Cats are masters at masking pain. Their ability to hide pain goes back to their wild origins. In the wild, a sick animal becomes prey. While acute pain may be fairly obvious to cat guardians, it may be more difficult to discern whether your cat is in pain when it comes to chronic pain from conditions such as arthritis. Sadly, even veterinarians often overlook signs of feline pain. Therefore, it’s up to the cat’s guardian to understand the signs of pain in cats.

Signs of pain in cats

Any of the following symptoms may be indicators of pain:

– crying or vocalizing
– irritability
– restlessness
– seeking solitude or extra attention
– licking or chewing at the painful area
– lethargy or depression
– lack of appetite
– sudden changes in behavior
– aggression

Do not ignore signs of pain

Some of these signs may be subtle and difficult to spot for even experienced cat guardians. Do not ignore these signs. Aside from the fact that no cat guardian wants their cat to hurt, pain left untreated can negatively impact your cat’s health.

Pain causes stress in the body, which can affect major organ systems and lead to diseases such as urinary tract, kidney, liver and heart disease. It can also cause behavioral problems. In a worst case scenario, undiagnosed pain may lead to premature euthanasia.

Muscular, joint and soft tissue pain is often overlooked in cats, but the fact that they may not show signs doesn’t mean that they’re not hurting.

Finding the cause of pain

Your cat’s veterinarian will be able to determine the cause of your cat’s pain by a combination of a thorough physical exam, X-rays and/or ultrasound, and bloodwork.

Treatment options for feline pain

There are many different options to treat feline pain, ranging from oral medications to injections to holistic modalities such as acupuncture, Reiki, laser therapy, massage and hydrotherapy. The choice of treatment will depend on your cat’s individual situation and overall state of health. In some cases, multiple modalities will be used to control pain.

Never use over the counter pain medications for cats

While Aspirin is sometimes used for cats, the dosage and strength is much different than it is for people, and it should only be given under the direction of your cat’s veterinarian. Tylenol (acetaminophen) is toxic to cats and can be deadly.

By knowing how to recognize signs of pain in your cat, you will be able to get your cat’s pain diagnosed and treated before it becomes chronic.

This article was previously published on and is republished with permission.

20 Comments on How to Tell Whether Your Cat is In Pain

  1. I love and have three cats. I’m always reading info on their health. I’ve lost three in the last three years so I’m being very observant now.

  2. Our male cat, Shadow, began chewing and pulling his hair out. Initially, we thought it was either an allergy to food or some sort of a dermatology issue. We could not get into a dermatology specialist for a whole month so our local vet treated Shadow with steroids and we did alter food choices too. I kept thinking he had arthritis because he began having difficulty jumping up to his favorite spot. Several exams, labs, and regular x-rays were done. The only abnormal result was one of the blood tests. The pancreas was inflamed so treatment was given accordingly. I did not see any signs of improvement. Other signs were lack of interest in me and his sister, weight loss, and lethargy. We were referred for a GI work up and abdominal ultrasound showed lesions in his pancreas and he was diagnosed with cancer. I am grieving with the loss of my Shadow but know that he is not suffering anymore, and I encourage all pet owners to stay vigilant for signs from our beloved pets.

    • I’m so sorry for your loss. Our newest stray addition, Percy, has been doing the same thing for the last month and a half. We’ve had him about about two years and he was always extra lovable and cuddly. Then my daughter brought home a lab mix puppy a year ago (without asking). We already had (have) an elderly boxer and an American bulldog. Percy was ok with our boxer but never really cared to be around the bulldog. As the Lab puppy got bigger Percy got more skittish around the dogs and their barking. Percy then started licking himself bald all over his entire body from his waist down. My husband (the dog person, I’m the cat person – we have 3 cats also) said it was probably an allergic reaction to a flea bite but we don’t have any sign of fleas at all. I immediately thought it was stress licking because it seemed to start after the puppy was bigger and more rambunctious. That is also his only symptom other than freaking out around the dogs when they’re rammy, barking, or roughhousing. He really doesn’t like the two dogs but he does stand up for himself when the puppy comes near him. I bought some Jackson Galaxy holistic solutions for him. We have only been using them about a week so no sign of change yet. Now you have me very concerned it’s something more serious.

  3. I’m shocked how often vets are overlooking and minimizing pain issues. I went to several vets before I could find one who would actually LISTEN to me about my Will’s hip issues. It wasn’t until I printed out U of Michigan’s recent findings about feline hip dysplasia disease being overlooked, under-diagnosed and flat-out ignored that someone finally took me seriously. It’s not always easy to get a cat x-ray’d and they’ve found that the signs & symptoms typically seen in DOGS don’t usually show up in CATS until much later. Will’s has multiple diseases besides hip dysplasia: old age, prior history of car accident (broken arm, plate), hyperthyroidism, heart disease, kidney disease including stones- and often pulls out huge chunks of his hair at his joints, spine and kidney area’s. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out what’s going on when he’s pacing like crazy. Thank heavens for Canna-Pet and the Assisi Loop! Will’s pain options are limited and Bupe is our only option. Getting it on a regular basis has been extremely difficult with the opioid epidemic. Pain CAN be managed and it doesn’t mean you’re a drug addict who wants to use the cat’s medicine- some cats just have limited options and need help. Thank heavens we found a vet with a lot of practical experience who can put 2 plus 2 together. I wish the younger vets would expand their vision.

    • I’m glad you found a vet who can help Will, but it shouldn’t be that hard! It infuriates me that feline pain is still not taken seriously by some vets.

      • We typically use the universities for complex diagnostics, and in order for them to take x-rays, they wanted to sedate him which is ill-advised for a patient with all of his co-morbidities. Plus, the ortho doc quietly agreed with me that sedation wasn’t the best bet. Talked us into Gabapentin and even on 1/4 dose, we lost him for a week- totally lethargic, just stared into space drooling. Broke my heart. Found another vet, plunked him down, took a simple xray, YEP, your cat has hip dysplasia- just look at that flattening! Holy cow! How does this little guy even get up every day?! Gets 2 drops of Bupe here and there, Canna-Pet in between, Assisi nightly, and runs around on most days like he’s a teenager. Sent x-rays back to university doc, says couldn’t prescribe Bupe because they didn’t diagnose the hip dysplasia. Crazy, crazy. Now, just dealing with the local vet who treats everything from lizards to lions.

    • When Tessie was finally diagnosed with pancreatitis, my vet prescribed Bup … an injection 2x a day. But the $18 bottle only had 5 doses! And i had to get them 1 at a time!!! Finally they found a compounding pharmacy 40 mins away that created an oral formula! Stupid opioid rules!! But worth the trouble … she’s a new girl on the Bup!! Now i gotta get me an Assisi loop! Good luck with your Will <3

      • Hi Carol, thanks for the well wishes. Wills ALSO has chronic pancreatitis and Bupe is the only thing that helps him. We get it compounded too to save money. In order to reduce our need for expensive pharma, we have relied on Canna-Pet for years with GREAT success- it is THE thing for nausea and vomiting, drops are easiest when we get in a crisis- worth the investment. Assisi also works on pancreatitis. Assisi will send a free loop to your vet to try out (see their website). It is also worth the investment as well. Hope Tessie enjoys a happy life!

  4. My kitty was diagnosed last year with feline stomatitis, so I’m very sensitive now to his signs of pain. I felt so bad when I found out how much pain he was in before he finally showed signs of it.

    • How have you been treating him? My ginger girl just was diagnosed and after doing a lot of research I am not feeling very hopeful. I want to go the holistic route because the antibiotics and steroids are doing nothing.

  5. Thank you for this good reminder. Even experienced cat people can miss subtle signs. Also, it’s really hard to tell when a cat has lost weight without actually weighing them. There’s no substitute for yearly check ups!

  6. A good list, but you left out purring. Some cats purr when they are in pain. If the cat/kitten is purring without being near a person, or while hiding, it is time for a trip to the vet. Something is not right and it could be serious.

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