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How to Tell If Your Cat Is in Pain

a ginger cat sleeping in bed

Every cat owner would love to believe their cat will never get sick or experience pain. The reality is at some point in their lives these things will happen. A good cat owner will be alert to the changes in their cat, however subtle, and use these changes to determine if their cat is in pain.

But maybe you’re unsure what signs to be on the lookout for. After all, it’s not like your cat can use words to tell you where it hurts. The book Think Like A Cat recommends becoming familiar with your cat’s normal routine. How is their normal day-to-day behavior? How much food and water do they normally eat and drink? How many times do they normally use the litter box and what is their usual volume of pee and poop? If you know these things, it will be easier to detect an unusual pattern of behavior or routine which can help with early detection of health problems.

Signs Your Cat Is In Pain

Below are some common signs your cat may be sick or in pain. Additional signs are covered in this popular cat behavior blog. If you notice any of these signs, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your veterinarian. When you speak with them, be sure to provide as much information as possible about the changes you notice in your cat. Include a description of the problem, how long the problem has persisted, and the frequency of the problem. Being accurate and descriptive is going to help the veterinarian with their diagnosis.

  • Change in vocalization: frequency, tone, intensity

  • Change in usual behavior: lethargic, uninterested in play, irritable, hides, aggressive

  • Change in eating habits: increased/decreased appetite, weight change

  • Change in litter box habits: eliminating outside the litter box, blood in urine/stool, diarrhea, constipation, inability to urinate (this requires immediate veterinary attention)

  • Change in posture/mobility: limping, weakness

  • Change in eyes: discharge, squinting, pawing at eyes, appearance of “third eyelid”

  • Change in breathing: labored, rapid, shallow

  • Change in grooming: excessive grooming of a particular body part, lack of grooming

What To Do If You Suspect Your Cat Is In Pain

As mentioned before, if you notice a change in your cat’s normal behavior or routine, the first step you’ll want to take is making an appointment with your veterinarian. They will examine your cat, run any necessary tests, and come up with a plan of action for your cat.

If your veterinarian prescribes medication, make sure you ask questions about proper administration. If you need a demonstration on how to administer medication or proper restraint techniques, don’t hesitate to ask. Veterinary staff are trained to handle the most squeamish, skittish, and downright spicy cats. They are happy to help.

Once at home, there are things you can do to make your cat’s recovery easier. Place your cat in a quiet, peaceful room away from children or other pets. Set up a litter box in their room so when nature calls they don’t have to go far. Place a warm, comfortable bed in an easily accessible location. And of course, make sure your cat is eating and drinking. If they’ve lost their appetite or aren’t interested in drinking, contact your veterinarian for assistance.

Besides tending to their physical needs, it’s also important not to neglect their emotional needs. Take time to sit with them like you would for any sick family member. If your cat wants to be petted or snuggle together, indulge them. If they don’t, respect their wishes and just hang out. Sometimes, our presence alone can be a source of great comfort.

It’s never easy to see your cat sick or in pain. However, seeking prompt veterinary care when you notice changes in their normal routines and following up with a quiet, peaceful home environment can do much to alleviate their discomfort and get them on the road to recovery.


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