It can be very challenging to tell if your cat is in pain. Just like in people and dogs, cats can experience arthritis and secondary pain.

Dogs frequently will limp, have difficulty getting up, or sometimes will vocalize when they are achy. These symptoms make sense, and pet owners are able to readily identify an issue in their canines.

Signs of osteoarthritis in cats are much more elusive and can include but are not limited to hiding, not jumping up on furniture, not using the litter box well, not moving or waking around as much, not wanting to be held, not grooming as much, aggression, crying when picked up, sleeping more, and occasionally limping. If cats live mostly outdoors it can be even tougher to identify an affliction. Some cats are also very independent and may not routinely be held a lot.

This combination of factors can make it much harder to know that there is an issue. As a result, felines are often uncomfortable for much longer.

As a pet owner there are several things that you can do identify pain or any malady in your cat at the earliest stage possible. Routine examinations will help to pinpoint areas of discomfort and other important medical issues.

Every pet should be evaluated at least once a year; for pets over the age of 7 it is recommend twice a year. Knowing what is normal for your companion helps you to identify the abnormal. Know when they eat, eliminate, where they go during the day, how active they are, etc.

When you suspect there is any type of issue, take your buddy to see your veterinarian as soon as possible. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this may be more challenging and more animals are being brought in during emergencies.

Pain control can also be more challenging in felines. They have a much more difficult time metabolizing medications, and can have secondary issues such as vomiting, not eating, and kidney or liver issues.

In the United States, there is no approved long-term medication to treat pain in cats. There are drugs approved in Europe for long-term osteoarthritis.

It is common to give both a pain medication and an anti-inflammatory medication. Common pain products include Buprenex, Gabapentin and others. Common anti-inflammatories include Meloxicam and Onsior. These products are approved for short term use, and may be used off-label if needed for long-term care.

It can also be difficult to give cats medications. Liquid products are often more tolerated.

Glucosmine can also help to improve cartilage, and comes in a tuna flavored powder that can be added to food. Some diets also include glucosamine.

Physical therapy can be beneficial, and other treatments such as acupuncture or cold laser also are helpful.

Please do not give your pets any human medications for pain; they can be harmful and even deadly. Your veterinarian is the best person to customize a care plan for your companion.

I wish you and all of your companions well during this difficult time.

Dr. Julie Damron, doctor of veterinary medicine, is the medical director of Stockton Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Center. She has worked as a veterinarian in San Joaquin County for more than 20 years and is the founder of Loving Tails, an organization that assists the pets of the homeless.

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