It can be easy to miss the signs your cat is sick; they don't all resemble the colds that people contract from time to time. Cats have a tendency to hide their pain, making it difficult to properly care for them when they need it the most. But if you know what to look for, you can recognize cat pain symptoms early and get your kitty the help she needs.
Why Cats Hide Their Pain
The tendency cats have to disguise their discomfort is believed to be an evolutionary holdover from their days in the wild, where illness or injury paints a target on their back to nearby predators. Not only would the appearance of weakness make a wild cat more vulnerable, but it would also put her in danger of being bullied or abandoned by her group.
Although today's domestic cats generally don't have to worry about becoming prey, they may view other pets in the house–or even other people–as competition for resources like food and water. Whether driven by a deeply ingrained instinct or by overprotective kitty logic, cats worry that showing signs of pain will cause them to lose out to a more deserving animal, encouraging them to mask their symptoms.
Common Cat Pain Symptoms
A cat experiencing pain will often display behavioral changes that can serve to tip off an astute pet parent to the fact that something's wrong. According to Vetstreet, common signs your cat is sick or in pain include:
- Sitting still and hunched up
- Loss of interest in people, other pets, or activities
- Neglecting to groom themselves, or over-grooming in one spot
- Purring, excessive meowing, or unusual vocalizations
- Restlessness or aggression toward friendly surroundings
- Doing her business outside the litter box
Kitties in pain might also show a loss of appetite, unusual vomiting, clingy behavior, or other noticeable changes in personality and demeanor. A cat experiencing chronic pain, such as arthritis, might stop using the litter box altogether because it's too difficult to climb into. For this reason, she may also stop climbing or jumping onto the high perches of her cat tree.
How your Vet Can Help
Any abnormal behavior from your cat should prompt a visit to her veterinarian, who can help determine whether these changes are due to pain or illness and then work with you to treat the underlying cause. The vet can also help with pain management–this might include prescription pain medication, heat therapy, physical rehabilitation, or even massage.
If your kitty is overweight, your vet might also place her on a weight-management food, especially if she's experiencing chronic joint pain. Certain joint supplements can help maintain her mobility too, but you may ultimately want to explore a therapeutic food to help manage an underlying condition.
One thing you should never do for your kitty is to administer over-the-counter pain medications, which could be very toxic to feline digestive systems. You should also check with your vet regarding any supplements you plan to give her to make sure they're safe. The vet might also prescribe mood-stabilizing drugs to help your sick cat cope with both the pain and accompanying changes in her lifestyle.
How You Can Help
Back at home, consider relocating her bed, food dishes, water bowls, and litter box so they're easier for her to get to. Make sure the litter box is simple enough to climb in and out of as well. If you have a model with a lid or deep sides, for instance, you might need to replace it with an open, shallower structure, and keep it scooped clean more frequently to accommodate for her disadvantage. Big family? Prevent other pets or children from trying to play or roughhouse with her. She may escape it herself, but you don't want her to lose trust in people while she's recovering.
Of course, the best medicine is preventive. Annual vet checkups and a well-balanced food will go a long way toward preventing your cat from developing a painful condition.
As a pet parent, you no doubt want your kitty to be healthy for her entire life. Learning to recognize when she's in pain will go a long way to improving your furry companion's quality of life.
Jean Marie Bauhaus
Jean Marie Bauhaus is fiction author and freelance writer and editor living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She writes frequently about pets and pet health in her home office, where she is assisted by a lapful of furbabies.