Seeing The Signs: Do You Know If Your Cat Is In Pain?

Cats feel pain and discomfort, but they prefer to suffer discreetly. If your cat is in pain, she may try her hardest to not let you know about it. This is the result of a survival instinct that has been ingrained in her species for centuries. In the wild, an animal that is slowed by pain is vulnerable to predators. A wild cat that is in pain hides to avoid advertising herself as an easy meal. This response to pain transcends to domestic cats, who continue to make attempts to mask their pain. Since you do not want your furry friend to suffer, it is important to learn the signs that could indicate that your cat is in pain and understand that steps can be taken to alleviate her discomfort. 

She Is Not Talking

Unlike your human loved ones, you cat cannot verbalize how she feels. Since she is not talking, you will have to use your observation skills to deduce if she may be in pain. Some signs to look for in your cat include the following:

  • Isolating herself in a remote location away from the family
  • An unkempt appearance to her coat, which results when the act of self-grooming becomes painful
  • Decreased food intake, which can indicate dental pain
  • Pupil dilation or a furrowed forehead
  • Lying or sitting with a hunched back
  • Limping or holding up one paw
  • Excessive licking at a particular area on her body
  • Hissing or growling when you or another family member touches her
  • Demonstrating restlessness as she makes attempts to get into a position that hurts less
  • Showing reluctance to move once a less painful position is achieved
  • Seeming unusually quiet and placid
  • Breathing more rapidly than usual
  • Changing litter box habits

Remember that just because your cat is purring, it does not necessarily mean that she is content. Cats also purr when they are stressed or not feeling well. While cats generally do not cry out in pain since they prefer to suffer in silence, she may cry out if the pain is extreme. If you observe any of the aforementioned signs or other changes in routine or behavior that lead you to suspect that your cat is in pain, bring her to your veterinarian as soon as possible for an evaluation and relief.

Show the Doctor Where and Why It Hurts

Your veterinarian will take a history of your cat's recent activities and of the signs that you have observed. He or she will conduct a complete physical examination in which your cat's body is manipulated and palpated in an attempt to isolate the source of pain by assessing your cat's responses. Pain can be acute, meaning abrupt in onset, or chronic, meaning ongoing pain that may wax and wane. Causes of acute pain in cats include the following:

  • Tooth abscess
  • Wound abscess
  • Surgical recovery
  • Physical injury or blunt trauma
  • Fractured bone
  • Acute pancreatitis
  • Urinary obstruction
  • Thromboembolism

Causes of chronic pain in cats include the following:

  • Cancer
  • Degenerative joint disease
  • Feline lower urinary tract disease
  • Chronic pancreatitis

In cases of acute pain, relief includes treatment of the underlying cause as well as managing the discomfort while the cat recovers. Whether your cat is suffering from acute pain or chronic pain, there are several pain management options at your veterinarian's disposal.

Relief Is On the Way

Unlike dogs, cats cannot metabolize many of the commonly used veterinary drugs that are prescribed to their canine patients for pain control. Some drugs, including most nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can have damaging consequences, such as toxicity and renal failure when used in cats. For temporary relief of acute pain, there are a couple of NSAIDs that are approved for use in cats on a short-term basis. There are opioid drugs that can be used on a longterm basis and have less damaging effects than NSAIDs. Some holistic pain management options include the following:

Never attempt to relieve your cat's pain by opening up your own medicine cabinet. Ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and aspirin are toxic to cats. Always consult with your veterinarian before giving your cat any medication.

The first step in relieving your cat's pain is to detect it. Recognizing the signs and alerting a veterinarian (such as one from Berlin Township Animal Hospital) promptly is the best way to be proactive in restoring your cat's comfortable quality of life and changing her purr from one of stressful pain to one of blissful happiness.