Signs Of Pain In A Cat

Persistent crying, reluctance to move and sensitivity to touch are the most common signs of pain in a cat. Most owners would understand the first two since cats are known for their expressive nature. However, sensitivity to touch is not often understood. You might have encountered this sign of pain in a cat and did not bother about it or do anything about it thinking that it was just a quirky mannerism of your cat.

It is important to recognize signs of pain in a cat so that you can ensure that your feline friends are receiving the proper medical care. Cats can be a real pain, but it isn’t always on purpose. Whether it’s from a fight, an allergic reaction, or just plain old age, there are several basic signs of pain in a feline that you should know how to read.

The signs of pain in a cat can be subtle. If you know what to look for, though, you’ll be able to spot them as soon as they appear.

The most common sign is vocalization—a meow that sounds different from your cat’s usual meow. It may be an extended meow or a higher-pitched meow.

Another sign is change in behavior. If your cat normally greets you enthusiastically when you come home, but doesn’t this time, that could mean something is wrong.

Changes in appetite are also common signs of pain in cats—they may eat less or not at all because the discomfort of eating has become too much for them.

If you notice any of these signs in your pet, take them to the vet immediately!

As a cat owner, you want to be able to tell when your cat is in pain. This article will help you understand the signs of pain in cats and how you can help your furry friend feel better.

Cats are creatures of habit, but they also have very sensitive nervous systems that react to changes in their environment. Because of this, it’s important to be able to recognize when your cat isn’t feeling well so that you can get them the medical attention they need.

Here are some signs of pain in cats:

-Sleeping more than usual

-Lying with their abdomen on the floor (this is called “sphinxing”)

-Not eating or drinking

-Licking their paws excessively

-Not using the litter box

-Restlessness

Signs Of Pain In A Cat

So what signs do vets look for?

If you want me to go the vet you’ll need to come up here and get me.(Gfycat)

If you’ve ever tried wrangling your cat into a carrier you’ve probably already worked out your furry friend is not keen on going to the vet.

“Part of the reason why people have traditionally been a bit reluctant to take their cats in to seek medical care is because they know the cat’s going to feel pretty anxious,” Dr O’Brien said.

Out of their comfort zone they go into full flight or fight mode. In his youth, Blixa could scale walls and run around the ceiling of the surgery.

“Cats have been notoriously difficult patients to handle and we now realise it’s because of a lot of the anxiety they suffer.” Dr O’Brien said.

Their anxiety can make it difficult to see behaviours that the cat does in the comfort of its own home.

“Frozen to the spot can sometimes be their way of coping,” she said.

Cat at the vet
I’ll just stare into space and the human won’t see me.(Wikimedia: Canadianknowledgelover)

This means vets can’t rely on physiological signs such as respiratory or heart rates or blood pressure to assess their pernickety patients’ pain levels.

“We know that it is very difficult to interpret the rate of breaths in a clinic environment, as compared to the home. It is really, really tricky,” Dr O’Brien said.

Physiological signs could also be influenced by underlying health conditions or drugs.

Instead, vets need to rely on reports of behaviours at home such as laying low, being grumpy or not as smoochy and refusing food.

Vets also look for signs such as guarding or particular postures.

“One classic sign we often tend to see in animals if they tend to have a painful abdomen is their back arches,” said Dr Toboada.

“If you see animals really flat, not wanting to move, that very often can indicate movement makes them uncomfortable.”

Subtle signs of acute pain in the face

To help vets assess pain levels, Canadian researchers have developed a new tool known as the Feline Grimace Scale (FGS)

This scale interprets subtle signs of acute pain in the cat’s face.

Dropped ears, squinty eyes and drooping whiskers were common factors observed in a group of cats ranging from bog standard mogs to Maine Coons admitted with non-emergency acute pain, according to their research.

Three cat images with ears in different positions
The ears flatten when a cat is in pain.(Supplied: University of Calgary)

Originally developed for assessing pain on babies and non-verbal humans, grimace scales have been validated across a range of animals from rabbits to rats. But this is the first time it’s been used for cats, said Paulo Steagall of Montreal University.

“The FGS has been developed and validated for use by vets but owners could use changes related to pain in cats to know that something might not be right and take their pets to a veterinarian,” Dr Steagall.

For a vet, being able to accurately assess pain levels is critical for ensuring a cat is given the right amount of pain medication when it needs it.

Three cats showing different eye expressions.
A cat in pain will squint its eyes.(Supplied: University of Calgary)

Dr O’Brien said the new scale was much more user-friendly than other scales and she uses it in her clinic.

But it’s not without its limitations.

“We can’t always say that just because a cat has got the ears down or the whiskers back that it’s definitely painful, but certainly if we can see a cat that is happy and confident and is looking towards the front of the cage…we can interpret that that cat is likely to be comfortable,” she said.

Three cats showing whiskers in different positions.
A cat in pain will have upturned whiskers.(Supplied: University of Calgary)

The test hasn’t been used to assess breeds such as Persians that have squashed faces like Grumpy Cat, nor do we know if changes to a cat’s face as they age influence the results.

While the scale is “really well designed” the effect of drugs on the cat’s facial expression is also a major limitation, said Dr Toboada.

“Not all the sedatives have analgesic [pain-relieving] properties, so we might be masking the result.”

Once kitty goes home after surgery it’s a good idea keep it inside for a couple of days.

“They might feel a bit wobbly post-op from the anaesthetic, but we would expect most cats would be back to themselves within 24 hours,” Dr O’Brien said.

What about chronic pain?

According to Dr Tobaoda, around 90 per cent of animals in pain at home are going to be in some degree of chronic pain rather than acute pain.

While vets use scales to identify acute pain, they rely heavily on pet parents to spot when their cat is suffering from chronic pain as a result of conditions such as osteoarthritis and kidney disease.

Black and white cat
Blixa at 19.(ABC: Genelle Weule)

Signs to look out for are:

  • Lack of interest in food
  • Not moving around or jumping up onto things as much
  • Changes to how they use litter trays or scratching poles

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