Cat Pain Relief – What Painkiller Can You Give Your Cat

Cats Pain Relief  – Cat Parents Getting More Conscious About Feline Pain And Anxiety


Cat pain relief
What is a safe painkiller for cats? photo: kevin-dooley

Pain relief for cats has been a long neglected area in veterinary research. Pet owners are more than ever conscious about feline pain and anxiety as more and more good information is made available online for anyone who is interested. The most important question from cat owners is however, what can be used as a painkiller for their feline pets in an emergency situation?




So far, there have been no safe pain relievers available for cats. It was said aspirin or NSAID pain medication in doses for small dogs would be appropriate, but these drugs can cause  fatal side effects if given incorrectly dosed or repeatedly.

In the past 10 years, however, veterinarians have focused on pain relief for pets, and managing pain in companion animals will be one of the two or three defining issues of veterinary medicine in the first half of the 21st century, says William Tranquilli, a professor of veterinary clinical medicine at the University of Illinois in Urbana.

What changed? Part of the answer lies in increased demand by pet owners. “Many of the questions we as anesthesiologists are asked on a daily basis are about pain and anxiety,” says Alicia Karas, an assistant professor of anesthesiology at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Mass., and a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Anesthesia.

Owner concern, plus their own interest in animals, led anesthesiologists, surgeons and intensive-care veterinarians to look more closely at animals in pain and try to do a better job of recognizing and treating it. Dogs and cats have been the main beneficiaries of this interest. Not enough is known yet about treating pain in birds, reptiles and other pets such as ferrets, Karas says, adding “we are using some pain meds in birds, and we are studying how best to treat them, so progress is being made.”

You can read in a lot of places online that you can give your cat pain relievers, such as aspirin or non-steroidal anti inflammatories, but these are definitely not a safe choice.


Charlie, a 5-year-old orange-and-white cat, was in acute pain from a back injury. But when his owner took him to the veterinarian, surprisingly simple relief was at hand. No struggling to cram a pill down his throat, no trying to coax him to swallow a liquid.

“My veterinarian had been looking for an opportunity to try out a new ‘cocktail’ of drugs that goes into a needleless syringe and is applied to the gums,” says Charlie’s owner, Marion Lane of New York City. Absorbed directly into the bloodstream, the medicine took effect within seconds. Charlie relaxed and soon fell asleep right where he was lying. He enjoyed sweet, soothing sleep for the next six to eight hours.

Charlie was lucky that his veterinarian was able to offer such quick, effective pain relief. A little more than a decade ago, pain management wasn’t an issue for many veterinarians. They didn’t have a clear understanding of how animals experienced pain, and few drugs were available that could help.

Managing pain in animals has always been a challenge because cats and dogs can’t say where or how much it hurts. Beyond that communication gap, animals — especially cats — often try to hide their pain, an instinctive behavior dictated by the premise that the weak don’t survive.

The treatment Lane’s veterinarian used for Charlie includes a morphine derivative that’s usually injected. What’s new is the idea of placing it in a medication syringe and applying it to the gums. This makes it easy for owners to give it at home as needed, a relief for people with cats, which are often reluctant if not downright unwilling to swallow pills or liquids. Lane keeps a filled syringe on hand in case Charlie has another episode.

What’s also different is using this type of drug with a cat. Veterinarians once believed that opioids such as morphine couldn’t be used in cats because they metabolized the drugs differently than dogs and humans.  Source

The drug discussed above is buprenorphine (Butrenex, Temgesic, Vetergesic), which can be used in combination with an NSAID, but needs to be prescribed by your veterinarian. In those cases, where your cat is already getting treatment for a known medical condition, you can ask your vet for an “emergency” reserve kept at home.

However, it does mean that you, the conscious cat parent, needs to arrange this in advance and store medication in a safe and appropriate place, out of the reach of children!

Another, new addition to NSAID meds is robenacoxib (Onsior).


Onsior® contains, as its active ingredient, a drug known as robenacoxib. Robenacoxib is part of a group of medications known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, or NSAIDs. Historically, veterinarians have been cautious in using NSAIDs in cats because of the danger of side effects.

NSAIDs have been used extensively in dogs and there are many such canine drugs available, such as Rimadyl®, Etogesic®, Deramaxx®, Metacam® to name just a few. However, in cats, only Metacam® has been approved and widely used. Unfortunately, Metacam® has been responsible for kidney issues in some of the cats that have received the medication. As a result, the FDA placed a warning on the Metacam® label.

The concern with the new drug, Onsior®, is that similar problems might accompany its usage as well. So, while many veterinarians are cautiously optimistic about having a new option to relieve pain in cats, they are also somewhat fearful of the potential side effects of the medication.

Interestingly, both Metacam® and Onsior® have been used in European countries much more extensively for pain control in cats than here in the United States. And there have reportedly been significantly lower numbers of adverse effects with Metacam® than what has been seen here in the United States. The reason for this is unclear. One hypothesis is that the labeling for Metacam® is less restrictive in European countries than it is here in the US.

As a result, veterinarians overseas have greater access to educational materials pertaining to the proper use of the medication. Here in the United States, the FDA has strict rules prohibiting the manufacturer of a drug from giving any advice about using the medication in an off-label fashion. As a result, the theory suggests that veterinarians here in the US have more limited access to the proper educational materials and are therefore less apt to use Metacam® in a safe manner than veterinarians overseas. Details

In the UK is Metacam® as an oral solution and in injectable form for cats available, which makes the dosage of meloxicam for cats much safer.


While there are numerous approved prescription nonsteroidal anti inflammatory pain relief medication for dogs such as Rimadyl, Deramaxx, and Previcox, because of the unique sensitivity and metabolism of domestic short hair cats, our choices are often much more limited in our feline companions.

As cats age, they do indeed suffer many of the same painful aging conditions as dogs and people such as degenerative joint disease and arthritis, as well as spinal arthritis, disc problems, as well as the routine discomfort seen post surgery.

For decades we had few options to offer our feline friends, except for a few medications that were mostly injectable narcotic drugs available only in the veterinary hospital setting. However, with the approval and use of such drugs like the nonsteroidal anti inflammatory pain medication Metacam in cats, that has indeed changed.

Because of our felines’ sensitivity to such drugs, however, it is important to make sure that predrug veterinary blood work and urine testing is done, as well as monitored during long term treatment if Metacam is indeed used. With newer prescription drugs such as the safe alternative Tramadol, we can also combine use of such medications with the nonsteroidal pain medication Tramadol.  More here.



All this shows that there is so much more that we still don’t know about cats and that there is probably still no really safe pain relief for cats available. However, veterinary research and vets in practice are very aware about the sensible feline metabolism. The fact that you can’t buy cat pain reliever over the counter may seem inconvenient for you at times. If you want to be prepared for the unforeseen, it is best to discuss this with your vet and ask for a safe pain drug.

5 responses to “Cat Pain Relief – What Painkiller Can You Give Your Cat”

  1. One problem is that it’s hard to determine when a cat is in pain since they will often just run and hide. Unlike a dog who will whimper and limp.

    Something that we have used to help our cat heal naturally is called Paw Ease. It’s an anti-anxiety medication that is spread on the paw. The cat then licks it off and the medicine helps it to calm down. It doesn’t take away the pain per se, but it allows the animal to rest and not make things worse.

  2. My cat was a pure white breed and we had him about ten years back. We knew nothing about painkillers for cats then or anything close to it. He developed skin cancer many times to his ears and nose leading us to amputate his ears ( eventually ). I happened upon this article searching for research for my own devices and I’m glad I did. To think there are now sections of information on pain relief for cats is really comforting – he passed away about two months after his ear operation and we were all gutted.
    Lovely post and interesting info, Cheers,

  3. Should manage cat’s pain because pain hurts. However, the problem actually goes much deeper than that. Being in pain will not only cause discomfort for a cat, but it can also have a deleterious effect on cat’s health. In most cases, pain control should be multi-faceted, involving more than one form of pain medication or pain control technique. In this way, drug doses can often be reduced to safer levels and different parts of the “pain cascade” can be targeted, resulting in more effective pain control.

    manuka vet

  4. My cat has cancer most likely in the lungs, first diagnosed as a secondary tumour in his back toe, it apears to be aggressive and now has one in his front paw and one in his mouth, I know his days are numbered but he still has quality of life, and has Metacam daily and oral Vetergesic twice a day, he is enjoying going out and is eating well ( the things he likes) this medication is proving very expensive from the vets, is there anyway I can get cheaper from the internet. I would be gratful of any help I am given.

    Jill c

    • Hi Jill!
      I am very sorry to hear about your cat’s illness.
      The medication prescribed by your vet seems to work well out for your cat, as you say he still eats well and enjoys his daily time outside.
      As for the costs of medication, I would do a Google search for online veterinary pharmacies and browse there for meloxicam (Metacam or Loxicam) for cats and Vetergesic (in the UK).
      You will need a form filled out by your vet to be able to place and order for prescription drugs.
      Avoid buying from auction sites, like ebay, though.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *