Bottle of Pills

Q. I know acetaminophen is deadly to cats, but what about aspirin? Is it OK for cats?

A. Most definitely not OK and, in fact, I don’t recommend it even for dogs any more, based on research findings linking aspirin use in dogs to gastric ulcers. But though the use of aspirin in dogs has long been common practice — even if that may be changing — the use of aspirin in cats has never been recommended.

Cats are very sensitive to pain medications, and that’s why veterinarians have long been reluctant to wade into these murky waters, even when faced with cats in chronic pain. With the increase in the keeping of indoor cats, however, many of these pets are living longer, healthier lives — or they would be if their quality of life were not decreased by the constant pain of arthritis. The management of that pain is extremely important, especially in these older cats.

But it’s not just older cats who benefit. Treating pain doesn't just make the hurting stop: It also promotes healthy healing. Untreated pain slows healing time, interferes with sleep and depresses the immune system. The treatment of pain improves respiration, shortens postsurgical hospitalization and improves mobility.

Can you see why I’m a strong advocate for modern pain management for our pets? Despite the benefits, though, you should never — let me emphasize that — never give pain medications to your cat without your veterinarian’s guidance. If your veterinarian is reluctant to provide medication and advice on pain control, push for a consultation with a specialist to design a safe, individualized pain-management program for your pet. Veterinary specialists in oncology, surgery and anesthesia are usually most familiar with the wide variety of pain medications available today, as well as their safest use.

Pain control is never a one-size-fits-all prescription and, in some cases, medication is only part of the package. Complementary and alternative medicine, such as acupuncture and supplements (glucosamine, etc.), may also be an option for cats suffering from chronic pain, as can working with your veterinarian to get and keep your cat at a normal weight, to avoid putting more pressure on joints that are already aching.

I know I am always writing about the importance of working in partnership with your veterinarian, but when it comes to pain management you really need to be sure you and your veterinarian are on the same page. Don’t guess or check the Internet for answers: Work with your veterinarian to develop a safe and effective individual pain-management plan for your cat, and don’t hesitate for an instant to call with questions, concerns or observations. Managing pain in cats is simply not appropriate for guesswork or DIY medicine, ever.