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October 28, 2021 – Pain in aging cats can be subtle and hard to detect – vocalizing at night, no longer jumping up on the bed, hissing or swatting while getting groomed – but, left undiagnosed, pain can cause considerable discomfort in our feline friends.

Until recently, cats mostly have been neglected when it comes to pain research. Now, though, veterinary scientists are launching investigations that should improve the diagnosis and treatment of cats in pain, including links between inflammation, pain and behavior. Morris Animal Foundation also is funding several new studies that look at different approaches to pain control.

Looking at the Link Between Inflammation and Behavior

It’s not surprising that any chronic health problem, including chronic pain, can change behavior. But we still have a lot to learn about how this cycle begins and what the long-term effect of pain can be for cats, especially older cats.

Dr. Carlo Siracusa, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania and recipient of the second Mark L. Morris Jr. Investigator Award from Morris Animal Foundation, is studying inflammation and pain from a different perspective. Dr. Siracusa is looking at how chronic inflammation, whether caused by arthritis or other diseases, affects mental sharpness in geriatric cats.

Cats will act differently if they’re painful, but Dr. Siracusa believes the effects are deeper than simply refusing to climb up stairs. He theorizes inflammation leads to cognitive declines, and his research team has studies underway to see if their hypothesis is true.

The team hopes their findings will impact the way veterinarians care for aging cats. By addressing problems early, pet parents can make changes to help keep their cats physically and mentally active as seniors.

Newly Submitted Proposals Use Multiple Approaches to Control Pain in Cats

Pain treatment for cats is complex. Cats have different ways of processing drugs that not only limit which medications can be used safely, but also present challenges when it comes to drug dosages. And, as any cat owner can tell you, giving oral medications to cats can be really tough. Our latest studies are tackling these challenges head on.

A team led by Dr. Paolo Steagall at the University of Montreal is testing new analgesic protocols that avoid using opioids. Opioids are becoming more difficult to obtain, due to both regulatory constraints and drug shortages. They hope their findings will help small animal veterinarians who perform routine spaying/neutering procedures and often struggle with opioid shortages.

Another team, also based at the University of Montreal and led by Dr. Aude Castel, is studying pain from a completely different angle. The team is building on evidence from human medicine that chronic pain can be worsened by unpleasant sensations and relieved (at least partially) by pleasant sensations. The researchers want to know if the same holds true in cats suffering from chronic osteoarthritis pain as a first step toward finding a noninvasive and drug-free strategy to improve the quality of life in these patients.

In a third study, Dr. Alonso Guedes and his research team at the University of Minnesota will be testing a new pain medication in cats suffering from osteoarthritis. If successful, findings from this study will provide critical data on the efficacy of a novel therapy that may help improve mobility and reduce pain for thousands of cats living with osteoarthritis.

A Long History of Improving the Lives of Cats with Pain

Dr. Duncan Lascelles, a distinguished researcher at North Carolina State University, recipient of multiple Foundation grants, and world-renowned feline pain management expert, expounds on the role the Foundation has played in advancing the science of pain prevention and management in cats.

“Morris Animal Foundation has been incredibly important in the changes that we’ve seen in feline pain management over the last 15 to 20 years,” said Dr. Lascelles. “The Foundation has supported not just the sexy work – ‘let’s see if this drug works’ – but it has been willing to support the important groundwork that needs to be done to understand how to measure pain, and the impact of pain, leading to the development of effective treatments.”

Since 1963, thanks to our scientists and donor support, the Foundation has funded 24 studies and awarded more than $700,000 to projects aimed at learning more about pain in cats and finding better ways to treat cats with discomfort.

Additional information on pain research at Morris Animal Foundation: