Pain it isn’t always obvious to others when you’re experiencing it. Unless it’s a broken leg twisted at a 90-degree angle or a big bruise on your arm, pain is a condition with no obvious external manifestations. Sure, some people are good at going around making sure everyone knows they’ve stubbed a toe or pulled a groin muscle, but other people are more like cats—you’d never know anything was wrong.
Cats are renowned for their ability to mask pain and discomfort. This is a great advantage when out in the wild around a predator, but it’s a big problem in a home when pet owners are unaware that their pet has a problem.
Cat Pain: What We Know Veterinarians have come a long way in understanding pain in pets. With that understanding comes the knowledge that we are very likely undertreating pets for pain they are commonly experiencing. Arthritis, dental disease, urinary tract disease, bone disease, and cancer are just a few of the common feline medical conditions that are known to be painful. Pain management specialists have a mantra they often repeat: “Assume pain.” If you diagnose a painful medical condition, pain management should be part of the treatment, every time.
Cats may not speak, but they do communicate their pain in their own ways. Although they can’t come up to us and say, “I’m hurting,” cats do exhibit behavioral changes that can indicate they are experiencing pain. The American Animal Hospital Association has pain management guidelines that can help owners and veterinarians manage feline pain.
Recognize the Signs of Cat Pain
CHANGE IN ACTIVITY LEVEL
A change in activity level can indicate discomfort. Cats might become less active and sleep more hours than they used to. Stiff, arthritic cats may be reluctant to change positions, or no longer jump onto high surfaces. Conversely, cats may become more active: restless, repetitively getting up and down, and seeming to have difficulty getting comfortable.
While many people associate biting and licking with allergies, pets in pain often repetitively lick and bite at painful areas. They may do it so often that they cause secondary trauma to their body in the form of skin infections and hair loss.
Most of us know that a hissing or growling cat is an unhappy cat, but did you know meows and purrs can accompany pain as well? Some cats purr when they are frightened or hurting, and it does not always indicate contentment. This is particularly true for cats with an easygoing or gentle personality.
CHANGE IN DAILY ROUTINE
A cat whose appetite suddenly drops may be feeling too much pain to eat, or may be experiencing nausea from a disease process. Cats who have an abrupt onset of soiling in the house after years of using the litterbox may be too painful to get in and out of a box with high sides, or too sore to get to where the box is located. A lap cat who suddenly can’t stand being held may be experiencing pain when they are touched or pet. Any of these changes in their usual personality and preferences may be medical in origin.
Cats do a version of the “little old person shuffle” when they are stiff; they walk very gingerly and avoid the usual athletic leaps we are accustomed to seeing. Cats with abdominal pain may have a hunched back, tucking in their abdomen in a protective posture. You may also notice a cat being protective of a certain area of their body, not wanting to be touched or scratched; they may also limp or hesitate to put weight on a sore limb.
Granted, facial expression can be difficult to gauge in a cat, but certain giveaways can indicate pain or discomfort. A vacant stare at nothing in particular, or a “glazed” expression is common. Cats in distress can also have dilated pupils—part of the stress response in the body. Unlike in dogs, cats do not normally pant. If you notice a panting cat, particularly when she is at rest, you should get her evaluated as soon as possible.
Some cats are naturally surly for their entire lives. It can be hard to tell if they are escalating their level of aggression. However, a normally friendly cat who is suddenly hissing, swatting, and biting may be a cat in pain. Out-of-character meanness is a cat’s way of asking to be left alone.
POOR COAT CONDITION
Cats are expert groomers, spending up to five hours a day on maintaining their silky coats. However, pain from arthritis can make it difficult to contort themselves into their normal grooming positions, and pain in general can make a cat too uncomfortable or worn out to maintain their normal routine. A cat who stops grooming and starts to look unkempt may be in pain and needs to be evaluated.
Upon arriving at home, place the kitten in a small, quiet area with food and a litter box. If the kitten is very tiny, a small litter box with low sides will be necessary at first. If possible, duplicate the type of litter material that was used in the kitten’s previous home.
Kitten Proofing the HomeSet up a safe and secure area where you can leave your kitten when you are not available for supervision. This location should have a food bowl, water bowl, litter box, play toys, a scratching post, and a resting area. Make sure the space is big enough to accommodate all of these things.
Since it is advisable to feed your kitten multiple small meals throughout the day, you may choose to also provide a feeding area in this room. All kittens and cats will need time to investigate their new surroundings, but make sure to inspect the area for nooks and crannies where a kitten might hide or get stuck. For a new kitten this is a more manageable task if you limit the available space initially. Be sure that any area where your kitten is allowed to roam has been effectively cat-proofed, which includes anywhere the kitten can jump or climb.
Potentially dangerous items like electric cords and items that might be chewed or swallowed, such as thread, rubber bands, paper clips, or children’s toys, should be kept out of reach. After your new kitten has had some quiet time in a restricted location, slowly allow access to other areas of the home, under your supervision.
Kittens are natural explorers and will use their claws to climb up onto anything possible. In the first few weeks, slow access to the home will allow for exploration as well as the ability for you to monitor the kitten's behavior.
Introducing the New Kitten to Your Other PetsAlthough some kittens may show fear and defensive postures toward other pets in the home, most young kittens are playful and inquisitive around other animals. Therefore, it is often the existing pets that can pose more of a problem. If you know or suspect that your adult dog or cat might be aggressive toward the kitten, then you should seek professional behavior advice before introducing the pets to each other.
The kitten should be given a safe and secure area that provides for all of its needs (as described above) and introductions with the existing family pets should be carefully supervised. At the first introduction there may be no immediate problems, and reinforcement of desirable responses may be all that is required.
Introducing the New Kitten to Your DogIf there is some mild anxiety on the part of your dog, the introductions will need to be controlled, gradual, supervised, and always positive. Begin by placing your new kitten in a carrier or on a leash and harness so that it will not provoke the dog or make the dog feel defensive. Using a leash to control your dog, use favored rewards and training commands to encourage your dog to sit or stay calmly in the presence of the kitten.
Dogs that are not well trained to settle on command may need their training reviewed and improved upon before introduction to any new pet. Alternatively, a leash and head halter may be used for more immediate control and safety. Calm investigation should then be encouraged and reinforced. Any initial anxiety on the part of the dog or kitten should soon decrease.
If the dog is prevented from rough play and chasing, the kitten should quickly learn its limits with the dog, including how to avoid confrontation by climbing or hiding. Initially it would be best to keep a dog and a kitten separated unless supervised by an adult. If there is still the possibility of aggression or injury after the cautious initial introductions, then a behavior consultation would be advisable.
Introducing the New Kitten to Your CatMost adult cats are fairly tolerant of kittens. Keeping the kitten in its own area and then allowing introductions when the cats are eating or playing should help to decrease any initial anxiety. A crate, or a leash and harness, can be used to control one or both of the cats during initial introductions. A synthetic cheek gland scent, either as a spray or diffuser, may also be useful for easing introductions. Most cats and kittens will soon work out a relationship on their own without injury. However, if there is a threat of aggression, a gradual introduction program will need to be followed.
The connection between diet, exercise and weight has long been understood for pets. Just as important, however, is the role those three factors play in the health of our pets as they age. Let’s take a look at how to keep each properly in check and targeted towards the needs of your senior pet.
Special Pet Food for Senior Pets?As pets age, they may become less active. Less exercise often leads to an increase in weight, which requires changes in the diet to compensate and avoid issues with obesity. A diet formulated for pets that are less active might be appropriate in these situations. This may be a food with a lower calorie content that still contains adequate levels of nutrients to meet all of your senior pet’s nutritional needs and keep your pet healthy.
In some cases, the opposite may happen and your senior pet may actually start to lose weight to the point where it’s unhealthy. In such cases a diet with an increased calorie count and a highly palatable and highly digestible protein source may be useful but the choice of diet may depend on the cause of the weight loss as well.
Older pets may also have ailments that can be manipulated and/or controlled, at least partly, through diet. Your veterinarian can help you choose an appropriate diet for your senior pet based on his or her individual nutritional requirements.
How is Exercise a Factor?
“There’s an entire nation of pet owners who are loving their pets to death with too many calories and not enough exercise,” says, Dr. Joe Bartges, a veterinary nutritionist and Small Animal Clinical Sciences department head at University of Tennessee Knoxville’s College of Veterinary Medicine. The solution is providing an environment full of both physical and mental stimulation that will help keep your senior pet feeling youthful and active.
Bringing home a few treat toys that will dispense their meals in smaller doses to improve both physical and mental function and promote weight loss in heavier pets. If they’re able to go up and down the stairs, have them move around your home and go up and down stairs slowly to keep their joints moving and muscles loose. Should climbing stairs be out of the picture, invest in some ramps to help your pet keep moving around the house without causing them too much pain.
Outdoor activities may include such things as walking or jogging, though ultimately it will depend on the current health condition of your pet. Dr. Lobprise recommends talking with your vet to make sure you know how much your pet is capable of and what a comfortable distance will be for them to walk each day. As a senior your pet should still be getting regular walks throughout the week, but keep them short and try not to overdo it if your pet is experiencing any kind of condition. Swimming is another excellent activity to help exercise the muscles without hurting joints.
Consider a Pet Fitness Tracker
Fitness trackers (aka activity monitors) began as a somewhat niche market — catering to people who wanted to track their every step while exercising and easily sling the data to their mobile phones and computers. Since then sales of these devices have been on a surge. In fact by 2018 Juniper Research estimates 57 million fitness trackers will be used worldwide. A small but growing subset of this market is the pet fitness tracker.
Many differ in the type of features offered, but at its simplest pet fitness trackers (once secured on your pet, often on the collar) help monitor your pet’s daily activities so that you can use this data to more accurately discuss changes in their health and behavior with your veterinarian. When used in concert with a healthy diet and exercise regimen, a pet fitness tracker can also be used as a tool to achieve weight loss. Ask your veterinarian if a fitness tracker could benefit your pet.