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16 Pain Symptoms in Cats You Shouldn’t Ignore

Cat in pain with dull coat

Cats are well-known for hiding obvious signs of pain or illness. It’s important to be vigilant in watching for any minor changes in their behavior in order to catch any problems early on. (I recently missed the early signs of arthritis pain in my own cat, Peanut Butter, which resulted in an ER trip for me and a full checkup at the veterinarian’s office for my cat.)

Why Do Cats Pretend They Aren’t in Pain or Sick?

Cats are still relatively close to their wild ancestors, so they continue to hide pain or any signs of weakness. Their ancestors had to pretend to be strong and healthy so that predators wouldn’t single them out. Although today’s domestic pets don’t usually have to worry about being hurt or killed by predators, the instinct to hide their pain symptoms is still strong. They may also fear that others in the household would challenge them if they are sick.

Common Pain Symptoms in Cats

Although most cats in pain will try to mask their symptoms as much as possible, you can spot most pain symptoms in cats early if you pay attention and know what to look for. In many cases, behavioral signs of pain will show up long before any physical signs of pain. For this reason, you should always take any changes in your cat’s behavior seriously. Some common behavioral symptoms include:

  1. Hiding or retreating to a “safe place,” such as an unoccupied room or the basement
  2. Sitting up (not laying down) and hunching the shoulders
  3. Excessive licking or chewing on a particular area, such as their paws
  4. No longer grooming themselves
  5. Unusual vocal sounds, particularly during the night
  6. Aggressive behavior toward other animals or people, particularly if they lash out at their own family
  7. Failing to use the litter box/defecating in the house
  8. Restlessness, pacing or other movements that indicate discomfort
  9. Loss of appetite
  10. Needy behavior that is unusual for the cat
  11. Unwillingness to move or jump
  12. Consistently keeping the head down or showing submission
  13. Lack of interest in normal activities
  14. Avoidance of light and sounds
  15. Limping or favoring one or more legs
  16. A coat that is dull and greasy or skin that has become flaky, like dandruff

The cat in the photo at the top of this article is exhibiting several of the pain symptoms in cats listed here. The cat is obviously uncomfortable, as her shoulders are hunched, her eyes are closed and her coat is dull and greasy. She looks miserable.

If you see one of more of the above pain symptoms in cats you’re familiar with, it’s essential that you get him to a veterinarian as soon as you can, as your cat may have been tolerating pain for quite a while. Once pain has been evaluated and the vet has given you instructions for your pet’s care, ask if there are any changes in the home that could help. For instance, if your cat has arthritis, keeping his litter box, food bowls and toys on one floor can help. If he has an intestinal problem, be sure to ask what foods you should or should not be giving your cat. Be sure everyone in your house is aware of the problem and make sure everyone is extra gentle with your pet until he is feeling better.


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