How to Tell if My Cat is in Pain?

Reviewed By Kim •  Updated: 01/09/21 •  10 min read
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Have you ever wondered if your cat is in pain? Maybe she seems a little off or isn’t getting around as well as she used to. It’s difficult to find out your cat’s in pain, unless she has a major injury or has had a major surgery. Cats are very good at hiding pain; they’ve developed this trait of thousands of years of evolution. Why did your cat’s wild ancestors learn to hide their pain? A disability or injury that makes it difficult to run makes a cat an easy target for a larger predator. If she can’t run, jump or climb it’s almost impossible to get away.

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Another aspect of disability in the wild effects the ability to mate and pass on genes. Animals that obviously have something wrong will not be chosen as mates. Cats look for healthy, strong mates, and reject those that a different.

Cats have learned how to cover up their pain, making it difficult for pet parents to know,  unless there’s an obvious injury.

So, how can you tell if your cat’s in pain?

Cat in Pain Symptoms

While your cat is able to hide pain, there are some signs and symptoms you can watch for. Your fur baby is very good at not showing her pain, but if you closely observe her every day, you’ll soon become familiar with what’s normal and not normal about her. You’ll know what to look for. Here are the most common signs your kitty may be in pain:

Vocalizing: she may be meowing more than normal, or even hissing and growling.

Scratching/biting: cats will lash out when in pain, especially if the painful area is touched.

Breathing changes: if your fur baby is in pain, you may notice her breathing faster or that her breathing is shallower than normal. She may also pant.

Heart/pulse rate increase: your kitty may experience an increase in her heart or pulse rate when in pain.

Grooming changes: when cats don’t feel well, they do not groom themselves. If your kitty’s fur has become matted, snarled and looks unclean, then she could be in pain or be sick.

Daily habits change: you may notice other daily habits have changed with your fur baby. She may appear restless or uncomfortable. She may avoid sleeping on her preferred side, etc. If you have stairs, your precious ball of fur may avoid going up, where she used to climb stairs effortless before. Any change in her daily habits could mean she’s in pain and/or ill.

Lethargy/lowered activity: if she’s in pain, your sweet kitty may become lethargic and not as active as normal. She may not enjoy playing with her favorite toys, climbing, jumping, etc.

Eating & drinking changes: a cat may sometimes feel so bad that she doesn’t eat or drink as much as she used to.

Eye changes: have you noticed a change in your cat’s eyes? Does she squint, have dilated pupils, or are her pupils smaller than normal? These could indicate your kitty is in pain.

Litter box changes: cats in pain may have trouble defecating due to constipation. Lower activity levels make her digestive system work slower, which could lead to constipation. Pain can also cause cats to potty in the house, or just beside their litter box. The most common reason for this is the pain in their legs, hips, etc. The pain makes it difficult to get into and out of their sand box.

Changes in her body: if you notice any new lumps, swellings, or even smells from your cat, it could be caused by an underlying medical problem which is causing pain. Tooth decay is a common reason for a cat to develop mouth pain and bad breath. Causes of swelling, inflammation and other problems can be caused by cancer or another medical problem.

Additional signs your kitty’s in pain include:

Common Medical Problems That Cause Pain in Cats

Traumatic injuries or surgery can cause immense pain in cats, but what other medical issues can cause pain for your kitty? Some of the most common medical issues that cause pain in cats include:

Cats in Heat – Are They in Pain?

Is my cat in pain in heat? No one really knows if the heat cycle is painful for female cats. They seem to be very uncomfortable when they’re in heat, so there may be some pain involved—we just don’t know for sure.

Is my Cat in Pain After Being Spayed?

The short answer is yes—any type of surgery can cause pain in your sweet kitty. Some vets do send pain relief medication home with the cat after the surgery; however, some do not prescribe painkillers. If you suspect your fur baby is in pain after her surgery, be sure to call the vet and ask for their advice.

They may be willing to prescribe short-term pain medication to ease the pain and help your cat feel more comfortable.

My Cat is in Pain – What Can I Do?

If you suspect your cat’s in pain, the first thing to do is call your veterinarian and make an appointment. Your fur baby will need to have a physical exam, and possible medical tests, to determine what’s causing her pain and how to treat it. The vet will perform a physical examine your cat for any underlying medical problem or injury. Your vet will look to find where the pain is located, which will help them determine what could be causing the pain. They’ll also ask for your fur baby’s medical history, the symptoms and history of her symptoms.

It may be necessary for the vet to run additional medical tests, if the physical exam doesn’t turn up any obvious cause of your kitty’s pain. The vet may also run blood tests to help with a diagnosis. Other tests may include an x-rays, CT scans, or even an MRI, ultrasound, etc. If your vet suspects cancer, then they may need to take a tissue biopsy from your kitty. Treatment will begin once your vet has determined what’s causing your cat’s pain. If an underlying medical condition is the problem, then your kitty may need surgery, range of motion therapy, changes in her diet, dental work, etc. Treating these underlying conditions can help relieve much, if not all, of your precious fur ball’s pain.

What Pain Meds Can Cats Have?

Medication is sometimes used to help alleviate pain and keep kitty comfortable. Pain medicines for cats can include opioids for extreme pain. These are often prescribed after a major surgery or chronic pain. NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications) are typically used for moderate to mild pain. Other pain relievers include corticosteroids (another anti-inflammatory medicine). It’s important to note that cats are extremely sensitive to NSAIDS. This type of medication should only be prescribed by your veterinarian and should be used with extreme caution by cats. Cats can develop problems such as diarrhea, lowered appetite, kidney and liver problem, bleeding issues, etc.

Tylenol for Cats

Acetaminophen is more dangerous for cats than NSAIDS. Never give your cat acetaminophen (Tylenol). This medication will kill your cat. It breaks down liver cells, causes kidney damage and lowers the oxygen levels carried in the blood, which could lead to tissue damage. Never give your cat this medication.

Pain Medications Safe for Cats

Only give your fur baby pain meds prescribed by your vet. Some of the most common pain medications for cats include:

Only give these medications if they’ve been prescribed by your vet. Never give your cat human medications, as the doses and ingredients may be poisonous to your fur baby.

Alternative Treatments for Pain in Cats

The area of alternative medicine has been a growing topic in veterinary practice; in fact, there are alternative treatments that can help ease your kitty’s pain. Which alternative treatments are safe for cats? These treatments have been found both safe and effective in the treatment of pain in cats:

Herbs, Vitamins and Supplements for Cats in Pain

Natural and nutritional supplements to help cats in pain are another alternative treatment. These have been proven safe for cats. Here are some herbs, vitamins and supplements for cats experiencing pain—these are best used for long-term pain such as arthritis:

Hempire Pets Hemp Oil for Dogs and Cats: made from cold pressed hemp seed oil, these drops work to ease your cat’s anxiety and pain. It reduces inflammation caused by arthritis, relieves stress and anxiety caused by pain, and also gives your kitty a sleek, shiny coat. Hemp oil is high in omega 3 & 6 fatty acids, which works to ease stiffness in the joints.

Cosequin for Cats: contains glucosamine and chondroitin which both work as anti-inflammatories. They’re especially helpful at relieving pain caused by arthritis. This product is made especially for cats.

All-in-One Dog & Cat Probiotics, Hip, Joint Pain Relief Formula: this probiotic treatment is safe for both cats and dogs! It works as a preventative and therapeutic alternative treatments for kitties in pain. It works as an anti-inflammatory, but the probiotics also improve your cat’s digestive issues, while providing hip and joint pain relief. It also strengthens your kitty’s immune system and makes her coat and skin healthy.

We hope this guide will help you learn how to tell when your fur baby’s in pain. Be sure to take her to the vet to find out what’s going on and follow the vet’s treatment to help ease your cat’s pain. Don’t be afraid to explore alternative treatments that are safe for cats. It’s always a good idea to ask your vet about the best alternative treatments for your fur baby’s specific pain issues.

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Kim is a talented author, who loves animals especially dogs. She engaged in writing books and articles relating to animals a decade ago. Kim resides in Chicago with her husband and son. The family is the proud owner of a dog and a parrot (Jack and Lily). Kim wanted more than these two pets, but her husband put his foot down... She often visits elementary schools to talk to the kids about what she learned about pets and how they could learn from them.