How to Tell If a Cat Is in Pain

If you’re a cat owner, you know we’ve all been there: Your cat looks at you, meowing, moving its head around as if it’s signaling you to follow, but when you do, it seems your cat really had nowhere to take you. It’s in these moments where we say to our cat (often out loud as if it can understand us), “What! What do you want? I wish I understood what you were trying to say to me!” 

While trying to figure out what your cat’s meows, chirps, purrs, various movements, and behaviors mean can be quite a funny game, it’s not so funny when you feel like your cat might be in some type of pain but you just can’t quite tell (did you know that cats instinctively try to hide their pain as a survival mechanism?). This is when (and why) truly understanding your cat’s behavior becomes (and is) critical as it can help you identify signs of possible illness or injury.

According to PetMD and a panel of 19 international veterinary experts, the following 25 signs are indicative of pain in cats:

  • Limping
  • Difficulty jumping
  • Abnormal gait
  • Reluctance to move
  • Reaction to touching
  • Withdrawn or hiding
  • Lack of self-grooming
  • Playing less
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Decrease in overall activity
  • General mood changes
  • Temperament change
  • Hunched-up posture
  • Shifting weight when standing, lying down or walking
  • Licking a particular region of the body
  • Lower head posture
  • Squinting
  • Change in feeding behavior
  • Avoiding bright areas
  • Growling
  • Groaning
  • Eyes closed
  • Straining to urinate
  • Tail flicking

Remember, if your cat is in pain, it doesn’t necessarily have to display multiple symptoms, however all of the above are evidence that your cat is experiencing some type of discomfort. If you notice that your cat’s behavior begins to change or changes abruptly, do not try to diagnose the issue on your own. It’s always best to consult your veterinarian when symptoms of pain begin to surface to ensure that the root of the pain is properly diagnosed and treated.

Once your cat is seen by your veterinarian, treatments will vary depending on the diagnosis given. Symptoms of pain or discomfort can be caused by something as small as an upset stomach, to something as serious as chronic illness. Because of this, combined with the fact that pain is subjective and difficult to measure, it’s important to play it safe and bring your cat in for a check-up if any symptoms should arise. From there, your vet will put the treatment that best suits your cat’s current situation into action and work to eliminate the cause of pain. 

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