Pain in the cat

Cats, by their own nature, can conceal pain very well, so it is difficult to understand when they are suffering or feeling bad; moreover, every cat expresses pain in a personal and sometimes contradictory manner.

It is important to learn how to observe their behavior, the changes in their posture, gait, movement, presence of vocalizations and alteration of their habits, e.g. hygiene, eating and elimination.

After a trauma or a surgical intervention, cats may not show clear behaviors, but just look for a quiet place where to take shelter and curl up for a long time. On the contrary, they may show aggressiveness when we get close or touch them. Some cats, when in physical pain, increase vocalizations, e.g. meows, hissing and sometimes purring; in other cases, cats exaggerate their cleaning activity, sometimes even to the limit of self-harm, especially if the pain is localized. Presumably, licking produces endorphins, contributing indirectly to give a sense of relief and self-gratification.
Confirming how contradictory the behavior of a cat can be, in case of diffused, articular or muscular pain, the first signs of discomfort coincide with reduced hygiene: you will observe that the hair is messy and sometimes dirty.

Another sign is a reduced exploratory behavior: the cat does no longer jump on furniture or from shelf to shelf or is less responsive to your stimulations.

When the pain is medium-strong, you can see alterations in the gait or strange positions when the cat lays down. The cat may show kyphosis, sternal recumbency with extended limbs and a “rigid walk”. In recumbency, the cat looks not able to find the right position.

The tail is a good alarm bell. In case of discomfort, it is always moving.

The face expression also changes: dilated pupils, eyes half-closed, ears down.

If pain is localized, the cat will tend to lick and nibble the part.

Another important behavior that should not be underestimated is the inappropriate elimination: the cat does not use the litter correctly. This may be caused by pain during urination or defecation or by a diffused discomfort.

Be also careful if the cat eats less than usual or shows “capricious appetite”.

All these behavior changes should never been considered alone, but should be connected with the life environment of the pet and its anamnesis.

In case of doubt, contact your vet doctor and explain in detail the specific changes you have observed. You are the vet’s most precious tool to understand if there’s something wrong with your cat.

Bibliography

Egger C.M., Love L., Doherty T., Pain Management in Veterinary Practice, Wiley Blackwell

Della Rocca G., Bufalari A., Terapia del dolore negli animali da compagnia, Poletto Editore

Colangeli R., Giussani S., medicina Comportamentale del cane e del gatto, Poletto Editore

AA.VV., Medicina comportamentale del cane, del gatto e di nuovi animali da compagnia, Poletto Editore

Dehasse J., Tutto sulla psicologia del gatto, Point Veterinaire