Cats are smart, affectionate and deeply rewarding pets. They also can be very difficult to read when something goes wrong. It is not easy for a cat to tell us when they are in pain, and where it hurts. Cats, due to survival instinct, tend to hide their pain. A cat in the wild who shows signs of weakness presents himself as vulnerable to predators.
In a feral colony, such cats may be a detriment to the strength of the colony as a whole, and are sometimes driven away to protect the group. Thus, cats will often protect themselves by hiding their pain until their situation has become quite serious.
An awareness of cat behavior, and knowing a few important signs to look for, can give cat owners a slight edge in staying ahead of their cat’s pain. By recognizing key symptoms, an owner may be able to get kitty to the vet quickly and make their pet more comfortable again.
Is The Cat Moving Normally?
Cats in pain will often seriously limit their normal activities. They will sit quietly, frequently hunched up with their head lowered and legs tucked inward. Their posture sometimes appears to indicate that they are curled up around the painful area, protecting it.
They are often seen to lay in positions not natural to them, and look for hiding spaces where they do not normally sleep. A tendency to seek out dark places may indicate that they have head pain or may be light-sensitive.
While most owners are aware that pain in a limb will cause a cat to limp, it is not quite as well known that other types of movement may be affected by pain as well.
A cat in pain will often move more slowly than normal, or their movements will appear stiff or reluctant. The cat may become unusually restless, and unable to get comfortable. A cat who is hurting may rise from lying down slowly and stiffly, or not want to get up at all.
Some cats will become reluctant to move around, thereby avoiding their daily routines. This can affect other areas of health, as a cat who does not want to get up to use the litter box may wind up with a bladder infection from holding urine too long, or constipated due to a reluctance to defecate. These situations, of course, will only add to the cat’s pain.
As pain increases, the owner may witness the cat trembling or shaking, or even thrashing about if the pain is extreme.
Other Behavioral Signs
In addition to abnormal posture and movement, a cat in pain may exhibit other behavioral changes as well.
The cat’s vocalizations may change. Cats might cry, wander the house and call out as if seeking comfort. A cat who is normally vocal might actually grow quieter and exhibit changes at feeding time, or when greeting his owner. Easy-going cats may suddenly hiss or growl when approached, or when the painful area is touched.
Pain may cause the cat’s respiration to become rapid and shallow. He may excessively groom, particularly around the painful area, or he may cease to groom at all. His appetite may be affected; it is very common for cats in pain to refuse their meals. A normally docile cat may become aggressive, and an active cat might suddenly refuse to play and grow lethargic.
Another common sign of pain in the cat is inappropriate elimination: fastidiously clean cats may avoid using their litter boxes or begin spraying. This is not “naughty behavior”, but an attempt to communicate that something is wrong. Pain when urinating or defecating is the most common reason for avoiding the litter box, but other types of pain may lead to this symptom as well.
For instance, an older cat who is developing arthritis might have pain while getting in or out of the box or trying to gain a firm purchase in cat litter that shifts about beneath his feet.
Symptoms May Vary
Although cats are very different from their humans in their responses to pain, they are very like us in one way: each cat is unique. One cat will respond to pain much differently than another cat will. This is why it is important to observe the cat’s normal behavior, so that when that behavior deviates from the norm, his owner is aware of the change.
If a cat’s behavior changes, and the owner feels there is any reason that the cat might in fact be hurting, a call to the veterinarian is in order.
How Do We Help Kitty?
The sooner pain symptoms are noticed, and the veterinarian is called in to help, the sooner the cat can be made comfortable. There is a variety of pain medication suitable for cats on the market today, which can help raise comfort levels considerably.
Other modes of treatment, such as massage, acupuncture and chiropractic, are also available if the particular situation warrants. The cat’s veterinarian will be able to advise the best course of treatment.
In addition to relieving the cat’s pain, of course, the vet will be able to diagnose the cause behind the symptoms and treat it accordingly.
One thing is very important to stress: pain control for cats should always be undertaken with the supervision of the veterinarian. Most pain medications sold over the counter for humans are not safe for felines, and many of them can be fatal even in small doses.
Kitties Don’t Have To Hurt
By observing normal behavior, and knowing when to act if symptoms of pain are exhibited, a loving owner can quickly bring comfort to their feline friend.
Although cats are complicated creatures in how they communicate their pain, it is worth it for the owner to educate themselves as to the possible signs. When a cat is hurting, his owner is his best friend and best hope, with his veterinarian on call with professional support.
No one wants a kitty to suffer, after all.
Read more: Play Therapy For Cats