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Signs of Pain in Cats & What Can Help

To ensure your cat stays healthy and lives a long life, it's crucial to detect any signs of pain early on and take necessary measures. Our veterinarians in Ypsilanti offer advice on how to identify if your cat is in pain and what steps you can take to help them.

How To Tell If a Cat is in Pain

It can be difficult to tell if your cat is in pain, as they tend to hide their discomfort. The signs of pain a cat displays depend on their personality and the type of pain they are experiencing. Acute pain resulting from an accident or injury is usually more apparent, but chronic pain caused by conditions such as arthritis or gum disease can be harder to detect.

It's important for pet owners to be vigilant for any unusual behavior. If your cat is experiencing pain, you may observe one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Frequent or ongoing meowing or howling
  • Litter box accidents, urinating outside of their litter box
  • Tail flicking
  • Won't eat or reduced appetite
  • Poor grooming, scruffy appearance
  • Reduced energy, lethargy, or lack of interest in play or going outside
  • Hiding, no interest in spending time with you or other family members
  • Limping
  • Avoids being handled, picked up, or petted
  • Behavioral changes, such as refusing to jump onto a bed or furniture that they typically love to be on
  • Irritable mood, short-tempered with people or other pets
  • Uncharacteristic hissing, growling, or spitting
  • Unusual vocalizations (meowing more than usual, crying)
  • Excessive grooming
  • Panting
  • Patchy fur

Posture & Body Language Changes That Could Mean Your Cat is in Pain

Cats may exhibit changes in body language when they are in pain. Sometimes, these changes can be easily noticeable, but other times, they can be subtle. Our veterinarians suggest keeping a close eye on your cat's behavior, posture, and walking style to quickly identify any changes from their usual demeanor. This will help you monitor their health and well-being more effectively.

Body language changes related to pain in cats include:
  • Tense looking body
  • Crouched or being hunched over
  • Head lowered

How Pain Could Be Expressed on Your Cat's Face

While many cats show little or no change in their facial expression while experiencing pain, some cats are very expressive. If your cat is in pain they might:

  • Squint or close their eyes tightly
  • Flatten their ears so that they are pressed to the sides or back of their head
  • Project an overall facial appearance of tension with a tight mouth

How can you help your cat that is in pain?

If you suspect your cat is in pain, it's important not to give them any medication without consulting a veterinarian. Although you may have medication at home, many human medications are actually toxic to pets, and even those that may be helpful require different dosing to be safely given.

Additionally, what works for one pet may not be suitable for another or could be harmful. While reducing circumstances that cause your pet additional pain (like using stairs, getting up and down from raised areas, and walking across slippery surfaces) can help prevent further discomfort, only a veterinarian can determine the underlying cause, extent, and best treatment for your pet's pain.

How do you treat a cat in pain?

Various treatment options can be available to help your cat from pain. Each cat has a different pain tolerance level, and their response to treatment varies, so it may take multiple attempts to find the right solution. Some cats may require a combination of treatments for relief. After considering factors such as your cat's medical history, living conditions, and signs of pain, your veterinarian may recommend one or more of the following treatment options to help your cat feel better.

  • Pain Medication: pain relievers, muscle relaxers, or steroids.
  • Rehabilitation Therapy: underwater treadmill, massage, therapeutic exercise, electrical stimulation, or laser therapy.
  • Spinal Manipulation Therapy: offered for cats using non-invasive, chemical-free methods to encourage their bodies to heal, including chiropractic adjustments and manual therapy.
  • Lifestyle Adjustments: Encourage low-impact exercise, manage weight, and modify living spaces with ramps or steps for elevated surfaces.

If you notice that your pet is displaying signs of pain or discomfort, or if you have reason to believe it may be experiencing pain, we encourage you to contact our veterinarians at Michigan Avenue Animal Hospital to schedule an examination.

If your cat has stopped eating or drinking due to the pain, please visit our emergency animal hospital outside regular hours. Addressing painful conditions as early as possible is essential to maintaining your cat's quality of life. Early management and treatment of pain are critical in this regard.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your cat displays any symptoms or behavioral changes that cause concern, contact our Ypsilanti vets immediately.

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