Being able to spot when your cat is experiencing discomfort or pain is a vital skill for all cat owners, but due to the subtle ways cats show pain, many pet owners struggle with recognizing the signs of pain in felines.

Cats are naturally inclined to hide the signs of pain due to the instincts they inherited from their ancestors. These instincts tell your cat to avoid showing any outward signs of pain, so they don’t appear to be easy prey for other predators.

While these instincts kept your cat’s ancestors safe in the past, they now mean it can be difficult for pet owners to determine if their cat is ill, injured, or experiencing chronic pain.

A white cat with brown facial markings laying on its side

Signs of Feline Pain

  • Changes in appetite, including decreased appetite, losing interest in food or treats, or refusal to eat at all
  • Changes in bathroom habits such as urinating or defecating outside of the litter box or no longer covering waste after using the litter box
  • Changes in activity level such as appearing fatigued, refusing to play, and avoiding exercise or movement
  • Changes in temperament such suddenly becoming withdrawn, hiding, avoiding affection, seeking extra affection, or becoming aggressive
  • Changes in mobility such as avoiding stairs or furniture such as cat trees that require climbing, avoiding jumping, difficulty with normal movements such as walking or getting comfortable, and changes in sleep position
  • Changes in hygiene such as refusal to bathe or only partially grooming
  • Changes in facial expressions and vocalization levels such as squinting, increased meowing or purring, or hissing

Acute Vs. Chronic Pain

Acute pain is pain that lasts for a short period of time while chronic pain is persistent pain that lasts for weeks, months, or even years.

Acute pain is often the result of an injury, illness, or medical procedure and will usually disappear once your cat has recovered or healed from the issue that was causing the pain. Chronic pain is often the result of more serious conditions such as degenerative joint disease, dental disease, and intestinal diseases that may require long term treatment and pain management.

Cats are more likely to show signs of acute pain than chronic pain because while acute pain often appears suddenly, chronic pain appears and grows gradually, which gives your cat a chance to adapt to chronic pain. Adapting to chronic pain does not mean your cat is no longer in pain.

Annual exams are a key part of detecting medical issues that may cause your cat to develop chronic pain.

What Should I Do If I Believe My Cat Is In Pain?

It’s important to remember that no two cats are alike. One cat in pain may cry out, refuse food, and seek comfort from their owners while another cat in pain may appear to simply be more tired than usual.

Nobody knows your cat like you do. If you notice changes in your cat’s behavior or sense that something has changed with your cat, trust your instincts.

Due to how difficult it can be to determine if a cat is in pain, we recommend erring on the side of caution. If you believe your cat is in pain, schedule an appointment for an exam to determine the cause of your cat’s pain or changes in behavior.