How to tell if your cat is in pain

Cats are experts at masking their pain. Of all domesticated animals, they have retained their natural origins the most. This is why, though protected by our civilized world, they have kept the slick skill of not showing their weakness—a thing crucial for survival in the wild.

But as much as we admire our pets’ close resemblance to agile wild animals, it also causes continuous trouble for cat owners who wish only the best for their pets. It’s not rare when a cat’s illness and pain is left unnoticed by owners for months or even years, without knowing that a pet requires a medical assistance.

a sad cat in pain
Photo “sad cat diary” by James H., cc

In this article, you will learn how an attentive observer can peer through nature’s protective curtain and unveil signs that your cat is in pain and needs help.

IMPORTANT: When it comes to vet visits, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Even when you have the tiniest doubts that your cat might be suffering, it is wise to visit a veterinarian rather than wait and see. The sooner a problem is caught, the easier it will be resolved.

  • Decreased activity is the most telltale sign of pain and discomfort, and not only in cats. If you are in pain, you move less.
  • Appetite loss can point to many problems, including oral pain, painful swallowing, stomach pain, and the depressed mood associated with it.
  • Aggression, though it may originate from various causes, is often induced by pain. A frequent example is a cat with arthritis who lashes out as you try to pet his lower back.
  • Increased vocalization is a no-brainer. We also often cry, whine, and complain when in pain. Your cat might be doing the same, though there are other reasons why cats are often passionate chatterboxes.
  • Increased sleep is another way of how nature protects those at more risk. If you are ill, you need to conserve energy and definitely do not need to wander around with an impaired ability to run away from potential threats.
  • Reduced self-grooming indicates that the cat isn’t feeling well. Cats are noted for their sophisticated hygiene practices. So, if a cat who undergoes stress, anxiety, or chronic pain stops caring for its fur, veterinary investigation is needed.
  • Loss of social interaction is a common sign of depression in humans. If your cat suddenly or gradually becomes less sociable, you can bet there is something either physically or psychologically wrong. Pain is a likely cause.
  • Elimination problems with cats often are understood as going out of the box, but it should not be limited to that. Straining before urination, frequent urination, and voiding small amounts of urine are often signs of possible pain. Defecating can also be painful if your cat has constipation.
  • Gait changes, especially lameness, do not need further explanation. Usually if a cat is lame, the pain is already intense. However, you should note straining before jumping on an object or over an obstacle as a potential sign of pain.
  • Changes in vital signs, such as increased heart rate, increased temperature, and blood pressure, just as in humans, can point to a long list of potential problems. Though they are usually measured at a vet’s office, some vital signs can be taken at home and compared to normal ranges. Note that they are not the same as for humans. Interpreting these readings is better left to trained professionals, i.e., your veterinarian.

The above list is a fairly comprehensive list of signs pointing to your cat’s pain. While some of them signal pain almost beyond any doubt, some can point to other possible problems, too.

In any case, if at least one of the mentioned signs is present, you can be sure that there is a problem, and your best option is to take your cat to a veterinarian.

In addition, since we already mentioned that cats are experts at masking their pain and discomfort, it wouldn’t hurt to take your cat to a veterinarian at least yearly, even if you think everything is fine with your kitty.