No one likes to see their loved ones in pain. Thankfully, there are many remedies out there to help keep your feline feeling fine. Some are technologically advanced, and some may be familiar to you. Check out what’s available for your furry pal, both for internal and external treatments.
Stem cells are “blank” cells that can be placed into damaged or diseased parts of the body and renew themselves into healthy tissue or organs. There is some debate about this treatment, including within the same veterinarian.
“I would like to say I have more confidence in stem cell therapy. My biggest issue with it is that it is a lot of money for a therapy that may or may not work, money that could have been spent on more conventional therapy,” says Michael C. Petty, DVM, of Arbor Pointe Veterinary Hospital in Canton, Michigan. “Having said that, I performed stem cell therapy on my own dog and was very impressed with the results. Even less is known about stem cell therapy in cats.”
Dr. Petty says that platelet therapy holds a lot of promise. He describes the process as: A blood sample is drawn, the platelets are extracted and then injected into painful joints or ligaments.
“Platelets contain many anti-inflammatory agents, which accounts for their anti-pain properties,” he adds. “I have had some amazing successes. Right now there are no systems that are validated for use in cats; however, there are companies working on platelet-rich plasma systems for felines, one of which should be validated soon.”
Herbal remedies are popular with people and pets alike. According to Rachel Barrack, DVM, CVA, CVCH, and founder of Animal Acupuncture in New York City, Chinese herbal therapy can be used to provide the best possible quality of life for animals on palliative care, among other conditions.
Dr. Petty cites some must-do’s with herbal therapies. “Always consult with your veterinarian before starting an herbal therapy. And always let them know if you are already using one, as some can have dangerous interactions with drugs your veterinarian prescribes.”
Dr. Petty says that although laser therapy (more specifically called photobiomodulation therapy) has been around for more than a decade in veterinary medicine, it is an emerging modality able to treat an increasingly larger variety of ailments, including both acute and chronic pain conditions.
“Acute uses, such as post-surgery, ear infections and painful skin infections, respond well to laser therapy,” Dr. Petty adds. “Chronic pain control due to osteoarthritis is where laser therapy can really shine, especially for those cats that don’t tolerate other hands-on therapies like acupuncture.”
Speaking of which … “Acupuncture (and Chinese herbal therapy) can be used to treat an endless array of conditions in both humans and animals,” Dr. Barrack says. She adds that common veterinary applications for cats include:
- Degenerative joint disease
- Neurological disease (seizures, disc disease)
- Gastrointestinal issues (anorexia, diarrhea, vomiting)
- Cardiovascular and respiratory disease
- Renal disease
- Skin disease
- Urogenital disease (incontinence)
- Immune-mediated diseases
- Chronic ear infections
- Post-operative healing
- Behavioral issues
Dr. Petty is a personal proponent of acupuncture and cites additional support. “I am certified in acupuncture, and I cannot imagine trying to run a pain practice without it,” he says. “The 2015 Pain Management Guidelines put out by the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the American Animal Hospital Association recommends the use of acupuncture for chronic pain.”
A massage might make you purr, but what about your cat? “Massage helps with any chronic pain state, as muscles are often involved as part of most pain syndromes,” Dr. Petty says. “And this is something that the owner can do at home.” He recommends the book Canine Medical Massage by Narda Robinson, DO, DVM, MS, FAAMA, for dog massage techniques that also work on cats.
Before you get started
It may help to know that cats of any age are candidates for these therapies, but older cats with kidney or heart disease may have some limitations. So how do you know if one of these treatments is right for your cat? Don’t guess — work with your vet. “I recommend a complete physical exam by your veterinarian before starting any pain therapy, and lab work prior to starting most drug therapies,” Dr. Petty says.
And know your cat’s limits behaviorally, too. As we all know, new things can be scary, and many cats feel the same way. If your cat is anxious about new things, you may want to use a medication that can help cats be more receptive to a new remedy.
Dr. Petty has three recommendations: “Feliway is a pheromone therapy that provides a relaxing atmosphere for cats,” he says. “Owners can buy Feliway wipes and apply it to the inside of the carrier prior to going to the veterinarian. Gabapentin is a drug that is also useful for calming cats down by giving it an hour or so prior to getting in the car to go to the veterinary office. For cats that don’t respond well to gabapentin, there is an anti-anxiety drug called trazodone that works well.”
What doesn’t work well? “I never recommend tranquilizers, as they have been shown to only sedate cats but do nothing for their anxiety,” Dr. Petty says.
Dr. Petty also doesn’t recommend a popular therapy that you may have heard of for dogs — hydrotherapy. “Few cats enjoy water,” he says. “Some may tolerate it, but I find it of limited use with cat
patients. I don’t believe in stressing out my rehab patients.”
Once you have begun treatments for your cat, there is a keen desire to determine success. So a common question is, “How long will it take to notice a difference?” As with many things, it varies.
“Depending on the condition being treated, some animals will show marked improvement immediately following the first treatment, but most animals typically improve after three or more treatments,” Dr. Barrack says, advising patience. Chronic or tenacious conditions may take longer, she adds.
Your cat may be able to “tell” you the therapy is working with, say, increased mobility in arthritic cats (improved use of stairs, no longer avoiding the litter box, jumping on the couch for pettings or soaking up the sun on the windowsill). Some conditions require your vet to determine success via improvement in blood test results, Dr. Barrack says.
Seeing pets in pain is no fun for cat or owner. With all these non-traditional pain-relief treatments to pursue, there’s a good chance your cat will be doing some additional purring as a thank you.
EAST MEETS WEST. A COMBO IS BEST
Like the proverbial potato chip, when deciding which treatment will work best for your cat’s pain, you don’t need to stop at just one. “A multimodal approach is the best way to treat any pain condition, acute or chronic,” confirms Michael C. Petty, DVM, of Arbor Pointe Veterinary Hospital in Canton, Michigan.
A specific combination you might be familiar with is traditional Chinese medicine, such as acupuncture, with Western medicine. “Acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy are completely safe to use in conjunction with conventional Western medicine,” says Rachel Barrack, DVM, CVA, CVCH, and founder of Animal Acupuncture in New York City. “Acupuncture and Western medicine have the same goals — to eliminate disease and support the best quality of life.”
Dr. Barrack does cite different treatments for different ailments. “Western medicine is ideal for acute disease diagnostics and surgery,” she says. “Acupuncture, which has been utilized for thousands of years, can be very effective in treating chronic conditions that Western medicine can help but not cure. Conventional Western drugs act quickly but sometimes come with unwanted side effects. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy can be used to avoid or ameliorate some of those side effects. By combining Western and Eastern medical knowledge, I strive to provide
cats with the most appropriate and best possible care.”
For more information about traditional Chinese medicine, go to American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.