Cats are notoriously good at hiding any signs of pain. Evolutionarily speaking, being able to hide one’s pain is a great quality to have. It protects you from appearing weak and vulnerable, therefore keeping you safe from predators. However, it makes it very difficult for cat owners to know when their pets are actually in need of medical attention!
While acute pain, such as an injury, will be easier to spot, chronic pain is a whole other matter. It’s often wrongly diagnosed as old age, and therefore not given the attention it requires in time.
Because we can’t count on our cats to tell us when they’re not feeling well, it’s our job to know the signs that a cat is in pain. Here’s exactly what you should be looking out for:
Meowing, groaning, hissing, and growling
A cat who is in pain might start to meow excessively, in a way that sounds unpleasant or urgent. They may also start to hiss or growl when you approach them or try to touch them.
In the wild, cats tend to hide when they are hurt so predators can’t get to them. Domestic cats do the same thing! If your cat seems to be seeking out quiet and secluded areas, especially if they are usually social, it could be that they are in pain.
Lack of interest in positive things
A cat who is in pain will be disinterested in things like playing, social interaction, and exploring outside.
Cats who are in pain may experience a sudden drop in activity. They might sleep more and be reluctant to play or jump up onto furniture. They’ll seek a lying down position more than usual.
Change in grooming habits
If your cat seems to be grooming themselves less, it could be that they are in some sort of discomfort. Check their coat for matts or greasiness, as this will indicate if they’ve been slacking with their usually meticulous grooming habits.
On the other hand, cats may also lick themselves excessively in areas where they feel pain. They might even lick themselves to the point of creating bald spots or wounds.
Sensitivity to touch
If your cat is in pain, they may not want to be touched and much less picked up or held. When you approach them or try to pet them, they may send out warning signals that they want to be left alone; by growling or hissing for example.
Loss of appetite and thirst
Loss of appetite and thirst is not only a sign of pain, but it can also be a symptom of various illnesses. Equally, if your pet’s eating habits change, for example they only want to eat soft food and not solid food, it could be that they’re experiencing dental pain.
Change in sleeping habits
Your cat may sleep more of course, but also pay attention to where they are sleeping. Are they avoiding the sofa because they don’t want to jump up onto it anymore? Are they avoiding hard surfaces? These could all be signs of pain and discomfort.
Change in elimination habits
Your cat may start to eliminate outside of the litter box. This could be because lifting their legs up to enter the box causes them pain, or eliminating itself causes them pain, and they associate this with the litter box.
Change in posture and facial expression
When in pain, a cat may squint their eyes. Their ears may flatten or press to the sides. Their mouth, nose and cheeks may appear more tense. They may sit hunched over with their head lowered and their back arched higher than normal. They may want to curl up into a ball more than usual. When laying down, they’ll keep their legs tucked underneath their body rather than stretching them out.
A cat may not show all these signs at once. You may only notice one or two at a time. The biggest indicator of pain is a change of behaviour in your cat. So the key is to know your cat and their habits well, so as to be able to notice when something is amiss. If you do notice signs of pain, it’s very important that you contact your vet and ask them to health-check your cat. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!