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Cat in Pain - Signs of Pain in Cats

Cats by nature are extremely good at hiding pain and discomfort. This serves a useful evolutionary purpose,  larger hunting animals will seek out the young and the weak, therefore hiding signs of pain is useful in avoiding being singled out as an "easy target". As pet owners, however, a cat's stoic nature can make it difficult for us to determine if our cat is in pain.

There are cues we can take from our cat, and the diligent pet owner should always be watchful for small changes in behaviour which may indicate an underlying problem.

Subtle signs your cat may be in pain include:

  • Hiding.

  • Loss of appetite (anorexia).

  • Aggression, especially when touched.

  • Restlessness.

  • Reluctance to move.

  • Panting.

  • Loss of interest in things your cat usually enjoyed. Playing, being petted, greeting you at the door.

  • Poor coat condition. A cat in pain may stop grooming due to discomfort.

  • Grooming more. In some situations, your cat may actually focus on the area causing pain and discomfort, licking and scratching it (which can lead to further inflammation and/or infection).

  • Hissing.

  • Increased heart rate.

  • Tucked up belly.

  • Hunched up position.

  • Avoiding bearing weight on a particular limb (this is common in arthritis).

  • Increased vocalisation.

Pain serves a useful purpose, it helps the animal to protect further damage. For example, if a cat is lying by a hot fire, the pain will alert him to the fact that his skin is being burned, and he will move away. If he has a broken leg, he will avoid standing on it, avoiding further damage.

Pain can be split into acute (sudden onset) or chronic (slow and progressive). Generally, acute pain would be caused by something such as a trauma (car accident, fight, surgery), and chronic would be caused by conditions such as arthritis.

Common causes of pain in cats:

There are a huge number of causes of pain in cats. Some of which include:

  • Trauma (from a car accident, falling from a height, cat or dog fight).

  • Arthritis.

  • Abscess.

  • Inflammation.

  • Infection.

  • Dental pain such as tooth abscess.

What should you do for a cat in pain?

Seek veterinary assistance immediately. Do NOT try to medicate a cat at home using human medications (such as paracetamol or aspirin). These are extremely toxic to cats and can very easily lead to death.

Your cat will need to be assessed, to determine the cause of the pain, and then the correct painkillers can be administered.

How is the cause of pain diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination and obtain a medical history from you including how long symptoms have been apparent. He may take your cat's temperature, closely examine the skin for signs of infection, inflammation, wounds, abscesses etc.

The location of the pain (if known) can help your veterinarian to determine the cause. If your cat is showing vague and non-specific symptoms, he will need to run some diagnostic tests to help him determine what the problem is. Common tests may include:

Complete blood count, biochemical profile, and urinalysis to evaluate the overall health of your cat and look at kidney and liver function, signs of infection (increased white blood cells), anemia etc. Your veterinarian may choose to run further tests depending on the results.

Treatment of pain in cats:

Once the cause of pain has been determined, your veterinarian may choose to prescribe painkillers to relieve discomfort. Cats are considerably more sensitive to drugs than humans and even dogs and any medications must be given as per your veterinarian's instructions.

It is important to note that just because a cat may not necessarily show outward signs of pain, doesn't mean he is not feeling it. If you have a cat with a known injury or sickness, even if he appears to be happy, veterinary attention should be sought immediately.

Also see:

Cat symptoms