Tell-Tale Signs Your Cat May Be in Pain

Lisa Selvaggio
by Lisa Selvaggio
Because they don’t speak human, our cats can’t tell us they’re feeling discomfort. That’s why we need to be on the lookout for these signs and symptoms of pain in cats.

Cats instinctively try to hide any obvious signs that they’re in pain, so even the most devoted cat owner might miss signals that their pet is uncomfortable or even suffering with a chronic condition like arthritis, until that ailment has advanced to the point that the kitty can’t hide the pain anymore.

This is why researchers have been working hard to figure out what the usual signs are that a cat is in pain. If you really know your pet and keep a close eye on him daily, you’ll be more likely to spot these signs as soon as possible, and get your cat the treatment he needs sooner rather than later.

Related: Declawing Cats: A Cruel and Unnecessary Procedure

Monitor Your Pet’s Behavior

Cats are creatures of habit, so if they start changing their routine or they start behaving differently, it could be a sign that they aren’t feeling well.

You might notice subtle changes, such as your cat not wanting to jump up onto a high perch anymore. Or there may be more obvious signs that something is wrong, such as a cat who no longer grooms himself (though a cat feeling pain in a particular part of the body may lick it excessively).

You may also notice that your cat is no longer able to climb up and down the stairs like he used to, or he may be in pain if he has trouble getting out of or into his litter box, especially if it has high sides. This could even result in your cat going to the bathroom outside of the box in order to avoid the pain.

Related: Common Symptoms and Treatments of Feline Arthritis

Check for Changes in Personality

In addition to behavioral changes, also take note of any personality changes that occur in your feline companion.

A kitty who used to be quite friendly but is suddenly acting aggressively for no reason could actually be uncomfortable and in pain. For example, a cat who is in pain may scratch or bite you, especially if you pet an area of his body that hurts.

The same can be true of a cat who used to be social but now spends his time hiding, a cat who is more needy than before, or a cat who used to love to snuggle but appears more aloof than normal.

Look for Body Language Clues

If your cat is sitting or lying down in a hunched position, he may be in pain. And remember that purring is not always an indication that your pet is content, as cats will also purr when they aren’t feeling well.

Also, if your cat has any difficulty breathing, you might notice that he doesn’t want to lie on his side; instead, he might be keeping his head raised. And if your cat is suffering from a neurological condition, he might be pressing his head into a wall or against furniture, or he may be acting confused or even having seizures.

Consider Eating and Drinking Habits

A cat who doesn’t want to eat or drink like he used to may not be feeling well, but just bear in mind that there are some illnesses that could actually increase your pet’s appetite and/or thirst, so changes in eating and drinking behavior shouldn’t be ignored.

Also, if your cat is having mouth pain, he may end up only eating and drinking small amounts, and he may even end up dropping some food or water as he attempts to eat and drink.

Other Symptoms

A recent medical study sheds more light on some other signs that a kitty may be in pain. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Abnormal gait
  • Tail twitching or flicking
  • Trembling, shivering
  • Increased vocalizations
  • Avoidance of bright light or bright areas around the house
  • An involuntary spasm or blinking of the eyelids
  • Increased breathing rate (the breath could also be shallower, and the cat may pant)

Again, these are just some of the many potential indicators of pain in a feline. Knowing your cat and noting changes is the best first step in recognizing a problem before it escalates. Work with your vet to determine if your cat is truly in pain, what the cause of the pain is, and what treatments can help.

Lisa Selvaggio
Lisa Selvaggio

Lisa Selvaggio is a freelance writer and editor, and our resident cats-pert, with certifications in pet nutrition and pet first aid. She enjoys producing content that helps people understand animals better so they can give their pets a safe and happy home.

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