How can I tell if my cat is in pain?

by Michael

There is acute pain brought on by trauma and chronic pain due to long term health issues. The word “chronic” in medical language means persistent and long lasting. It is fairly easy to assess acute pain suffered by a cat. In contrast, a cat in chronic pain is difficult to assess.

Acute Pain in Cats

We should make a presumption that a cat is in pain after suffering an injury.

Minor Trauma

Signs: flinching, vocalisations, trying to escape, aggression.

Severe Injury

Signs – acute response: hissing, spitting, aggressivity, strong desire to escape. Thereafter: withdrawn and immobile, tense posture, occasional low growls. Sometimes continuing to spit and hiss if approached. Rapid breathing (“respiratory rate”).

Pain Relief

This is a job for the veterinarian. Cat caretakers should not try and administer pain relief themselves as cats can be poisoned by pain killers.

Apparently, the influx of female vets has increased the use of pain killers in treating cats in pain.

NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) have been avoided by veterinarians as they have been considered toxic to cats due to the cat’s unique metabolism.

Chronic Pain in Cats

This is considerably more difficult to spot in our feline friends as they tend to hide incapacities that harm survival. A cat will tend to mask her disability by altering behavior.

Facial landmarks on cat showing facial expression when in pain
Facial landmarks on cat showing facial expression when in pain. The landmarks move as indicated by the arrows. Photo: See base of page.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Signs: reduced activity, hiding, lack of interested in surroundings, weight loss as a result of loss of appetite. There would seem to be a general and subtle change in character accompanying typical long term and deteriorating health problems such as dental disease and arthritis. People have noticed a improvement in their cat’s behavior after veterinarian dental treatment. Periodontal disease is common.

The signs, as can be seen, are rather vague and many illnesses will produce similar symptoms.

Pain through arthritis, for example, can be assessed because of lameness. Sometimes, however, it can be difficult to locate the place of the pain using palpation (using hands to manipulate the interior of the cat from the exterior) because of a lack of response from the cat or the cat generally reacts when touched.

We should be alert to signs of chronic pain despite the difficulties. A general awareness of our cat’s behavior and habits assists in making layperson assessments. A close relationship aids in recognising even slight changes in behavior and appearance. Get close to your cat and enjoy the relationship.

Sources: myself and The Welfare of Cats, pages 222-223, ISBN 978-1-4020-6143-1 (this is an excellent book because it is based on many scientific studies).

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