Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAIDs) are a commonly used class of drugs that act to reduce inflammation and pain.
These drugs are commonly used in both humans and animals to help relieve pain, fever and inflammation. They may be used for short-term control of pain (eg, for a few days following a surgical operation) or may be used for much longer term control of pain, such as that associated with degenerative joint disease and arthritis.
Controlling your cat’s pain is crucial for its welfare. Many cats greatly benefit from these drugs, having better mobility, less pain, increased appetite and an improved quality of life.
Degenerative joint disease (DJD) in cats
Degenerative joint disease (including arthritis) is common, especially in older cats (see Arthritis in cats). As with other conditions, cats may mask the signs of this disease. Problems and behaviour changes in cats with DJD include:
- Decreased activity – eg, sleeping more, not moving around as much, playing or hunting less
- Decreased mobility – eg, reduced willingness to jump, not jumping as high, difficulty using the litter tray, stiffness, and sometimes obvious lameness
- Decreased grooming – reduced time or difficulty grooming, a poor coat, overgrown claws
- Altered personality – less keen to interact with people or pets, seeking solitude, ʻgrumpierʼ
- Other signs – may include aggression or vocalisation when touched and loss of appetite.
Understanding these changes helps alert you and your vet to the possible existence of pain and DJD, and will help you monitor whether therapy is helpful or not.
Are NSAIDs safe in cats?
NSAIDs play a vital role in therapy for many cats, but differences between cats and other animals mean you should only ever use a drug that has been specifically prescribed for your cat by your veterinarian. Many human drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen and paracetamol/acetaminophen can be highly toxic to cats – administering these is dangerous and can be life-threatening.
Adverse effects can be seen with NSAIDs, just as with all drugs. Some patients may be at increased risk of adverse effects (eg, older cats and cats with certain other diseases). Your veterinarian may then recommend increased monitoring and careful adjustment of therapy to find the lowest effective dose of the drug for your cat.
What adverse effects should I look out for?
Licensed NSAIDs have been shown to be safe for use in cats. Some are only licensed for short term use, others for use over longer periods. However, adverse effects can still occur. Most are mild, but some can be serious – as in other species they may involve the gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, cardiovascular system or liver. Adverse effects may lead to a number of signs including:
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lethargy and dullness/depression
- Altered thirst and/or urination
- Diarrhoea and/or black-coloured faeces
- Yellowing of the skin, gums, or whites of the eyes
What do I need to know?
- Make sure you understand – how much of the drug to give, how frequently, and for how long. If you are unsure, ask your vet
- Always give the medication with or after food - your vet may also suggest feeding canned (or sachet) food rather than dry food, to help encourage good fluid intake - maintaining a good fluid intake while on medication is important
- If your cat does not eat – DO NOT give the medication, but contact your vet
- Talk to your vet – about what monitoring should be done to safeguard your cat – how frequently your cat should be re-examined, what blood and urine tests should be done, and how frequently these should be done.
- Never give your cat any other medication at the same time without first speaking to your vet
- If you have concerns at any stage, or see any potential adverse effects, STOP giving the medication and contact your vet immediately
If you are ever in any doubt, simply STOP the medication and TALK to your vet. Following these simple steps will ensure your cat is getting the treatment they need but with the lowest risk of any adverse effects.
ISFM, the veterinary division of International Cat Care, and AAFP (American Association of Feline Practitioners) have put together an NSAID information leaflet that owners may find helpful. It can be downloaded here.