35 Signs That Your Cat May Be In Pain – Critical Cues You Should Never Ignore

Cats are creatures of mystery, their behaviors often leaving us puzzled. But when your beloved pet may be in pain, the guessing game is not one we want to play. Your cat can't utter a single word about their discomfort, and it's your job to crack the code.

In this article, we will break down 35 signs that may indicate your cat is suffering. While cats can indeed mask their pain, we believe you can still pick up on the subtle hints they drop.

Remember, each cat has a unique personality, which plays a significant role in how they express pain. You must watch closely, decipher these cues, and then act accordingly.

Armed with this guide, you'll be better equipped to observe your pet, make a list of signs, and present it to the vet. This aids in faster diagnosis and appropriate treatment, saving your cat from unnecessary suffering.

This isn't a conclusive diagnosis, though. It's an insightful aid, helping you become a more attentive guardian to your little furball. Stay tuned and let's begin the journey of decoding cat pain signals.

Possible signs of pain and physical discomfort

1. Any change in behavior

We're keeping this one vague on purpose. Each cat has his or her own personality. Over time, you learn to know your cat and know what kind of behavior to expect of them.

If you notice a change in behavior, take a closer look, and try to see what the reason may be. If you're not sure, a phone call to your veterinarian may be in order.

2. A change in sleeping patterns

Does your cat sleep more often than before? Or perhaps it's the opposite and Kitty has turned into an insomniac? Either change could be an indication that something is wrong.

Of course, just like with humans, a cat's sleep patterns can change with age, or even with the seasons. However, these changes are usually very gradual. When they happen too suddenly, it's cause for concern. Note that lethargy can sometimes look like sleepiness.

If your cat becomes lethargic and doesn't respond to stimuli, call your veterinarian at once. This could be a medical emergency.

3. Aggressive behavior towards humans or other cats/pets

When a cat attacks, it may seem like it's coming out of the blue. But there's always a reason. Understanding feline aggression can be challenging, which is why we have an entire article dedicated to the question "Why do cats attack".

One reason for a cat lashing out at a person, or even another pet, is pain. If you stroke Kitty and hit a sensitive spot where it hurts, she will instinctively try to protect herself by scratching or biting.

Don't reprimand her. Instead, follow the advice in the article above and talk to your vet if you think the pain could be the reason for the attack.

Cat aggression can be due to pain

4. Avoiding movement

Have you noticed that your cat isn't moving much today? It might be a good idea to check on her at this point. It may be that it's too cold in the room, or that Kitty is naturally tired or feeling lazy.

But it could also be a sign of pain. Many cats tend to avoid movement when in pain, staying in the same spot for hours on end.

5. Spending time in a hunched posture with a lowered head

The occasional lowering of the head is perfectly normal, but if you notice your cat staying in this position for a while, something may be wrong.

Spending time in a hunched posture could indicate abdominal pain in a cat.

6. Changes in facial expressions

These changes can be difficult to define. Again, you know what your cat's face usually looks like. Have you noticed her ears are flatter than usual? Or maybe her head is at a slanted angle?

Or her mouth stays open for longer? Any such change could be a sign that something is wrong.

7. Lack of response to stimuli

We mentioned lethargy earlier, but it's certainly worth its own list item. If your cat stops responding to stimuli such as sounds, sights, smells, or touch, that is cause for concern.

If Kitty isn't responding to any stimuli, then she is lethargic and you need to call your veterinarian, or an emergency vet, ASAP.

Lethargic cat

On the other hand, if you notice a reduced reaction to a particular type of stimulus, you may be dealing with signs of aging, or of a progressing medical condition. This may not be an emergency, but you should still call your veterinarian and set up an appointment.

8. Not wanting to play

This goes back to knowing your cat's behavioral patterns. Some cats don't like to play, while others crave playtime. You know your cat's tendencies, so if anything changes, take notice. Kitty may not be feeling well, and you need to address the issue.

Note that most cats play less as they age, so some reduction in playtime is natural. But again, it should be gradual. Sudden changes could be indicative of a problem.

9. Avoiding interaction with humans or other pets

Some cats crave attention and will gladly approach total strangers. Almost all cats enjoy some level of interaction, albeit limited to their favorite person or another pet. If your cat begins to keep her distance, something may be afoot.

Look into what else has changed in Kitty's environment and don't neglect the option of her being in pain.

Cat in pain

10. Hiding

When in pain, some cats will avoid interaction to the point of hiding. This could be a real problem with cats that go outside. When in pain, these cats may try to hide outside, out of their owners' reach.

This makes it harder to notice that they're ill and get them the medical attention they need. But even with indoor-only cats, watch out for an unusual tendency towards hiding for prolonged periods of time.

11. Decreased appetite

Is Kitty eating smaller quantities? It could be a change of seasons or that new food that you bought her. But if nothing else has changed and you notice more food is left uneaten, take a closer look.

You could be dealing with the onset of dental issues or another source of pain.

12. Loss of appetite

When a cat stops eating altogether, you have to call your veterinarian as soon as possible. Not only can loss of appetite indicate a medical problem, but it can also be one in its own right.

Cats need a constant supply of calories and they shouldn't fast for more than 48 hours at most.

Read more here: Why Has My Cat Stopped Eating And Is It Dangerous? )

13. Soiling and litterbox avoidance

Finding that your cat has used your carpet, or even your bed, instead of the litter box, can be incredibly frustrating. More often than not, the reason for litter box avoidance is in fact pain. Lower urinary tract issues can cause pain during urination. The cat begins to associate the box with pain and begins looking for alternatives.

That's why the first step towards solving litter box problems is to call your veterinarian, so they can rule out medical causes - or treat them.

(Read more about litterbox issues here: How To Solve Litterbox Problems In Cats The Ultimate Guide)

14. Vocalizing when using the litterbox

Some cats love to "express themselves" vocally. They "talk" a lot, and that includes letting you know when they're "going to the bathroom".

Having said that, if Kitty begins to vocalize when using the little box, check with your veterinarian to rule out any physical issues.

15. Agitation and pacing

If your cat's behavior becomes more agitated, this could be a sign of distress and even pain. It can be difficult to tell when Kitty is "nervous" though. Constant pacing is a good signal.


16. Resisting being held up or lifted

Again, this is about a change in patterns. Some cats just don't like being lifted. Others only allow specific people to lift them and may begin squirming after a few minutes. That's perfectly normal.

However, if your cat used to be ok with being held up, and suddenly seems averse to being lifted, pain may be the cause.

17. Biting/scratching when touched in a specific spot

We mentioned pain-induced aggression earlier, in a more general way. However, your cat may be generally relaxed, only to lash out at you should you touch a specific spot.

That's a good indication that something is wrong there. Maybe a small abscess or another localized medical issue.

18. Vocalizing when touched in a specific spot

Even if your cat doesn't bite, she may issue a vocal sign of pain. It doesn't have to be a hissing sound or a howl. A gentle meow may be enough to say "Hey, this hurts!"

19. Flinching or trying to get away when touched in a specific spot

And with some cats, touching that painful spot may lead neither to aggression nor to vocalization. Kitty may just flinch lightly, or get up and leave when you touch the "hot spot".

Pay attention and seek medical advice as may be necessary.

20. Licking a spot to the point of over-grooming

Excessive grooming, to the point of dermatitis and creating a bald spot, can be stress-related. But it can also indicate discomfort or pain. This is often a behavior that's related to allergies and itching.

Again, your veterinarian can help by assessing the situation and suggesting a course of action.

21. Avoiding grooming

On the other side of the grooming equation, too little grooming can also be a sign of pain. This can be a localized issue, where a cat avoids a specific limb or another area of the body due to pain in that spot.

However, an overall unkempt coat could indicate pain in the area of the mouth. It's difficult to like one's coat when one's mouth hurts.

22. Shaking a limb or biting at it

If you see your cat shaking a paw, or maybe even biting at it, suspect pain. It can be something simple, like a bee bite, or something more serious. Look closely and if the cat seems agitated, call your veterinarian right away.

23. A change in gait

Cats have a wonderful way of walking, graceful and elegant. If you notice a change in gait, it could indicate pain. The pain may not necessarily be in the leg area.

Back pain, abdominal pain, or another aching area in the body - can all affect the feline gait.

24. Limping or stiffness

Limping happens when a cat avoids putting weight on one of her legs. They may be carrying that paw up in the air or placing a partial amount of weight on that limb. Sometimes, the limping is only visible when the cat wakes up.

Give it a few minutes to see if Kitty regains full use of her leg. It may have just been a strained muscle. However, if the limping persists, or happens more frequently, it's wise to talk to your veterinarian.

Stiffness can be more difficult to note. You will usually see your cat having difficulty reaching the full range of motion they normally have. This often happens with older cats, due to degenerative arthritis. As with limping, stiffness may be more noticeable after the cat wakes up.

25. Difficulty standing and walking

Difficulty with walking or even standing up can certainly indicate a problem. If your cat can't seem to stand up or walk without tumbling over, you should call the vet asap.

26. Reluctance to jump or climb

With many older cats, a reluctance to jump or climb can be the first - and sometimes only - sign of joint pain. Talk to your veterinarian if you notice that Kitty no longer jumps on the counter or climbs the stairs. She may need medication or at least some assistance around the home.

27. Drooling

Some cats drool at the sight or smell of food. Or even at the sound of a tin of cat food being opened! However, if you notice your cat drooling in another setting, you need to look into the source of the problem.

It may be pain around the mouth area, or it could be a sign of poisoning. Don't panic - look for other symptoms and call your vet.

28. Lip licking

Some cats lick their lips in response to pain. The occasional tongue around the lip isn't cause for concern. Neither is catching your cat with its tongue sticking out.

But again, excessive lip licking or an increase in this behavior in a specific cat could indicate pain.

29. Squinting

For felines, slowly squinting one's eyes means "I'm not threatening you". That's perfectly normal behavior for a cat and usually means that they're actually feeling well and relaxed.

However, if you suspect that your cat is in pain, don't be fooled by eye squinting. It can also be a sign of pain, where your cat is asking for your help.

30. Shutting the eyes

Cats sometimes shut their eyes when they're calm and possibly sleepy. That's ok, of course. However, if your cat is in distress and won't open her eyes, it could indicate pain as well.

31. Scratching around ears

Has Kitty taken to scratching behind her ears? If you notice an increase in scratching in general, suspect fleas. Scratching around the ears could mean ear mites. Either way, it's time to call your vet.

32. Bald patches and injured skin as a result of scratching around ears

Even if you don't catch her in the act, if your notice baldness around the ears, it could be that your cat has been over-scratching the area.

Anything from discomfort due to ear mites, to a full-blown ear infection, could be at the bottom of this. Yes, you guessed it - time to call the vet.

33. Shaking of the head

Persistent head shaking could be a sign of pain, or of general discomfort. While it could also indicate a neurological problem, ear pain alone can be a reason for head shaking.

34. Scooting

While this behavior is more common in dogs, if you notice your cat scooting around on the floor or rug, that means something hurts down there. Impacted anal glands are often the cause, but there are other possible reasons for scooting.

Whatever the reason, the cat is clearly uncomfortable and likely in some pain, so you need to address the situation.

35. Purring

Most people see purring as a sign of contentment. And it usually is. However, it's important to know that cats may purr when in pain or distress too.

Don't neglect to assess Kitty's medical situation just because she's purring along.

Summing Up: Understanding Your Cat's Pain Signals

In conclusion, knowing your cat's regular behavior is key to identifying when something is wrong. Changes in their routines, interactions, and physical activity can be red flags. Your cat relies on you to notice these signs and get them the help they need.

If you see one or more of these 35 signs, don't delay. Reach out to a vet immediately. Keep in mind that this guide is not a substitute for professional medical advice. It's a tool to help you identify potential pain, but a vet will be the one to diagnose and treat your cat's condition.

Remember, our feline friends may be experts at masking pain, but with careful observation and understanding, we can help them feel better sooner. By recognizing their subtle cries for help, you can provide a safer, healthier life for your kitty. After all, a healthy cat is a happy cat, and isn't that what we all want?


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35 Signs that your cat maybe in pain

The sick cat lay weakly on the blue cloth, 35 Signs That Your Cat May Be In Pain

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16 comments on “35 Signs That Your Cat May Be In Pain – Critical Cues You Should Never Ignore

taraconnor777 June 20, 2020
YES, MY CAT HAS CHANGED BEHAVIOR A LOT!but I just took her to the vet clinic, they said she's allergic TO FLEAS.ALL THE SORE SPOTS. AROUND HER NECK HAVE BEEN FLEAS,THEY SAID.SO WE BOUGHT ANTI FLEA MEDS AND PUT IT ON THE BACK OF HER NECK,SHE is nine years old..BUT HER BEHAVIOR HAS NOT gone back to normal. Did the clinic miss a real infection or illness?should I take her to another vet?PLEASE TELL ME IF I SHOULD TAKE HER TO A BETTER VEY?IS IT INFECTION FROM FLEAS?SHE KEEEPS MEOWING,'HEY HELP ME!"I don't know what to do.she won't move at all now.WHAT SHOULD I DO?IM SCARED TO DEATH SHE IS ILL.SHOULD I TAKE TO ANOTHER VET?A VET HOSPITAL?
    MarkMDP June 23, 2020
    Sorry to hear about your cat. Why not start a thread about it in the cat health forum where others can see your question and try to help? Here's the link: https://thecatsite.com/forums/cat-health.4/
      americatmom August 28, 2020
      I-or should I say-my cats have the same issue with flea bites. The flea stuff should kill the fleas that are on the kitty. But, the bites last longer, kind of like when we get mosquito bites. They itch for several days; in the cat's case, the itch begets scratch, which begets more irritation, then more itch, then more scratching...it's a hard cycle to break. I have 2 cats that are hyper sensitive to flea bites. The vet used to give them an injection of depomedrin(?)( I can never remember the name).It relieved the itching, and both cats scabs just came off in my hands in a few days. BUT side effect was possible diabetes. It was worth it for the short term amazing relief for the poor cats. I have since tried some herbal based products-and hydrocortisone sprays. (Not together!) And I have to make sure the house is flea-free. I had to bomb the basement twice! The newer flea apps kill all the icky fleas life stages, and I say "good riddance"!
    Melissa Johns July 24, 2020
    The decrease in activity is a major sign that something is bad wrong.. also decrease appetite.. I hope you have a resolution by now, I see your post is one month ago.. my one year old cat went through same thing the vet suggested a chest xray - it showed massive infestation of worms, his lungs were filled with them, his intestines. It was too late to treat, his internal organs were damaged and he was, of course he couldn't tell me this but there is no doubt, in horrible pain. Take your furry family member to the vet, please, if you haven't all ready.
pharber-murphy May 19, 2020
If a kitty that usually sleeps with you, suddenly starts sleeping in another room there may be big trouble ahead. Our Bertha began staying away from us - the vet wasn't sure if it was just a simple infection (which he tried treating) or cancer. He's finally admitted that she has inoperable cancer and we're euthanizing her tomorrow. I kind of expected this - when our other cat Mr. Grimsby stopped sleeping in the bed with us, we quickly learned that he was very sick. He only lived a few weeks longer. So when Bertha started this a little over a week ago, I knew what to expect. This knowledge doesn't make it any easier, but at least she won't suffer like Mr. Grimsby did. Now I know better!
Dieter De Potter May 10, 2020
I don't need to read this, I can smell my cat has pain.
mentat March 12, 2020
Such an important realization, behavior that alerts us to their pain. Great subject to address. Osteoarthritis and DJD in cats is still greatly underdiagnosed. Chronic pain can be so gradual in its effects, we miss it compared to obvious acute pain changes in our kitty. Inappropriate elimination are much more common than reduced weight bearing aka limping as signs of OA. https://www.winnfelinefoundation.org/docs/default-source/cat-health-library-educational-articles/arthritis-in-cats-2016.pdf?sfvrsn=2 https://catfriendly.com/feline-diseases/degenerative-joint-disease-arthritis/ https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/osteoarthritis-cats-more-common-disease-you-might-expect https://www.acvs.org/small-animal/osteoarthritis-in-cats
    indie cat April 15, 2020
    I was wondering if it good for your cats to have all-purpose flour and water combined? ou seem to know a lot about cats.
      Melissa Johns July 24, 2020
      Flour is not good for cats, because it can turn into bacteria fast. When the bacteria becomes unbalanced it can quickly turn into parasites or worms. Which are dangerous, even fatal, for any animal with small internal organs, like a domestic cat. Think of it this way, when felines live in their natural habitat, without humans, their diets consist of almost all protein. Cats are carnivores, they love fish, chicken, duck. Felines are one of the most skilled hunter, of all species on land, maybe the most skilled. They also enjoy green grass.. it's true, cats like grass. Look up 'catgrass' - I buy the seeds and grow grass plants for my cats, they love it.
petersjeanne February 11, 2020
I have a beautiful, all black cat named Midnite, 2 years old this Spring 2020, who was left in a church parking lot in Summer of 2018. Her sister was homed immediately but Midnite continued to make her home under the fence line. The children at the church would take her food and coax her out two days out of the week. When I saw her for the first time, I realized why no one would take her. She dragged one back leg. My heart broke. I went back that same night with a carrier and food to get her. She was actually about 5 months old but small for her age because she wasn't getting enough to eat. That changed pretty quickly when I got her home. I never saw a little cat put down so much food at one time! lol. So, here's the problem. I'm hoping someone has something comforting to say about this before I start vet shopping. Her pelvis had been broken but was healed and the growth area of the leg (?) bone(s) were damaged. I know this because I had x-rays taken so I would know for sure what was going on and if she could be helped immediately. She's a "darter" so I can see how she might have gotten caught in a door being slammed shut or some other similar situation. She can climb carpeted poles, leap up on the bed, run and chase with the other two cats but she avoids fighting because she knows she's limited. Her pain symptoms are that she will stop suddenly and bite her back legs at the hip joint--both sides. She also flops down on the floor on her side a lot. She will jump off the bed where she sleeps and flop on the floor immediately. I live in SE Pennsylvania, where the cost of living is high, including veterinary services. Specialized surgery is even more expensive. I've taken my other cats to the vet that my regular vet uses and paid $1,700 for a simple top of the head abscess from a cat bite. I was afraid he had a concussion. Here's what I would like to do for Midnite.... Maybe someone who reads this can give me some feedback. I want to take Midnite to Dr. Jeff, the Rocky Mountain Vet in Colorado. If anyone could do surgery for Midnite, this vet or one of his vets, could. I don't know. I trust his integrity and his skill and that he makes caring for your animal affordable. No vet in this area will give you an opinion over the phone. You must make an appointment and bring your animal in for consultation. They want to take blood, run labs, and rule out who knows what. I am afraid vets around here will will tell me that nothing can be done.
    americatmom August 29, 2020
    I'm new to this site, and just say your letter about Midnight. Just want to say, she's a lucky kitty!! You may get some help from Stryder's saga. He got out, one rainy night, got hit by a car. Managed to get home, I realised he was going into shock, and rushed him to the emergency vet. They did tests to see if he was paralyzed, he was not. He was stabilized, then had surgery. They put a tiny loop of wire over his pelvis, trying to keep bones together. $7 thousand(yes, I said $7 thousand) dollars later...the wire had slipped off. Doing nothing for the healing...I then kept him in a large crate for many weeks. Come to find out, he never even needed surgery, just immobility for several weeks. He had a permanent limp now, and he worries his hips now and then. I know it hurts him once in a while. Your Midnight sounds very similar-except for the $7 thousand! She may also have unrelated stuff...UTI, anal glands...I know this may bewell beyond the fact, but I thought it might help. I hope Midnight-and YOU- are doing well!
kittencat123 October 23, 2018
My cat likes to be pet on the stomach. She is very active, pretty, and healthy. Is this just a quirk, or is something wrong?
meowbrand September 23, 2016
Another one I've noticed which I guess would fall under behavior is that they go sleep in odd places they never slept in before. 
glory jasmine January 21, 2016
A lot of these are normal behavior for my cats. But very informative and I appreciate the knowledge. [emoji]9786[/emoji]️
dennis47 January 13, 2016
Much appreciation for the informative article.

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