Scientists develop method to detect pain relief in cats

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Scientists in the Comparative Pain Research Laboratory at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine have developed a method to detect pain relief in cats with degenerative joint disease.

Dr. Gruen examining a cat
Dr. Margaret Gruen (Photo by Wendy Savage/NCSU)

“We used the commonly observed ‘placebo effect’ phenomenon from clinical practice and applied it to a clinical trial,” said Dr. Duncan Lascelles, the study’s lead investigator. A large placebo effect is often seen in trials for pain relief, even in pets. Dr. Lascelles said studies of treatments for pain in veterinary medicine frequently use subjective outcome measures, such as asking caregivers to rate the pet’s level of activity and pain relief.

In the new study, cat owners rated their cat’s improvement on measures of activity both on and off of a daily nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication.

“When we looked at levels of activity and pain relief in active medication versus placebo cats, we did not see a difference in caregiver rating. Both groups were much improved,” said Dr. Margaret Gruen, a veterinary behaviorist and the study’s lead author. “However, when we looked at the study’s blinded washout phase that followed a treatment period, we found caregivers clearly noticed the return of clinical signs after withdrawal of the active medication, but not after the withdrawal of the placebo.”

Dr. Lascelles said, “We are excited about the potential breakthrough in the detection of pain relief and our ability to test new therapies for the many cats and dogs that suffer from chronic pain.”

The study, “Detection of clinically relevant pain relief in cats with degenerative joint disease associated pain,” appears in the March/April issue of the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine.