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How Can I Tell if My Cat is in Pain?

Olivia Grisham
By Olivia Grisham, Journalist specialized in animal care. Updated: October 31, 2017
How Can I Tell if My Cat is in Pain?

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We tend to think that cats are very resistant animals. Many of us almost attribute supernatural powers to them, such as that cats have seven lives. But, the reality is very different. Cats are masters in the art of disguising signs of pain. Because of this peculiarity, it is difficult to detect that they are suffering.

This AnimalWised article provides you with a guide to recognize pain in cats. Remember, in all animals, it will always vary from one to another. Read on and discover how to tell if your cat is in pain.

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  1. Signs of pain associated with osteoarthritis
  2. Lack of cleanliness and facial marking
  3. Protrusion of the nictitating membrane (or
  4. Sialorrhea (excess saliva)
  5. Aggressiveness
  6. Excessive vocalization (more frequent meowing)
  7. Pain-relieving positions

Signs of pain associated with osteoarthritis

One of the main causes of pain in cats is osteoarthritis, a pathology that also occurs in humans.It consists of the wear and tear of articular cartilage; the smooth, white tissue that covers the ends of bones at joints. If your cat is suffering from this condition, they will show the following signs:

  • Reluctance to move (or refusal to move). Many cats that are sore due to muscular and skeletal problems avoid moving as much as possible. But, at a certain age, the tendency to move just enough can indicate the cat is suffering from osteoarthritis. This behavior is not always something to glance over. Unlike cats, dogs "tell us" when they are in pain. When they accompany us on walks, their discomfort when walking is evident. Cats choose to suppress what causes them pain. For example, they may stop climbing onto their favorite shelf, and limit their day-to-day roaming.
  • Urinating outside the litter box. Those who deal with cats regularly associate the fact that they urinate outside the litter box with a punishment towards us. But sometimes, our cat cannot access the sandbox because of pain. That is why a physical review of the cat is essential, before assuming that they are nervous or acting out.
  • Resting or sleeping for longer. The last sign of pain in cats related to osteoarthritis is that they spend long periods of time in their beds. If we have elderly cats that have always enjoyed eternal siestas, then we should not be surprised by this behavior. It is important to highlight the 14-16 hours a day that an adult cat rests for. But, if they do it during times of day that they do not usually, or increase resting periods, it may be a sign of pain.

How do I know if my cat has osteoarthritis pain?

We can know this mainly by observing their current behavior and assessing if it has varied much from before. For example, if your cat used to jump to the table after seeing food, or run every night down the street for a long time and now it takes them a while, it is time to go to the vet.

How Can I Tell if My Cat is in Pain? - Signs of pain associated with osteoarthritis

Lack of cleanliness and facial marking

When a cat feels any discomfort, one of the daily routines that is most affected isundoubtedly self-maintenance.However, it is not the only thing that we will have to pay attention to find out if the cat is suffering from some type of pain:

  • Lack of cleanliness.There are cats that clean themselves more meticulously compared to others. But, if our cat used to spend time grooming and has neglected this aspect a little, it can be indicative of some discomfort. The coat will have little shine, be bristly, and even rough.
  • Lack of marking. The daily marking of the habitat, such as nail sharpening and jaw rubbing will be dramatically reduced.
How Can I Tell if My Cat is in Pain? - Lack of cleanliness and facial marking

Protrusion of the nictitating membrane (or

Cats and dogs have a whitish membrane that we can call the "third eyelid", although its name is the nictitating membrane.Normally this is not seen. But, when the cat is apathetic, painful or feverish, we can observe it when the cat's eyes are open. These symptoms are clear signs that something is not right.

Source: clinicaveterinariaromareda.com

How Can I Tell if My Cat is in Pain? - Protrusion of the nictitating membrane (or

Sialorrhea (excess saliva)

Many times the pain in cats is related to alterations in the mouth. Even if the cat maintains a more or less normal attitude and is interested in food, it can be impossible for them to swallow. This causes constant saliva and trips to the feeder or trough, even if they fail to take food.

Source: gattos.net

How Can I Tell if My Cat is in Pain? - Sialorrhea (excess saliva)


It can also be common in behavioral or stress problems, but some cats react aggressively because of pain. They can even attack after a gentle caress.

If your cat used to be affectionate and docile and now has a blunt attitude when you try to interact with them, go to the vet to rule out any health problem.

How Can I Tell if My Cat is in Pain? - Aggressiveness

Excessive vocalization (more frequent meowing)

There are "chatty" cats, like the Siamese, but if the cat is silent more often than usual, this could be a warning sign that something is happening to them. Normally this behavior is a sign of emotional pain, but sometimes we can relate it to physical pain.

How Can I Tell if My Cat is in Pain? - Excessive vocalization (more frequent meowing)

Pain-relieving positions

This is not exclusive to dogs, although deliberate positions to relieve pain are not so easy to identify in cats. Cats are more discreet when it comes to manifesting signs of pain. However, when they are in severe pain, you may find them hunched over, or on the contrary, stretching the front paws as if they are constantly stretching. Just like when humans have cramps in the abdomen and hunch or shrink, we can find our feline in a ball, or stretched out like a sausage. These are usually induced by visceral pains and changes are often noticed before the cat has to adopt one of these positions.

These easy-to-observe details can help us identify signs of pain in cats. As always, every cat is unique. No two humans are alike and there are no two equal ways of manifesting pain in felines either, or in any other animal.

With these few tips from AnimalWised and observing changes in your cat (lack of appetite, problems to urinate...), the vet will be able to to identify the problem. And, advise which course of action to take to relieve pain.

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How Can I Tell if My Cat is in Pain? - Pain-relieving positions

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to How Can I Tell if My Cat is in Pain?, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.

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How Can I Tell if My Cat is in Pain?