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Is My Cat In Pain? (How To Tell if a Cat is in Pain)

Posted in: Cat Health - Last Updated: September 5, 2023 - Author: Rebekah Carter
Posted in Cat Health 
Last Updated: July 21, 2022  
Author:  Rebekah Carter

Have you ever asked yourself “Is my cat in pain?"

Knowing how to recognize the early signs of pain and discomfort in your cat is one of the most important things you can do to keep your furry friend happy and healthy.

 Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to determine when a kitty is feeling uncomfortable.

is my cat in pain

In some cases, a cat suffering from a medical condition, acute pain, or a painful area will be more likely to give clues about its problem. For instance, if your kitten injures their paw, they’re more likely to meow, purr, growl, and struggle to walk as normally around the house. On the other hand, when it comes to more chronic and long-term pain, cats are generally more subtle in their vocalizations.

Here are some of the things you can watch out for which may indicate your cat is suffering from pain or needs the support of a vet.

How To tell if Your Cat is in Pain: Common Signs

Different cats respond to pain and display signs of discomfort in various ways. 

As you get to know your feline friend and their kitty temperament over time, you should be able to develop a better understanding of how they express themselves. 

Some of the most common signs of long-term or underlying pain in cats include:

Changes in Behavior

All cats have a unique attitude and personality. The longer you live with your furry pal, the more you’ll come to know their mannerisms. 

If the behavior of your beloved pet suddenly changes, this is often an indication of early injury or illness. 

For instance, if your cat is usually quite the cuddly companion, spending a lot of time on your lap or sitting nearby, then they begin hiding under the sofa or bed, this is a sign something is wrong. 

If your cat stops following you around the home or seems withdrawn, it likely doesn’t have anything to do with your relationship. Instead, they might just be looking for a safe place to recover. 

Especially if they are healing from a recent surgery.

Cats with significant feelings of pain are often more aggressive than their counterparts too. You might notice your cat lashes out at you when you try to pet them, or bites you more often when sitting on your knee. 

You might even hear some examples of hissing and growling. 

Increased or Reduced Grooming

One of the most common ways to determine whether a cat isn’t feeling themselves is to look at their grooming habits. Most cats are committed to frequently grooming themselves. 

This is a necessary act, as well as something many felines consider comforting. 

Cats are meticulous with their hygiene, so if you notice they’re not grooming as much as they should, this could be a sign of a problem.

Watch out for unkempt or greasy fur on your cat’s coat. You can also see signs of dirt or muck on your cat if they spend a lot of time outdoors. 

Increased grooming can be just as problematic. 

As mentioned above, grooming can be comforting to cats.

If your kitty is spending a lot of time licking a certain part of their body, to the point of causing inflammation or baldness, they could be trying to soothe an uncomfortable area.

how to tell if a cat is in pain

Decreased Energy Level

No one loves running around after at a hundred miles per hour when they’re not feeling their best. 

As your cat gets older, it’s normal for them to spend less time playing and running around. 

However, if these changes suddenly happen drastically, with no real reason, this could be a sign your kitty is suffering from pain or illness

If your cat is reluctant to walk up and down the stairs, run and play with you as normal, or even jump onto the sofa to keep you company, this could be a sign something is wrong. 

You might even find that the decreased energy in your cat comes from pain in their joints. As a cat gets older, it’s more likely to suffer from joint deterioration in the form of arthritis. 

This can be particularly common in certain breeds of feline.

Your cat might exhibit changes in its sleeping habits and sleep patterns too. They might struggle to find a comfortable position where they can rest. 

Alternatively, they might begin sleeping in unusual places. 

Cats in pain are more likely to sleep less than usual and may find warmer places to rest, like a heating pad or a sunny spot somewhere in the home.

Bathroom Changes

Cats get into a habit of using certain spaces for their bathroom (preferably the litter box). They don’t stop using these environments for no apparent reason. 

While there are various reasons why a kitty might choose to pee on your sofa or clothes, pain is the most common cause. 

If your cat is experiencing pain in their joints or spine, it might be struggling to enter and exit the litter box as they usually do. 

Likewise, this pain can make it harder to get into and maintain a squatting position Cats who struggle to go to the bathroom can often become constipated, so it’s worth looking for changes in stool consistency. In that case, look into what to give a cat for constipation to change their diet to fix the issue and get rid of the pain.

Other issues can cause problems with litter box usage too. 

For instance, if your cat has a urinary infection and experiences pain when going to the bathroom, they might begin to associate that discomfort with the litter box. 

If your cat is peeing or going to the bathroom outside of a litter box, don’t punish them – see a vet.

Loss of Appetite and Thirst

Our feline friends can be notoriously picky eaters at times. 

Sometimes, your furry pal might stop eating their cat food because they no longer like the flavor or want something different to change things up. 

Other times, they’ll stop eating because there’s something wrong. 

Pain can be a powerful appetite suppressant, particularly if the issue is something to do with your cat’s digestive system. 

If your kitty seems to be experiencing an appetite decrease in all of their kitty food, including any cat treats, this is a good sign there’s a pain problem in play. It’s also worth keeping a close eye on how often your kitty is drinking fresh water.

While most cats don’t drink as often as dogs and other animals, they do need to rehydrate to stay healthy regularly. 

If they don’t appear to be drinking much, and they’re not going to the bathroom often as a result, this is a sign of illness.

how to tell if your cat is in pain

Different Postures and Facial Expressions

Have you ever noticed how our facial expressions and postures often change when we’re experiencing pain? 

The same goes for your kitty. 

A cat in pain might sit more hunched over than usual, with its head lowered and it's back curved. 

They might look as though they’re trying to curl up into a ball or keep themselves compressed rather than stretching out. 

When experiencing a sudden burst of your pain, the hair on your cat’s tail and back may stand on end.

They may also make facial expressions that aren’t usual for their behavior, such as flattening their ears, squinting their eyes, drooling, or baring their teeth.

If something about your cat’s posture seems off, this is usually a sign they’re not comfortable. 

Pay extra attention to what happens if you try to pet your cat when it's sitting in an awkward position, as it may lash out if in pain.

Other Signs a Cat is in Pain

As mentioned above, the signs cats exhibit when they’re not feeling comfortable or well can differ depending on the feline in question.

There are a few other behavioral changes and signs which could indicate you might need to see a doctor, such as:

  • Increased vocalization: Some cat breeds are naturally louder than others, and meow and purr frequently to talk to their owners. However, if your cat is yowling, hissing, growling, or vocalizing more often than usual, it could be trying to tell you something is wrong. This behavior could also be accompanied by increased aggression or irritability.
  • Gum color: The gums are often very telling when it comes to detecting a cat’s health. The normal color of a cat’s gums should always be light pink. If your cat will tolerate you lifting their lip and you notice their gums are blue, white, grey, or purple, this is a severe sign of something seriously wrong.
  • Eye changes: Like the gums, your cat’s eyes can also tell you a lot about how they feel. As mentioned above, they might squint if they’re in pain, or have trouble opening one eye if they’ve injured it. You might notice a bloodshot eye, or extra weeping and discharge from the eyes if an injury has happened. Dilation or smaller pupils can also show pain.
  • Purring: While purring most commonly indicates happiness and contentment in cats, it can also be a sign of stress or anxiety. If your cat is purring while showing some of the other signs of pain listed above, this could be a sign they’re looking for help. Don’t assume purring means everything is fine.
  • Swelling: Like us, cats can suffer from swelling after an injury. Inflammation around your cat’s body, face, or legs could be a sign of inflammation, an insect bite or an allergic reaction. It’s best to see a doctor about these symptoms immediately.

Why Do Cats Hide Their Pain?

Unless they’re suffering from acute and sudden discomfort, your cat will be more likely to hide their pain than let you know they’re not feeling their best. This is likely to be an evolutionary tactic that comes from the days your feline friend’s ancestors spent in the wild. Illness or injury can place a target on the back of an animal when it comes to predators. 

The appearance of weakness in a cat can make them seem more vulnerable, and put them in danger of being prey or abandoned in the wild.

As such, your cat might avoid showing you they’re feeling uncomfortable as a natural part of their heritage. 

This is why it’s important to watch out for your cat hiding more often than usual, or refusing to be around you when they’re unwell.

signs a cat is in pain

What to Do if Your Cat is in Pain

If you notice subtle signs of pain or any symptoms of your cat being in pain mentioned above, the best thing you can do is talk to a vet

Even if there turns out to be nothing wrong with your cat, your vet will be able to determine why the changes are taking place, so you can treat the underlying cause. Most vets will also be able to assist with pain management, using prescription medication and therapy.

Vets can also provide you with helpful advice on how to care for your injured or unwell cats at home. For instance, if your kitty is experiencing chronic joint pain, you might be able to use supplements to comfort your furry friend. You can also offer your cat various forms of pain medication during their recovery.

However, you should never simply give your cat pain medication without first discussing its symptoms with a vet. 

When back at home, there are a few things you can do to make life easier for your cat, such as:

  • Relocating essential items: Consider moving beds, food dishes, water bowls, and litterboxes so they’re easier for your cat to get to. If you have a litter box with a lid that’s difficult for your cat to access, you might need to look into getting a few different models to provide your kitty with more options.
  • Give them space: While you should always pet and cuddle with your cat when they want you to, a cat in pain might be more aggressive, and more likely to want some space. If your cat doesn’t like you touching the injured area, stay away until they come to you. Try to avoid allowing other people to pick your cat up or pet them too.
  • Watch your cat: Keep a close eye on your feline friend so you can track their symptoms and let the vet know about any changes. Annual vet check-ups can also be a helpful way to avoid allowing issues to get out of control over time.

Is My Cat In Pain? Summary

Ultimately, cats are living creatures who can suffer from pain, injury, and illness, just like the rest of us. Looking after your kitty with the right balanced diet and plenty of regular check-ups with veterinary professionals can help to reduce the risk of an issue. 

However, you can’t prevent your cat from experiencing any pain at all.

The best thing you can do as a pet parent is to be aware of the most common signs of pain and make sure you seek out the help of a vet if you notice the symptoms.

About the author

Rebekah Carter is a dedicated animal lover. Her Savannah cat, Roscoe, has a lot of attitude, while her Maine Coon, Dukino, is full of love. When not writing, she’s looking after her cats and researching ways to help them live their best possible life. Her passion for animals and natural skill for writing led her to pursue pet blogging.