Is My Cat in Pain? 25 Signs You NEED to Know

If you’re asking is my cat in pain then you need to know that cats are very good at hiding their pain and the signs are much more subtle than in dogs.  In fact, unless you know what to look for you might not even realize there is a problem.

Pain is clearly something with the potential to seriously compromise your cats quality of life.  While there is so much we can do to relieve pain and make our cats comfortable, we need to first recognize the signs of pain in cats.

Stick around as I run through the 25 certain signs of pain in cats compiled by a number of cat experts, and keep reading right to the end as I’ll then include some other signs that might also mean your cat is painful.

 
 

Is your cat in pain? Well if they are showing any of these signs and symptoms, you should definitely get them checked out by your vet.

Signs of pain in cats

1. Lameness

This one is obvious.  We should all appreciate that limping means pain.  It could be something that’s come on suddenly due to a fall, other trauma or cat bite.  It could also be due to something like arthritis although limping is often only present when the arthritis is very bad.  It is not an early sign of chronic pain in cats.

2. Difficulty to jump

If your cat is not longer able to jump up or down from the heights they once did.  If they hesitate before commiting. Or if they choose to get to the same spot by other, easier means then pain is going to be playing a role in your cats decision making.

3. Abnormal gait

An abnormal gait means that when your cat is walking they are not moving as freely or symmetrically as they used to.  An abnormal gait might be due to pain in their legs. If they are painful in more than one leg than limping becomes hard, your cat will instead move in a stiff or abnormal manner.

An abnormal gait can also be due to pain elsewhere.  Their back or abdomen for example. Whatever the cause, an abnormal gait is a certain sign of pain.

4. Reluctant to move

Cats are sensible creatures for the most part.  If it hurts to move then they won’t move as much.  Equally, just like us, if they are also feeling unwell then they will be pretty reluctant to move as well.

5. Reaction to palpitation

If your cat normally enjoys a stroke or cuddle but has started to flinch or react abnormally when you touch them you can definitely answer yes to the question is my cat in pain!

6. Withdraw/hiding

A bit like a reduction in moving, if it hurts to be touched a cat will adjust their behaviour to reduce the amount of interaction they have.  Withdrawing from family life, reducing the amount of opportunity you have to interact with them and hiding away from you and any of your other pets is a logical step to take for a painful cat.

7. Absence of grooming

Cats for the most part are fastidious groomers, keeping themselves clean and tangle free.  One bit sign of chronic pain is the development of hair matting or the accumulation of dander.  This often starts around the back end as this is generally the first place that becomes too painful for a cat to reach.

You’ll have noticed a trend by now, a cat in pain stops doing the thing that hurts!

 
 There is no reason any cat should have to suffer from unrecognized or untreated pain, learning these signs of pain in cats will help make sure that doesn't happen
 

8. Playing less

With everything you’ve heard already, you won’t be surprised to hear that a painful cat is not a playful cat.

9. Appetite decrease

Quite simply a painful cat will not want to eat as much as they normally might.  This could be because moving to their food bowl is too uncomfortable but their overall appetite will also be reduced even if you put their food in front of them.

10. Overall activity decrease

This one doesn’t need explaining.  A reduction in jumping and playing, hiding away and a reluctance to move all add up to an overall decrease in activity in painful cats.

11. Less rubbing toward people

Cats can spend a lot of time rubbing up against you.  It’s a real mark of affection, they are labeling you as owned by them and part of their home.  It is though quite an active process so you guessed it, your cat will spend less time marking their home environment if they are in pain

12. General mood

Unsurprisingly, be it acute or chronic pain, its presence has the potential to cause depression, anxiety and other changes in mood and changes in temperament are just the same.

13. Temperament

Same as for mood.  A normally placid cat might become an aggressive cat when in pain.

14. Hunched up posture

A hunched up posture in cats is quite common when there is abdominal pain.  This might be something more minor like a simple stomach upset or something more severe like septic peritonitis.  A hunched posture can also be a sign of back pain among other things.

15. Shifting of weight

A reluctance to spend time staying still but instead shirting weight from one leg to another is a sign of pain in multiple areas.  It will become more and more uncomfortable in one position and after a time your cat will shift their weight to let that painful area rest before repeating the process over and over.

16. Licking a particular body region

Cats can’t rub an area like we do when we hurt ourselves.  Instead they will focus on the sore area, licking it a lot.

Now, being itchy can clearly also cause excessive licking but licking due to itchyness normally spreads to other areas, rather than remain focused on a single spot.

17. Lower head posture

It’s almost as if things become too much and the effort to carry the head normally is too great.  Cats in pain may keep their head lower, close to the ground

18. Blepharospasm (involuntary forcible blinking)

This is the description of a cat closing their eye, being unable or unwilling to open it fully as well as potentially blinking very frequently.  It is a sure sign of eye pain, the most common cause being an infection or ulcer. Don’t mess around with eyes. If there is an ulcer they can get really bad really quickly.  If you see your cat holding their eye closed you need to get them checked over by your vet.

19. Straining to urinate

Straining to urinate is a sure sign of a problem within the urinary tract.  This might be cystitis (which is rarely due to infection) or something like bladder stones or even cancer.  All of these diseases will be associated with inflammation and so pain.

Cystitis can even result in an emergency blocked bladder so again, a trip to the vet is in order.

20. Tail flicking

You might notice your cats tail flicking when they are about to pounce.  This is different in that the tail flicking will take place with your cat otherwise still and not engaged in any play or hunting-like behavior.

So the last 5 signs of pain in cats are rare in mild, low levels of pain but become more common as pain levels increase:

21. Change in form of feeding behavior

You really need to know your cats eating habits for this one.  Are they only eating at night when they used to eat throughout the day for example?  A change like this is not exclusive for pain (senility for example may be another cause) but asking if your cat is in pain is definitely something to rule out.

22. Avoiding bright areas

In severe pain, especially when more chronic in nature, our bodies can become hypersensitive to any stimulation.  Even light. This might make your cat seek darker areas. It is important to note though that many eye conditions can also cause similar behaviours.

 
 Pain that is unrecognized or untreated will seriously compromise your cats quality of life
 

23. Growling

Some cats will growl normally when they are not happy.  If this is the case then growling is not a reliable symptom of pain.  If though your cat never growls and stars doing it, pain is highly likely to be the underlying cause.

24. Groaning

This one is not very reliable but is still definitely worth including in the list of the signs of pain in cats.

25. Eyes closed

Finally, a cat keeping their eyes closed might be in severe pain and is not just a result of eye pain like blepharospasm.

So as promised, there are other signs of pain in cats although these are less reliably due to pain or less frequently seen.  These include:

Tooth grinding, ears down + flat, panting, trembling, house soiling, house soiling, sleeping more or less, trying to bite/scratch someone, crying/meowing


So if you notice any of these signs of pain in cats it is really important to get to the bottom of whatever condition they are suffering from.  You’ll know by now that I’m a strong believer in the fact that there is no reason any cat should have to suffer from unrecognized or untreated pain, no matter what the cause.



There is so much we can do to investigate disease and then go about treating it.  In the case of pain this might be giving one of a number of different pain killers.  It might be making changes to their routine and the environment they live in. It might mean changing their diet or starting a painful cat on supplements.

Keep your eye out for these signs of pain and take action if you see any.  You owe it to your cat.

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