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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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