Yesterday, Claire inconveniently walked on one of my forepaws. The fact that I wriggled among her legs obviously played no role in this accident. We were in the garden, and to be honest, it didn’t hurt me so much, but I had all the same a good roar to let her know that such a clumsiness was unbearable. Then I verified that she was very worried and remorseful, and next I went to do a chase with Pixie.
Do you know that until the years 80-90, we didn’t conceive that animals, or human babies, can feel the pain in the same way as the grown-up humans ?
Nevertheless, different studies show that the structure of the cat’s nervous system is similar to that of the human, that the same brain areas are activated in case of pain.
What is pain ?
Pain is a sensory and/or emotional answer of the body to a most of the time unpleasant experience. It has a protective function : it aims at causing a reaction to put an end or avoid renewing that experience, or escaping it.
What are the various types of pain that can feel a cat ?
Somatic pain or visceral pain ?
Somatic pain is exactly located at the level of the skin, muscles, bones, joints, or still connective tissues. It’s caused by a mechanical, chemical, or thermal stimulus.
Visceral pain is situated at the level of organs (thorax and belly) ; it’s difficult to locate and spreads. For example, a cat having a bladder problem can feel the pain in the skin of his stomach.
Acute pain or chronic pain ?
An acute pain has often only a single sudden and brutal cause (cut, burn, fracture, tear, …). A surgical operation is also a cause of said acute pain. It disappears as soon as the body doesn’t need it anymore to protect itself. An acute pain is easily relieved by painkiller treatments.
A chronic pain is often the result of the combination of several factors and a deregulation of the control mechanisms of pain : you feel pain while it’s not or not anymore normal to feel pain. A chronic pain is difficult to relieve ; it often responds little to basic painkiller treatments. Its treatment will consist of a combination of measures : medicine (analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant), physical care (surgery, physiotherapy, …), arrangements (adapted material and environment), and psychological support.
Procedural pain is the pain that cause the care lavished on a sick cat. For example, putting drops in an ear in case of otitis extremely aches. This pain can lead to aggressive reactions or to negative associations (owner = cause of the pain).
Thus it’s advisable to identify carefully the care which could ache to warn them (taking an analgesic before the care for example), and to choose the least painful possible techniques of care (contention of the cat and the way of lavishing the care). This awareness allows to respect better your cat, to limit negative association, and to have a better safety for the nursing.
How to recognize pain in your cat ?
Unlike humans, we cannot speak : only an attentive observation enables to estimate our pain. Some physiological and behavioral signs can be the expression of a pain, for example :
– increase of the heart rate
– paleness of gums or ears (vasoconstriction)
– fast and / or superficial breath
– loss of appetite
– digestive issues (diarrhea or constipation, vomitings)
– excessive salivation
– tensions, shivers
– agitation, or on the contrary inactivity
– retreat, or on the contrary search for cuddles
– motor skills difficulties (limp, difficulty jumping or sitting down)
– growls, groans, or purring
– wrinkled face, fixed or glassy eyes, dilated pupils
– loss of appetite
– untidy wash
– elimination outside the litter box (wee-wee or dropping)
– protection or excessive licking of a particular zone
How to handle pain ?
According to the type of pain, its treatment requires a “simple” medicinal approach or a combination of various measures, as we explained it above.
Only a veterinarian is authorized to choose and if needed to combine various treatments for an optimal efficiency. In every case, there is no question of administering medicine planned for humans to your cat !
– Philippe Bocion, veterinarian
– L.U. Sneddon, « Evolution of nociception in vertebrates: comparative analysis of lower vertebrates », Brain Research Reviews, vol. 46, 2004, p. 123–130
– Frances V. Abbott, Keith B.J. Franklin et Frederick R. Westbrook, « The formalin test: scoring properties of the first and second phases of the pain response in rats », Pain, vol. 60, no 1, janvier 1995, p. 91–102
– National Research Council (US) Committee on Recognition and Alleviation of Pain in Laboratory Animals, « Recognition and Alleviation of Pain in Laboratory Animals », National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2009