. Many vets have the same concerns about it as they have about Metacam, that it can cause stomach ulceration, bleeding and kidney failure.

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.


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

Fish Oil

The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil reduce inflammation and can ease the pain of arthritis. Most independent pet supply retailers and health food stores sell fish oil. If you buy gel caps, use a push pin to prick a hole in a capsule and add the contents to your cat’s wet food.

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.

How To Know When Kitty Hurts

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.

But don't wait for your cat to show signs that he may be in pain. Ask your vet for pain meds if he has his teeth or ears cleaned. He'll also appreciate medication for pain relief if he has gum disease, pancreatitis, bladder stones or crystals, arthritis or cancer.
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