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How to Tell If Your Cat Is in Pain

Abnormal behavior in a cat should be investigated.

Cats can be very stoic creatures, and it can be hard to tell if they are experiencing pain. After all, it is probably hardwired into them through evolution to hide signs of injury or illness. Wild cats that are sick or injured may be challenged by stronger animals.

This feline stoicism can present a difficulty for cat-lovers trying to determine whether their feline family member needs help. In fact, any veterinarian can tell you that it's common for cats to be brought in to see them in later stages of disease processes because the owners didn't recognize the subtle signs of illness prior to that. Here, we've collected some of the common behaviors that cats show when they are in pain.


Cats that are in pain often withdraw from normal daily life. You may find that a cat that is normally under your feet all the time is notably absent. You may find her tucked into a corner, sitting under the bed, or curled up behind the couch. It is true that some cats are more aloof than others, so this is a matter of noticing a change for your particular cat.

Decreased Appetite

Cats that are in pain may not want to eat normally. If you're noticing that you aren't filling the cat bowl as often as you usually do or there's food left in there from the last meal when that isn't usually the case, it's time to make an appointment with your veterinarian. Cats don't put themselves on diets, and not eating can quickly cause them to develop fatty liver disease. This is a serious and sometimes fatal illness that can compound your cat's original problem, so it's extremely important that you keep tabs on your cat's appetite, and call the veterinarian if it is low for more than a couple of days.


A cat with a gait that has changed may be in pain. You may notice this as a limp, a leg that is being held up, wobbliness, or simply a walk that appears abnormal for your cat. Limping may indicate that your cat is experiencing pain anywhere from her paws to her spine, and it is important that a veterinarian checks her out.

Never give your cat any medications without talking to your veterinarian first. Human medications can cause serious illness and death in cats.

Having Difficulty Jumping Up

If your cat has always been a jumper and you've frequently found her on top of the refrigerator, perched on the back of the couch, or sitting in the windowsill, but suddenly she's always on the floor, she may be experiencing pain. You may also notice that she considers jumping up onto the couch or bed but hesitates and ends up staying down. This may be because she's painful and knows that jumping will hurt.

Being Irritable

Cats that are in pain might become short-tempered. You may find that your previously sweet cat hisses at people or other pets in the household, growls at them, swats, and possibly even bites. If this isn't new behavior for your cat, then there is likely no need to worry. However, if it is out of character for her, it may indicate that she is in pain, and you should have her checked out.

Hunching Up

A cat that is suddenly moving or sitting in a hunched up position may be experiencing abdominal or spinal pain. This may look as though she is protecting her belly by curling inwards around it, and veterinarians call the posture "guarding the abdomen." Some cats routinely lie in this position, but if it is something new for your cat or if she is also walking with her back arched and her abdomen tucked up, make an appointment with a veterinarian.

Grooming Less or Not at All

Cats that aren't feeling well will often stop grooming themselves. You may notice that your cat's fur begins to look dirty or matted. It's important to take over the grooming tasks that your cat is not performing for herself. Make an appointment with the veterinarian to determine why she may not be feeling well.

Excessively Grooming a Particular Area

Cats that are painful in a certain spot may lick or chew obsessively at that area. A cat that suddenly starts biting at her elbow may have arthritis. One that begins to lick incessantly at her belly may have a urinary tract infection. You may notice a certain area of your cat's body is newly bald. Another thing you may find is that your cat is vomiting more hairballs than usual as a result of ingesting more hair. Excessive grooming may indicate conditions other than pain, too, such as a variety of skin and behavior problems, so a veterinarian's help will be required to sort out the cause.


A cat that is experiencing pain may cry. This could happen intermittently if the pain only occurs at certain times or it may be more constant. A cat that suddenly begins crying in a painful or panicked way should be seen by a veterinarian immediately. If the crying is accompanied by an inability to stand up, it may be an aortic thromboembolism and should be considered to be an emergency. A male cat that cries while he is in the litter box or keeps getting in and out of it without producing urine needs to be seen by his doctor immediately, as well, because he might have a urinary blockage. This is an emergency situation that can result in kidney failure and death if it isn't resolved right away.

Final Word

While a cat that is experiencing pain may show one or more of the above signs, they may be subtle and easy to miss.

The best way for you to notice whether your cat may be painful is to be familiar with her normal behavior. Observing her daily and getting to know her habits can help you spot when something is different. If your cat begins acting in a way that's unusual for her at all, call your veterinarian right away. The earlier an injury or illness is caught, the better the chance of successful treatment.

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