It can be easy to miss the signs your cat is in pain since cats try to disguise when they’re suffering, but if you know the signs you’ll be able to quickly detect if your cat is in pain. Some signs are more obvious, but others are harder to detect. Most signs can be seen in a cat’s physical posture, facial expression, behavior, response to touch, vocalization, or change in daily habits.
Cats in severe pain may become more aggressive and agitated—even sometimes frantic—and behave more erratically. They can pace about in their restless discomfort and vocalize more. But often the signs are more subtle and easy to miss. They may hide in a corner or closet, or sit in a “crouched” position, and may even purr when they are distressed and uncomfortable. Here are some common signs of pain in a cat to be on the lookout for:
When cats are crying out in pain and vocalizing—the pain is usually severe. Vocalizing can be expressed in a different meow than normal, or meowing more often than usual, or it may be just a more adamant, demanding meow seeking your attention. If you’re not sure if the cry is symptomatic of something else, then look for additional signs that will confirm your reason for concern.
You know when your cat is sitting or lying in a relaxed, comfortable position. But cats in pain will sit hunched in a guarded, crouched position with their back curved higher than normal, their head lowered and front paws often folded under them. They may cringe or flinch when you touch them. This position can often indicate a moderate to severe level of pain.
This may seem like an obvious sign, but sometimes it’s completely overlooked. Cats who limp—like people—are feeling pain due to an injury, inflammation, infection, arthritis or something lodged in their paw. Arthritis is often overlooked in cats because owners don’t observe or actually “see” it so they don’t think their cat is suffering. If your cat is moving slower than normal, has a stiff gait, or is having difficulty jumping or avoids jumping altogether, or is limping following a jump from a bed or counter, then your cat may have painful arthritis.
Response to Touch
When a cat has had surgery, palpating the wound site for pain assessment is commonly done by the vet following surgery to indicate the level of postoperative pain. You too can detect pain in your cat by gently touching and feeling various places on your cat’s body to see if he flinches, tenses, vocalizes, hisses or bites to show he hurts.
When cats feel pain they will often hide—maybe in a dark, quiet place or in a closet, under things like blankets or furniture, or just seek to be alone or escape. If this is out of the ordinary or unusual behavior for your cat, it may indicate something’s wrong. If you notice your cat is behaving differently like hiding more—or notice any other perceptible change in his normal routine—heads up.
If your cat is not prone to biting, but suddenly when you pet him he bites, scratches or hisses at you, you could have touched him in a painful place. If signs of aggression are out of the ordinary for your cat, and his behavior has changed, it may be time to see your vet.
This is always the sign that I personally experience with my cats—licking in place where my cat is feeling painful. I know when one of my cats, named Angus, is having a bout of cystitis, because he will lick his backend and his belly almost obsessively. Cats who are obsessed with licking a particular area can be indicating that they’re feeling pain and discomfort in that place.
We can take our cats eyes for granted as indicators of emotion. But cats that are in pain will often have dilated pupils due to feeling stress and it can be a signal of an underlying problem. Cats in pain will often have different or unusual facial expressions or have a strange look in their eyes. Cats in pain may also stare off into space with a blank expression.
If you sense your cat is experiencing pain, never try to treat the pain yourself with over-the-counter pain medications or prescriptions for humans. Many human pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, are actually poisonous and can be fatal to cats. Always consult your veterinarian to diagnose the problem and get the appropriate treatment for your cat’s symptoms and pain relief.
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