My cat Ginger was recently diagnosed with arthritis. The vet gave us metacam for her, but I read on the web that the FDA has a black box warning to not give it to cats. What are the risks and/or benefits to this drug?
METACAM (meloxicam) is an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) with the primary purpose of reducing the hormones that cause inflammation and pain in arthritic patients. So thats the obvious benefit of it, basically pain management and reduced joint swelling.
The FDA warning aside, which is massively alarming all on it's own, a risk associated with NSAIDs in animals is gastric ulceration (Source: Blackwell's 5 Minute Veterinary Consult). Blackwell's (5th edition, which is after the FDA warning) still lists it as a drug of choice for felines, but Merck notes that it should only be a single SC (subcutaneous) injection in felines of 0.3 mg/kg and that the margin of safety with cats is very narrow.
There are alternatives for cats and dogs that are not NSAIDs that may be worth asking about. There are also some non-medical options:
Weight reduction (if necessary) can reduce stress on the joints. If your cat isn't obese, then this is less relevant, but something to be aware of as they become more sedentary.
Diets rich in Omega-3 fatty acids can help control inflammation and reduce pain. You can usually find these in diets where fish is prevalent. There are also vet brands that offer food formulated for this purpose. In Canada, Royal Canin has a mobility support food for cats with Omega-3 supplemented in to help with arthritic cats that can be purchased from vets.