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How to Tell if Your Cat Is in Pain: Vet-Reviewed Signs & Causes

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By Chelsea Mortensen

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Vet approved

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Tabitha Henson

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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As cat owners, it’s our responsibility to keep our cats healthy and meet their needs. But sometimes it’s hard to meet the needs of an animal that doesn’t act like a human and doesn’t speak the same language!

Sometimes, our cats can be in pain for days or weeks without us even noticing because they don’t always communicate it the way that we would. If you’re wondering if your cat is in pain, here are some suggestions to help you figure it out.

Causes of Pain in Cats

Part of the reason that pain can be hard to notice is that cats have so many causes of pain. Cat pain is often caused by an injury that isn’t readily visible—anything from a bee sting or bruise to a broken bone. An illness or medical condition can also cause pain. As cats get older, most will experience chronic pain related to aging, such as arthritis. All these types of pain are different, but they can have similar symptoms. If you notice your cat is in pain with no visible cause, a visit to the vet can help you figure out the source and possible solution.

Reasons Cats Hide Pain

It would be nice if all cats made a big fuss over their pain. But many cats will try to carry on through their pain like nothing is wrong. This can be frustrating for owners—it can feel like your cat doesn’t want help or is stubborn. But in the wild, hiding pain is a key to survival. Injured animals are more vulnerable to predators, and even a minor injury can attract unwanted attention. Many animals, including cats, will often try to hide pain because their instincts tell them that’s the safest option.

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Image Credit: medveda, Shutterstock

Signs of Pain in Cats

  • Limping or difficulty walking
  • Difficulty jumping or stretching
  • Reluctance to move
  • Abnormal reactions to being touched
  • Overall activity decrease
  • Excessive sleep
  • Withdrawn behavior
  • Hiding
  • Difficulty grooming or lack of grooming
  • Excessive licking or barbering in one area
  • Appetite loss
  • Mood and temperament changes
  • Shifting weight frequently
  • Lower head posture
  • Increased squinting or closed eyes
  • Avoiding bright areas
  • Growling
  • Groaning
  • Abnormal vocalizations
  • Changes in toilet habits
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Tail flicking
  • Rapid or shallow breathing
  • Swollen or inflamed limbs
  • Reduced affection towards people

Treatment for Cats in Pain

There’s not much you can do to treat pain in cats at home. Over-the-counter human medications like ibuprofen are very dangerous to cats. Some are toxic to cats. Even the medicines that similarly affect cats and humans are easy to dose improperly. Because of this, you shouldn’t ever try to medicate your cat’s pain without veterinary guidance. A few natural, herbal-based medicines for cats have appeared on the market in recent years. However, these treatments are generally untested, so they aren’t the safest choice.

There are a few things you can do, though. Most cats will appreciate a comfortable bed with food and clean water nearby. Some types of pain might be lessened by raised food and water bowls, especially if your cat has difficulty moving. Your cat should have a comfortable place to rest that is quiet and out-of-the-way, without much foot traffic, although some cats appreciate quiet company.

Your cat should also have easy access to a litter box. Consider whether your cat has a litter box that is difficult to get into and out of and whether your cat needs to climb stairs or otherwise move to use a litter box.

a female veterinarian with cat
Image Credit: Tom Wang, Shutterstock

Visiting a Vet for Cats in Pain

If your cat is in pain, a veterinarian can help you identify the cause if it’s unknown and provide treatment. Vet treatment can help ensure that your cat heals from injuries quickly and avoids infection. Vets can also suggest treatment plans for illnesses, chronic pain, and other types of pain. In some cases, your vet might prescribe painkillers in a dose suitable for your cat’s size and needs.

Final Thoughts

Maybe your cat’s behavior changed overnight, or maybe it’s shifted gradually over time. Either way, the way your cat acts can tell you a lot about your health. It’s important to know your cat’s normal behavior so that you can watch for signs of pain in your cat.

Featured Image Credit: avi_acl, Pixabay

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