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Helping Clients Recognize the Signs Their Cat is in Pain

September 6, 2016

Due to their nature, detecting illness in a cat can be difficult. Clients educated to recognize symptoms of pain shown through their pet’s behavioral changes are more likely to bring the animal in to see the veterinarian before its condition worsens. The following information provides details that clients will find helpful when observing a cat for problematic behavioral changes.

How to Tell if a Cat is in Pain

Feline Pain

Cats experience pain for many of the same reasons as people do, for instance:

  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Dental disease
  • Broken bones, sprains, bruising
  • Infections
  • Poisoning
  • Bone disease
  • Wounds caused by other animals
  • Injuries caused by vehicles.

Changes in Behavior in a Cat

Clients need to know to watch for changes in a cat’s normal behavior and also how to watch to see if pain is the culprit. The following information provides a list of behaviors that, when observed, are indications that the animal needs to be brought in to the clinic to be seen by its veterinarian.

  • Activity
    • Playfulness is diminished
    • Tolerance to exercise and general activity level decreases
    • No longer willing to initiate play
  • Mobility
    • Gait abnormalities appear
    • Difficulty shown when:
      • Getting up
      • Going up/down stairs
      • Standing
      • Walking
      • Running
    • Refuses to jump as high
    • Jumping down from objects causes cat to cry, lose footing
    • Bilateral stiffness
  • Posture
    • Difficulty standing
    • Appear to be hunched over
    • Head lowered
    • Sitting or lying in an uncomfortable way
    • Body language indicates discomfort
    • Refusal to put weight on a limb
    • Leg placement is abnormal
    • Generally lays with feet underneath its body
    • Arches back
    • Tucks in abdomen
  • Sleeping
    • Sleep patterns are disrupted
    • Shift constantly as if uncomfortable
    • Sleeping time may appear to increase
    • Area where previously slept may have changed
  • Grooming
    • Decreased time spent self-grooming
    • Fur appears matted, looks unkempt
    • Specific body areas are over-groomed
    • Fur may appear chewed or will be missing
  • Eating
    • Decreased appetite or even refusal to eat
    • Dropping food
    • Mouthing air after taking a bite of food
    • Changes in water drinking habits
  • House training
    • Soiling outside of litter box
    • Cries when using the litter box
    • Increased frequency of need to urinate, straining when urinating
  • Handling
    • Avoids being handled, petted, groomed
    • Hides
    • Some cats will seek out more affection
  • Vocalization
    • Hissing
    • Growling
    • Mewing excessively
    • Decreased vocalization when greeting, being fed
    • Purring may increase
    • Excessive panting even when at rest
  • Facial expression
    • Eyes appear glazed
    • Wide-eyed or looks sleepy
    • Enlarged pupils
    • Vacant stare
    • Grimaces
    • Flattened ears
  • Pain-response behaviors
    • Licking, biting, chewing, or scratching a specific area
    • Shaking of head
    • Normally docile animal shows aggression when approached or when touched
    • Seems to find it difficult to get in a comfortable position
    • Restlessness
    • Reluctance to move
    • Lays on its side
    • Has trouble getting up
    • Trembling, circling, or lying very still
    • Repeatedly gets up and lies down.

Some behavioral signs of pain are easy to overlook. Educating cat owners so they are aware of the types of behaviors that indicate pain, and so they know to contact their veterinarian when they are observed, will ensure their animal receives the help it needs.

Learn more about cat behaviors by contacting your Covetus representative at 855.724.3461.

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