Monday, September 26, 2011

Are your cats in pain? Here's how to spot the signs

Eamon the cat lying down, which could be a sign of pain
Eamon is less likely to stand, which could be a pain sign.
Now that I know exactly what is going on with Eamon's back (if you missed that original post, it's here), I have the unlucky challenge of trying to figure out how to help him. I know that he has a progressive, degenerative form of disk disease in his back, and this disease caused the episode he went through a week or so ago. I also know that surgery may not be the best choice for him, because he's older and his problems go beyond just one bad disk in one location. Replacing all of his back... well, it's just not feasible.

So, we're left with monitoring and pain control. This is a bit more difficult than it might sound, mainly because cats aren't all that great at signaling pain. Where a dog might pace or chew or cry or stop eating, cats can be a lot more subtle with their pain. In fact, I have good reason to believe that Eamon masked his pain for many weeks before he had this back episode.

So this is a short list of signs I am now looking for:
  • Aggression.
  • Refusal to use the litterbox.
  • Overt crying or vocalization.
  • Isolationism. 

Prior to this episode, Eamon did three out of four of these things. When I tried to wean him from his pain medications over the weekend, he did two out of four of these things.

Monitoring your cat for pain can be tricky, because you want to look for clear signs without freaking out your cat. After all, cats who are monitored all the time can become cranky and show some of these pain signs, too. Cats can also completely hide pain signs, which means you must occasionally sneak up on them and check on them when they think they are alone. I think I am still working out a balance, at this point.

And I should add that a veterinarian is an excellent resource, when pain questions are in play. A vet can run your cat through a series of pretty simple tests in order to both isolate and grade pain, and that could give you the data you need to help your cat. Plus, your vet can give you medications to help with pain control, in some cases.

When it doubt, always talk to your vet. But by watching your cat for the pain signs I mentioned, you can arm your pet doc with valuable diagnostic information. Together, you and your doc can come up with the best plans to make life better for any kitty.