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Pain from Cat’s Leg Amputation

The Right Medication can make the Difference

Question:
Marley is a 2 year old, male tabby with his right rear leg amputated at the hip. He is getting around amazingly, a few weeks after surgery, full of speed and grace, but about every hour, his backside spasms for a few seconds- he hops involuntarily backwards, meows in distress/pain/confusion. Otherwise he rests contentedly, purrs when petted and is very chatty with his tail held high. Could it be nerve pain?

Dr. Nichol:
I am concerned about Marley. Losing a leg is unfortunate for any pet but outcomes are usually successful, especially in cats. With his energy and athleticism it’s clear that your boy is recovering well. It’s those sudden bouts of pain that need immediate attention.

Limb amputation has come a long way since the field hospitals of the Civil War. You can be sure that Marley had sterile surgery and gas anesthesia and was not given several shots of whiskey and a bullet to bite. But modern procedure still includes severing a few nerves. Stabs of neuropathic (nerve) pain are the likely cause of Marley’s sudden spasms and falls. Those cut nerve ends are in a world of hurt.

Until Mother Nature can complete Marley’s healing a combination of medications should dramatically improve his comfort. Veterinary anesthesiologists (our pain specialists) recommend an oral liquid anti-inflammatory/pain reliever called meloxicam. Buprenorphine, a narcotic analgesic, is another good choice. But to specifically target those nerves Marley also needs gabapentin. This is a safe medication for cats; your veterinarian can manage the possible side effect of sedation by adjusting the dose. If Marley needs further pain control amitriptyline, a drug often used to treat anxiety and depression, would be an excellent addition to his other meds for eliminating the throbbing in his leg.

Pain management is taken seriously in veterinary medicine. We get our best results if we prevent pain “windup” prior to surgery and then continue to stay ahead of it for the duration of healing. The long term prognosis is excellent for Marley to enjoy a comfortable life well into his senior years collecting disability checks, Medicare, and social security. In the near term he needs special care. If I were him, I’d be crying for any relief I could get. Sorry, Marley, no medical marijuana for you.