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Nathalie Sari - Tiertraining & Verhaltensberatung

This article was written by TOBALIE in cooperation with Nathalie Sari - Tiertraining & Verhaltensberatung

Cats are extremely fascinating and loving creatures that are usually considered to be quite robust and resilient. Nevertheless, they are not immune to illness and accidents and are just as susceptible to pain as we humans are. As our beloved cats are known to “hide” possible pain – not to show it obviously – it can sometimes be quite difficult to recognise pain in the cat. As an owner of a cat, it is therefore very important to be able to correctly interpret the signs and symptoms of pain in order to be able to help your cat immediately. This article can help you with that.

Pain as an alarm signal. 

Have you ever wondered why we humans and animals feel pain in the first place?  As unpleasant and agonising as it can be, pain has a very important function in the body. Pain alarms and makes us living beings aware that something is wrong in the body. Pain plays an essential role in protecting us from suffering further harm.  
It can be felt in a variety of ways, from a mild pulling and stabbing sensation to severe, throbbing and sometimes unbearable pain. It can be acute, meaning it occurs suddenly and is usually associated with a specific event (injury), or chronic, meaning it persists over a long period of time.

Pain in cats: What are the causes? 

Pain can be caused by a variety of reasons. Some causes of pain are easy to identify, such as an open wound. Some others are more difficult to identify, such as headaches. 
– Injuries, accidents 
– Burns 
– Inflammations 
– Various diseases 
– Stress, overload 
– Signs of wear and tear 
– Disturbance of the nervous system 
– and more.

However, pain can also be of emotional origin, such as trauma, stress or anxiety. In any case, it is extremely important to recognise pain in your cat and treat it appropriately (professionally by a veterinary or/and animal trainer) in order to maintain the well-being and health of your pet, or restore it if necessary.

Why is it sometimes so difficult to recognise pain in a cat? 

Some cats can be seen immediately when they are in pain. Others are true masters at hiding pain. Why is that? 
Besides the fact that every cat is an individual with different needs and pain sensations, there is another peculiarity. Many cats tend not to show pain. When wild cats -the ancestors of our domestic cats- appeared weakened due to pain, they were vulnerable and easy prey. For self-protection, they “hid” their pain.  

This primal instinct is still in many of our house cats and you can only see their pain when it becomes unbearable. Consequently, many suffer in silence. Especially chronic pain is often more difficult to recognise in some cats than acute pain. 
Nevertheless, there are some signs – some more, some less – that you can look for to tell if your pet is currently in pain.

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How can I tell if my cat is in pain? 

Sometimes it is obvious that the cat is in pain, due to open wounds or the like. In many cases, however, it is not so easy to tell, especially when conditions develop gradually. 
Depending on the individual pain tolerance and intensity, you can identify pain in your pet by the following signs and symptoms. Changes in behaviour and posture, temperament and movement patterns can sometimes provide clues. Your good powers of observation are therefore called for.

– Changes in behaviour and/or temperament: Your very cuddly and affectionate cat (suddenly) keeps his distance and avoids any contact with you? Your previously lively and active cat seems (abruptly) totally quiet, lethargic and shows a great need for rest and sleep? Or the other way round: Your previous cuddle muffle suddenly won’t leave your side and seeks your physical closeness? Your normally calm and balanced pet seems unusually active, restless and stressed? These are all indications that something may be wrong. Changes in temperament can also be caused by pain. Does (your) cat show increased aggression or fear from one day to the next when you try to touch it in a certain area? Pain in this area may be the cause.

– Changes in mobility and/or posture: If a cat has pain in a certain area, it is often noticed that certain movements are not carried out as usual or are completely avoided. Does your darling suddenly move forward with a limp or lift his little paw up in the air and not get up at all? This could be a sign of pain in the paw, leg, shoulder or hip area. In most cases, cats adopt a protective posture. The painful area is consciously not stressed and the cat will avoid certain movements, such as jumping from the cat tree.

– Change in eating and drinking behaviour: Cats suffering from pain usually show a reduced appetite and an increased need to drink. Especially in case of pain in the mouth or toothache, the cat is more likely to abstain from eating.

Other signs of pain in the cat can be

  • Uncleanliness, problems with urination and defecation
  • Licking or scratching certain bodyparts. 
  • Increased panting, salivating, trembling, shaking, purring
  • Dilated pupils, increased respiratory rate, fever
  • Vocalisations: Cry, increased meowing. 
  • Changes in coat, skin. 
  • Smell from the mouth or ears,  
  • Discharge from ears, nose  
  • Watering, reddened eyes. 
  • And many more.

How do you treat pain in a cat? 

It is understandable that you, as a loving owner of a cat, only want the best for your protégé. So it’s only natural to search your medicine cabinet for painkillers. However, this can have fatal and unhealthy consequences for your pet. 

Attention: Painkillers should only be given to your cat after consultation with a veterinarian! You should never give your cat medication on your own, without a doctor’s prescription. Especially not medicines from your own medicine cabinet. 
If you suspect that your pet is in pain, a visit to a veterinary clinic or similar is the first step. Not only will the doctor be able to make a precise diagnosis, but the further therapeutic and medicinal procedure will also be discussed in detail. 

Tip: If you suspect pain in your cat due to a specific behaviour, try to film it. This can help veterinarians find the cause.  
Record all abnormalities in your pet profile. This will help to identify the cause.


Pain is always unwelcome, also in cats. It is unpleasant, exhausting and sometimes enormously agonising. Unfortunately, cats cannot speak and tell us if and where they are in pain. However, they show us by changes in their temperament, behaviour and posture. Since cats often suffer in silence, any abrupt or gradual change should be taken seriously. If pain is suspected, a veterinarian should be consulted immediately.