sick cat

Recognizing Signs of Pain and Illness in Cats

Anyone that has ever heard or seen a cat in severe pain can attest to the horrific sounds and looks that seemingly came straight out of a being not-of-this-world. Cats are masters of disguise, and since they are both prey and predator in the wild, their natural instinct is to hide illness to make themselves less vulnerable to attacks from predators and other cats. Luckily, attentive cat owners who take note of their cat’s normal habits, behaviors, and personality are generally the best equipped to help detect discomfort in their companion and stop pain before things get too serious.

Not to sound cliche, but before you read any further, if your cat is in obvious distress due to an unseen illness or injury, please call your vet or emergency vet services immediately. It is never safe to give your cat any type of over-the-counter or prescription medications for humans or other animals, even dogs, as many can be toxic and could worsen the situation or even kill your pet.

When you call your veterinarian, they will likely ask you questions in regard to behavior, change in habits or appearance that make you believe something isn’t right with Mr. Whiskers. Keeping notes on a calendar, on your phone or a cat journal can help to jog your memory about when specific symptoms may have started.

Body Language

Cats may not speak our language, but live with one long enough and you likely know what its eyes, ears, tail, movement, and vocalizations are trying to tell you. Just a quick glance at your cat’s face, ear position, or posture may be all you need to know something isn’t right in your cat’s world. Here are a few quick, common signals that Mittens is using to convey her

  • Ears: Pointed Outward or Flattened (think Baby Yoda!)
  • Face: Grimaces, Furrowed Brow, Muzzle Tension, Head Below Shoulder
  • Eyes: Glazed, Wide-eyed or Sleepy, Dilated Pupils, Vacant Stare
  • Whiskers: Straight, Moving Forward Away from Face
  • Voice: Loud Meowing, Hissing, Growling
  • Tail: Down, Tucked or Flicking
  • Body: Pants at Rest, Restless, Non-Moving, Trembling or Shaking

An easy way to picture your cat’s facial expressions as related to pain is by using the Feline Grimace Scale. This scale was developed by Veterinary Teaching Hospital (CHUV – Centre hospitalier universitaire vétérinaire) of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Université de Montréal to improve animal welfare and alleviate anxiety, stress, pain and suffering as much as possible.

Other Common Signs of Pain

Litter Box Challenges
If your cat is all of the sudden finding new spots to use as a bathroom, it can be a sign of physical problems. A cat with arthritis or some type of muscle or bone injury may be having difficulty getting in and out of a box with sides. Cats with urinary or other internal issues will often strain and attempt to use their box with no success multiple times in a short period of time. If you find that the amount of waste when cleaning your litter box has changed significantly, contact your vet.

Grooming Changes
Cats are meticulously clean animals who groom from tip to toe. If you notice that your feline friend is suddenly looking unkept or only grooming his face and front, this is a signal that something other a sudden stroke of laziness has set in. If your cat is over-grooming, biting, scratching or licking a specific spot for long periods of time, this can also be a sign that something is bothering him.

Change in Appetite
Refusal to eat, suddenly picking at or gorging food, and decreased water intake can all be indicators that a cat isn’t feeling well. A cat that seems to be struggling, drooling, swallowing excessively, or vocalizing discontent, is also a concern.

Social Interactions
The normally snuggly cat that loves to lay on your lap or at your feet who is hiding, hissing, growling, and showing other signs of aggression is likely experiencing some type of pain. If this is the case, make sure to proceed with caution when attempting to move or transport as a cat in severe pain that is scared and out of sorts will scratch and bite.

Energy Level
You may notice that your cat isn’t greeting you at the door, has lost interest in the laser pointer, sleeps more or less. Your cat may also be leery of jumping, going up and down stairs, or sleeping in positions that guard an injury or make a pain less significant. A cat experiencing pain may lay with feet tucked versus stretched, crouched or hunched in a guarded position with
its back higher than normal.

What to Do If You Suspect Your Cat is Unwell

Just like humans, cats don’t like to feel poorly. If your feline companion is showing signs of distress in even the smallest amount, contact your veterinarian to discuss next steps. Never assume it’s just your cat aging, although age can result in a higher rate of conditions requiring care. If left untreated, some conditions in felines can escalate to critical, even fatal, very quickly. Knowing your cat and his habits and behavior can help you ensure he has a long, healthy, happy life.

If you continue to experience behavior issues in your cat such as litter box issues or aggression after pain and illness has been ruled out by a vet, contact Pawsitive Vibes Cat Behavior and Training!

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