HEALTH & CARE

How to Tell If a Cat Is in Pain: The Warning Signs

cat in pain
Stella Noble
Written by Stella Noble

No one wishes for their loved ones to live in agony. With humans, it’s easy to tell when someone is not feeling well, but the same cannot be said for cats. Cats seldom display sicknesses as distinctly as other animals do—they will do everything they can to hide the fact that they are in pain. Luckily, there is an answer to the question: “How to tell if a cat is in pain.”

It’s important for you to be aware when your cat is in pain because he could be in need of special care. In this article, as a cat owner, you will learn how to be alert and mindful of your pet’s subtle ways of hiding his discomfort.

We’ll teach you how to detect the symptoms and come to the conclusion that your kitty is hurt and needs care. Mentioned below are the telltale flags that your pet needs your utmost attention or the vet’s.

4 Signs that Your Cat Is in Pain

Cats are masters at hiding the fact that they’re in pain. If your cat needs medical help, what are the symptoms you should be looking for? Experts have attained a consensus on the most obvious symptoms that your cat is in pain.

The golden rule is that when your cat begins acting unusual or out of character, that’s a great indicator that your cat is in pain and needs your help.

Changes in Daily Activities

As mentioned above, a sudden or constant change in your cat’s behavior and routines is often an indication he’s not well.

#1: Cat Biting and Scratching

aggressive tabby cat

When your cat is in pain, the potential that he will snarl and lash out whether at you, strangers, or other animals will increase. If your cat is typically quite gentle and well-behaved, but he’s suddenly attacking houseguests or chasing other pets around the house, it could be an indicator that he’s hurt.

One concrete example is a cat may lash out at you when you try to pet his lower back when he’s suffering from arthritis. Some of the clearer warnings include growling, hissing, and swatting when being touched or when the cat anticipates you moving or rubbing against the part of his body that’s in pain.

See Also: How to Treat a Cat Bite

#2: Lameness

cat not moving

Your agile cat may stop jumping on desks to sit on your laptop or stop climbing up his favorite furniture or cat tree. When cats are in pain, sometimes they move around less.

Sometimes when your pet cat experiences pain, they may still move around the same amount, but if you’re keen enough to observe, you will notice that they move differently. They may walk or run with a limp or climb at a slower pace.

The behavior varies. Some cats may become very restless. Or they may crouch in an unusual posture. But mostly, they will choose not to move much. If your pet is becoming lame, it may indicate that the pain is already intense.

#3: Loss of Social Interaction

cat hiding

Loss of social interaction is a typical sign of depression in humans. So, your cat in pain may not be able to cry out and will try to hide what he’s feeling, but he will start to abandon his old habits of being playful and social.

Symptoms include your kitty choosing to be left alone, avoiding other cats or pets at home, and of course, being cranky or grumpy. If any of these happens, you can bet that your cat is suffering physically or psychologically. And pain is usually the factor.

#4: Purring

One of the odd behaviors of a cat in pain is a non-stop purr. In general, we connect purrs with contentment. However, purring can also be associated with anxiety, stress, and pain. When you find your cat purring a lot along with the other signs mentioned in this article, it’s a sure sign that your feline friend is in agony of some kind.

#5: Sleeping

Like any animal, increased sleeping is another indication that something may be wrong. When your cat is ill, he will need to conserve energy and won’t want to play around. The cat may sleep significantly more than the usual or may not be able to sleep at all—although it’s usually the former.

See Also: How Much Do Cats Sleep

When your pet is ill, he tends to sleep more and/or in odd positions. It’s essential to observe if your pet is resting on only one spot or changing his common sleeping positions. Like humans, we favor the part or side of the body that’s experiencing pain, so the cat would sleep on his right side all the time when his left hip hurts.

#6: Grooming Changes

white cat excessively grooming the painful area

Distinguished by their refined hygiene practice, cats are generally very avid groomers. Reduced grooming may mean that your feline isn’t feeling well. Your cat may be experiencing anxiety, chronic pain, or stress when he stops caring for his fur.

Cats may also excessively groom the wounded or painful area. So, when you notice your kitty giving too much attention to one part of his body like the leg, it may mean a problem.

#7: Drinking and Eating Changes

Cats in pain typically eat and drink less when in agony. If the pain comes from a part of their mouth such as the teeth, they may not be able to eat at all. Drinking and eating changes in your pet may indicate illness. An appetite loss may be the result of oral pain, stomach pain, painful swelling, depression, or other reasons.

Decreases in appetite or desire for water is a big warning sign. It’s worse when the cat has lost interest in drinking because dehydration is a serious concern. When your pet loses interest in drinking water but still eats, you can feed him wet food. Then bring him immediately to the vet.

On the other hand, increases in thirst and urination may also indicate urinary tract infection, kidney infection, or diabetes. Many felines also continue to eat even when ill but in a decreasing fashion.

See Also: How Much Water Should Cats Drink

#8: Bathroom Routines

Abrupt and persistent attempts to urinate but only small amounts of urine could mean urinary tract infection. UTI is a common infection among male cats and could be a life-threatening emergency.

A cat with UTI will pee outside his litter box or on their owner’s favorite clothing or furniture. Why do they do this? It’s because they associate their litter box with pain, and they want their owner to know that something is wrong with them.

One significant symptom is when your cat is meowing or straining when using the litterbox. So, when your trained cat suddenly misses his litter box, it’s an indication that something’s wrong.

It could also be a sign of a hip dysplasia according to some veterinarians. Also, cats with joint or bone pain may struggle to get into their litter boxes. That’s why they begin to urinate and defecate outside their boxes. Cats with back pain may also be in discomfort when defecating.

Body Changes

In any animal, body changes can indicate a lot of things, and most of the time, it’s an illness.

#1: Eye Changes

cat having “bloodshot” eyes

The eyes of your pet are a strong indication of pain. The eyes are the window to your pet feline’s health. It’s not only an indicator that something’s not quite right with your cat’s eyes, but can also be a sign of pain elsewhere in the cat’s body.

Larger and dilated pupils can reflect illnesses anywhere in the cat’s body. Pain may also result in smaller or larger pupils. Squinting or “bloodshot” eyes are a strong indication of pain in the eyes.

#2: Gum Color

A cat’s gums are usually a deep pink color. Even when a thumb is pressed to the gums, the tone should return to pink a couple of seconds after. So, when the gum color is ashen, it could indicate that the cat is in shock, has poor blood circulation, or anemic.

Bright red gums signal that the cat might be suffering from a carbon monoxide poisoning or could be overheated. A yellow gum means your cat is suffering from jaundice.

#3: Body Contour Changes

cat having a swollen paw

Swellings in any part of your cat’s body such as the leg, the face, or the body itself is a big sign of a painful condition like a physical injury, tooth root abscess, cancer, inflammation, or something else.

Vital Signs

Like humans, a cat’s vital signs also change when they’re sick.

#1: Temperature

cat having a high temperature

You may check your cat’s temperature yourself using a rectal thermometer, but it’s best to leave this to the vet. 99.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit is an average temperature range for your feline. But, over 103 degrees is feverish.

See Also: How to Tell If a Cat Has a Fever

#2: Heart Rate & Blood Pressure

The heart rate of cats suffering from pain usually increases when a person touches the painful spot.

A lot of cat owners know a pet’s first aid course. Some pet owners can measure their pet’s heart rate or blood pressure at home. But it’s best to bring your pet to a trained professional like the vet. Increased heart rate and blood pressure can indicate a severe illness for kitties like for humans.

Other Changes to Consider

There are still other symptoms that need proper attention because they may mean serious illnesses.

#1: Shortness of Breath

Cats, in general, breathe faster when in pain. Moreover, they breathe in a shallow manner and may even pant.

When you suspect breathing changes, you can always observe the movement of their abdominal muscles or the chest area. Shortness of breath is an essential indicator that you must visit the vet, the sooner, the better.

#2: Coughing

cat caughing

A kitty coughing may mean a lot of things such as allergies, asthma, heart diseases, hairballs, tumors, lung diseases, foreign bodies, or any contagious diseases. So when your kitty cat coughs for more than a day, bring him to the vet quickly.

Conditions That are Often the Cause of Your Cat’s Pain

orange kitten is ill

A recent surgical procedure, an open wound, or a broken limb may be painful for your furball, but these are not the only causes of their aches. There are many others—some lesser known and harder to diagnose than others.

  • Arthritis or inflammation of the joint can occur on the elbow(s), hip(s), or any other joint(s). Experts say that many cats suffer from arthritis pain untreated or undetected. The reason is that few owners are aware that joint inflammation happens more often in cats than people.
  • Bladder Inflammation or cystitis—often called feline interstitial cystitis or feline idiopathic cystitis or FIC—may also be the reason for your cat’s pain. This is an inflammation of the bladder. The illness causes symptoms of the lower urinary tract disease and can affect both female and male kitties.
  • Cancer; several types of cancer can cause cats distress, such as bone cancer, tumors that strain on critical internal organs, or any cancer that swells organs like kidney or the spleen, or even cell carcinomas of the mouth.
  • Ear Infection; this type of infection is very painful for our feline friend especially if it’s been going on for quite some time and the pain occurs in the middle or the inner ear.
  • Eye problems like glaucoma, corneal ulcers, or uveitis may also cause your cat pain.
  • Feline Aortic Thromboembolism or FATE; this is a condition where there’s a thrombus or a large blood clot that has traveled and lodged as an embolus in irrelevant positions that blocks the blood supply to parts of the cat’s body.
  • Resorptive tooth lesions—often called neck lesions, cervical neck lesion, feline cavity, or feline caries. These often affect up to two-thirds of domestic cats.
  • Tooth fracture or periodontal disease; this inflammation allows bacteria to slip in, causing infection in the feline’s mouth. The same bacteria may develop dental tartar, food allergies, and gingivitis.
  • Urethral obstruction; this can result in a recurrence of symptoms or total blockage.

Wrap Up

calico cat visiting a vet

Some symptoms are apparent to the naked eye like limping or a large wound, but most of the time, your feline friend’s signs of agony can be far fainter. It’s good news that there are lots of signs mentioned above that you can observe that can indicate that your pet is suffering or in pain.

As a cat owner, becoming aware of these symptoms can allow you to help your cat avoid serious illness. The pain that our feline friends experience is a real and serious matter that must be addressed. They deserve proper medical treatment.

However, be aware that while some health issues are easy to detect, there are also other non-painful conditions such as neurological disorders that can also affect your cat’s lifespan. The best recommendation is to rely on a trained professional for veterinary aid.

Do you suspect that your cat is in pain? What clued you in? Let us know if we skipped any crucial points in this article! Want to know how else you can help your cat live a long and healthy life? Check out our article on how much should a cat weigh.

About the author
Stella Noble
Stella Noble

Stella Noble lives in Warren, Michigan with her family and three cats. She is a Certified Cat Trainer and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

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