Safe Pain Medications for Cats
Analgesics are drugs used to relieve pain. There are many classes of painkillers. All must be used with caution in cats. Even though human analgesics are common household items, they should not be given to cats.
Demerol, morphine, codeine, and other narcotics are subject to federal regulation and cannot be bought without a prescription. The effect of these drugs on cats is highly unpredictable. Morphine, in a dose appropriate for a small dog, produces apprehension, excitability, and drooling in the cat. When this minimum dose is exceeded, the cat may convulse and die. Fentanyl, usually incorporated into a patch placed on the skin, is a pain medication used in cats. Again, never use this without veterinary guidance, as there can be severe side effects.
Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) is one of a class of drugs called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Buffered or enteric-coated aspirin is a safe analgesic for home veterinary use in dogs, but it must be administered with extreme care to cats. Small doses of aspirin given to cats can produce loss of appetite, depression, and vomiting. One aspirin tablet a day for three or four days is sufficient to cause salivation, dehydration, vomiting, and a staggering gait. Severe disturbances in the acid-base balance may ensue. The bone marrow and liver may show signs of toxicity. Gastrointestinal bleeding is common.
Be aware of this potential toxicity and use aspirin only under veterinary supervision. The recommended dosage for cats is 5 mg per pound (.45 kg) of body weight every 48 to 72 hours. One adult aspirin tablet (324 mg) is eight times the recommended dosage for an 8-pound (3.6 kg) cat. A baby aspirin given every three days is a typical safe cat dose. It should only be given with food and not on an empty stomach. At the first signs of toxicity, the drug should be withdrawn.
Meloxicam is a relatively safe NSAID for use in cats, but is currently approved in the United States only for injectable use. This should also be used only after consultation with your veterinarian.
Other NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), naproxen (Aleve), and other aspirin substitutes, used for treating aches and pains in humans, are toxic to cats. Furthermore, these drugs are not as well tolerated as aspirin. Their absorption patterns are highly unpredictable in small animals. This makes these drugs unsuitable for use in cats.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is another analgesic that must never be given to cats. A cat given even a child's dose of Tylenol can develop fatal hemolytic anemia and liver failure.
Butazolidin (phenylbutazone) is an analgesic prescribed for horses, dogs, and other animals. When used as recommended in these animals, it may be safe and effective. When used in cats, it produces toxicity much like that of aspirin and acetaminophen. In addition, phenylbutazone causes kidney failure. It is therefore not recommended for use in cats.
This article is excerpted from “Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.
Copyright © 2008 by Delbert Carlson, DVM, and James M. Giffin, MD. All rights reserved.