The tendency to hide any sign of pain is a trait domestic cats inherited from their wild counterparts. Pain can be a component of many cat diseases, including arthritis, so how can we tell when our feline friends might be suffering from this condition?
Detecting arthritis pain in cats is difficult. Cats dislike any kind of restraint, and they object (often strongly) to examination. Cats tend to live sedentary lives and, if they slow their activities due to illness or pain, we often don't notice any change in routine. Cats don't usually go out for walks with us or participate in outdoor activities, common ways owners detect signs of pain in other non-cat pets.
Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, refers to chronic changes in the joint structures resulting in exposure of the ends of bones. These bones then rub together, causing pain and decreased function.
Even if veterinarians suspect a cat might have arthritis, they often are reluctant to prescribe commonly used pain relief medications unless they feel confident in their diagnosis. Cats metabolize pain-alleviating drugs very differently than dogs, complicating their treatment for osteoarthritis, and they have to be carefully monitored. Finding a better way to evaluate pain and treatment effectiveness is a critical component of improving care for cats with arthritis.
Morris Animal Foundation has been interested in pain evaluation and management in cats for many years. Recently, the foundation funded several studies focused on learning more about how to detect, localize and treat osteoarthritis pain in cats. Two foundation researchers have made tremendous strides in diagnosing and managing pain in cats. Dr. Duncan Lascelles, North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. Mary Klinck, University of Montreal, have helped define new ways to evaluate cats for pain as well as provide methods for evaluating response to pain medications.
Both Dr. Lascelles and Dr. Klinck worked on developing scales that would help veterinarians score their patient's pain, particularly in cats with osteoarthritis. Dr. Klinck's study provides data on which parts of a standard examination are helpful and which aren't when it comes to pain in cats. Dr. Lascelles also showed how his scale can be used to objectively evaluate response to drug treatment, eliminating the placebo effect that can plague these studies.
The pain scales developed by these researchers provide a valuable tool for veterinarians looking for better ways of detecting pain in cats and that means a better quality of life for all our feline friends.