Natural Pain Relief for Cats

Tiffany Paul, DVM
Written by:
Published: July 19, 2022
Natural Pain Relief for Cats

Watching your cat deal with pain can be heartbreaking and can leave you feeling helpless, not knowing how to comfort them. Traditionally, we think of treating pain with medications. But there are many other ways to treat pain, including natural pain relief for cats, that can be used alone or in conjunction with pain medications.

If you are concerned that your cat may be in pain, start with a veterinary appointment. The veterinarian will do a physical exam and possibly some tests to determine the cause and severity of pain.

Once your cat’s doctor determines the cause, they can put together a treatment plan to help or even resolve the pain. This is a good time to discuss using multiple types of pain control, including natural pain relief. This can be especially helpful when treating chronic pain such as arthritis.

Natural Pain Relief Options for Cats

When treating pain and inflammation in cats, omega fatty acids and glucosamine can be used in addition to, or in lieu of, traditional pain medications. Heat/ice, laser therapy, chiropractics, physical therapy, massage, and acupuncture can also be very helpful in treating cat pain.

In many cases, these services may even be provided in your own home. There are also many ways to modify your home and your cat’s space to better accommodate them.

Supplements

Check with your veterinarian before adding a supplement to your cat’s diet. These substances, unlike prescription medications, are not regulated by the FDA. This means that they can be sold without any proof of their effectiveness or safety.

There is also no guarantee of consistent reported ingredients. Cats are more susceptible to plant-based toxicity than humans and dogs, so be cautious when selecting supplements for your cat.

Omega Fatty Acids

According to the National Research Council (NRC) and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), dietary fats and fatty acids are essential in the diets of cats. They provide energy, modulate inflammation, help in fat-soluble vitamin absorption, and promote healthy growth and development, along with many other health benefits.

The type and amount of fatty acids in your cat’s diet make a difference. For example, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are required in a cat’s diet because cats cannot produce these fats on their own:

  • Omega-6 essential fatty acids: linoleic acid (LA) and arachidonic acid (AA)

  • Omega-3 essential fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

EPA and DHA are found primarily in marine sources such as fish oil. Plant-based oils are sources of LA and ALA, and AA is typically derived from animal fat. Feeding an AAFCO-aligned commercial diet should provide all the essential fatty acids your cat needs.

You can give your cat fatty acid supplements as well, but always consult with your veterinarian beforehand. The type and amount given to your cat can improve or impair their health, depending on their current health condition and symptoms.

For example, fish oil can potentially help with inflammatory skin disease, arthritis, cancer, hyperlipidemia, and even heart disease if given in the right circumstances in the right amount.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate

Glucosamine and chondroitin are often used together in commercial supplements for cats. This combination can help with arthritis and feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD).

Glucosamine is a mild anti-inflammatory. It helps the joints make cartilage and acts as extra protection for the urinary tract. Chondroitin helps make cartilage as well and can even inhibit destruction of cartilage.

Despite limited studies of these supplements in animals, there is strong anecdotal evidence that they may be helpful. Your veterinarian can help recommend specific products.

Alternative Therapies

Pets can benefit from many of the same alternative therapies as humans. These services are provided by veterinarians that are trained and certified in specific areas.

Laser Therapy

Laser therapy uses light waves to help promote growth and cell repair. It can be used for muscle relaxation, decreasing inflammation, and faster healing of wounds. Overall, laser therapy can be used for many feline medical conditions, including:

  • Arthritis

  • Tendon and ligament injuries

  • Complicated wound management

Laser therapy can be used alone or in conjunction with other forms of pain management. The number of sessions and frequency of treatment depends on the injury. Laser therapy can be accomplished with a cold or hot laser, and sessions last about 15 minutes.

You can make an appointment at the vet’s office, or a mobile veterinarian trained in laser therapy may even be able to treat your cat in your own home.

After a complete physical assessment of your cat, your veterinarian can create a laser therapy treatment plan as part of overall pain control.

Chiropractic Care

Cats can get chiropractic care like we do—it just has a different name. Veterinary medical manipulation (VMM) is similar to human chiropractic medicine, and it’s practiced by veterinarians who have obtained a VMM certification (CVMMP). Chiropractors who work on humans can also practice VMM if they have received this training and certification.

Practitioners use VMM to help pets with back and neck injuries, musculoskeletal weakness, and chronic musculoskeletal pain, just to name a few common areas. VMM can also be used to treat secondary problems that arise from an injury or when recovering from surgery.

VMM can be done in a traditional office setting, or you can have a certified VMM mobile veterinarian come to your home. It can be used alone or alongside other forms of pain management in cats.

Physical Therapy

A Certified Canine Rehabilitation practitioner (CCRV) is a certified licensed veterinarian who has received extra training to practice physical therapy. This certification is for both cats and dogs.

Physical therapy is often used after surgery for neurological and musculoskeletal conditions. Some of the goals of this treatment include controlling pain, increasing range of motion, improving gait, and increasing aerobic capacity and endurance.

Physical therapy for cats can include:

  • Passive range of motion exercises

  • Active range of motion exercises

  • Stretching

  • Electrotherapy

  • Therapeutic ultrasound

  • Massage

  • Therapeutic exercise

Physical therapy can be done in a veterinary office or with a mobile veterinarian. It is often used with other types of pain control but can be very beneficial even when used alone. A certified rehabilitation practitioner will create a program that includes homework for you as well as standard appointments.

Massage

Massage is the therapeutic manipulation of soft tissues and can also be used for cats to help with pain. There are many massage techniques that stretch muscles over time, reduce muscle soreness, and increase strength. Massage can be very useful to help maintain movement and restore function after an injury or surgery.

Massage also decreases stress and anxiety and produces relaxation for cats. It can be done in your home or at a veterinary office. Veterinary massage is usually done by a practitioner who is certified in rehabilitation, medical manipulation, or acupuncture.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture can help cats with pain as well and is done by a veterinarian who has received special training and certification (a certified veterinary acupuncturist or CVA). Just as with acupuncture for people, very small needles are inserted at specific points on your cat’s body to produce a response from the body to help with pain and anxiety.

It can treat traumatic nerve injuries, musculoskeletal pain, and arthritis, among many other conditions. Acupuncture can be used in conjunction with other pain control modalities or as the sole form of treatment. Practitioners can use acupuncture therapy in your home or at a veterinary office.

Heat/Ice

Heat increases the flow of blood and nutrients to an area of the body. It can also be useful to reduce morning stiffness and relieve pain in sore muscles.

Cold therapy reduces blood flow and is used to reduce swelling and the pain associated with swelling. It also produces a numbing effect that can reduce pain and muscle spasms. Cold therapy is best used for short-term pain and swelling, such as a muscle strain.

You can use heat and ice therapy for your cat at home, but talk with your veterinarian for extra guidance. Here are some tips:

  • A traditional hot water bottle or ice pack is recommended.

  • Always place a washcloth or another type of fabric between the heating/cooling device and your cat’s skin. Never place any heating or cooling device directly on your cat’s skin.

  • Test heated devices on your own arm before placing it on your pet.

  • Due to the risk of thermal burns, do not use a heating pad if your cat cannot move away from it.

Modifying Your Home for a Cat That’s in Pain

If your cat is suffering from acute or chronic pain, it may be necessary to modify their space to accommodate them. Here are some changes you can make around the house:

  • Keep food and water bowls down low and within easy reach.

  • Place litter boxes in areas that are easy for your cat to access. You may have to lower the entrance or get a low-entry litter box to accommodate your cat if they cannot step high to get in.

  • Stairs and ramps can be used to help your cat get to their favorite furniture. Orthopedic bedding may also help your cat rest more comfortably.

  • Provide as much non-slip flooring as possible, using sectional rugs or yoga mats if necessary.

Featured Image: iStock.com/chris-mueller


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