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Signs of Pain in Cats & What Can Help

If your cat is experiencing pain, it can disrupt their entire life, making it difficult to sleep and move around. Here, our Poway vets discuss how to tell if a cat is in pain, what you should do, and when it might be an emergency.

Hot to Tell if a Cat is in Pain

Signs that a cat is in pain vary depending on their personality and the type of pain it is experiencing.

Most cats will show obvious signs of acute pain if they have an accident or injury, but it can be much more challenging to tell if your cat is experiencing chronic pain, such as pain caused by arthritis or gum disease. 

Because cats instinctively hide signs of pain, pet parents must always be on the lookout for uncharacteristic behavior, personality changes, an unusual stride, or changes in appetite.

Signs of Pain in Cats

Some of the obvious signs that a cat is in pain include:

  • Frequent or ongoing meowing or howling
  • Litter box accidents, urinating outside of their litterbox
  • Tail flicking
  • Won't eat or reduced appetite
  • Poor grooming, scruffy-looking
  • Reduced energy, lethargy or lack of interest in play or going outside
  • Hiding, no interest in spending time with you or other family members
  • Limping
  • Avoiding being handled, picked up or petted
  • Behavioral changes such as refusing to jump onto a bed or furniture that they typically love to be on
  • Irritable mood, short-tempered with people or other pets
  • Uncharacteristic hissing, growling or spitting
  • Unusual vocalizations (meowing more than usual, crying)
  • Excessive grooming
  • Panting
  • Patchy fur

Does pain in cats change their behavior?

Cats in pain often display changes in body language. In some cases, these changes are very noticeable, but often, they are more subtle. Our vets recommend always monitoring your cat's overall demeanor, stance, and gait so that any changes from normal will be easily spotted. 

  • Body language changes related to pain in cats include:
  • Tense looking body
  • Crouched or being hunched over
  • Head lowered

Will my cat show signs of pain in their facial expression?

While many cats show little or no change in their facial expression while experiencing pain, some are very expressive. If your cat is in pain, they might:

  • Squint or close their eyes tightly
  • Flatten their ears so that they are pressed to the sides or back of their head
  • Project an overall facial appearance of tension with a tight mouth

Can acupuncture help cats in pain?

Acupuncture has been used for centuries to relieve pain and treat various illnesses in people. Now, vets trained in traditional Chinese veterinary medicine (TCVM) also offer this therapy to animals.

A trained TCVM veterinary professional performs veterinary acupuncture for cats and aims to treat and manage the symptoms of illnesses and disorders, like inflammation, by inserting ultra-thin needles into specific points on the body where nerves and blood vessels intersect.

TCVM, which includes other therapies beyond acupuncture, can be combined with conventional veterinary care to provide a more holistic, full-body approach to treating medical conditions in animals.

Animals at any stage of life, from kittens to adults and senior cats, can undergo pet acupuncture treatment for various health conditions. Veterinary acupuncture is considered a safe and effective treatment option that may provide relief from the pain or discomfort associated with injury and illness.

When is pain in cats an emergency?

Cats often don't show visible signs of pain until their condition is advanced. This is why it is always recommended to err on the side of caution and contact your primary vet if you spot any unusual behaviors.

Depending on the severity of the pain or condition, your cat may need immediate urgent care. If your cat appears in pain and has other signs, including bleeding, vomiting, lethargy, or unconsciousness, please contact us for immediate emergency veterinary care.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your cat showing concerning symptoms like vomiting, lethargy or bleeding? Contact our emergency vets in Poway for immediate veterinary care.

Experienced Emergency Vet Care in Poway

Animal Emergency Clinic of San Diego is a family-run after-hours and critical care hospital, providing veterinary emergency care since 1985. If your pet is experiencing an emergency, contact us to get the help your pet needs.

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Contact (858) 748-7387