Some of the deeply heartbreaking moments of my life as a cat groom center on not being able to tell how much pain my beloved friends have endured. While I know cats are very good at masking their pain, I can’t help but blame myself sometimes for this health problem, because as a person who has lived with cats for most of my life I should ” notice “when something gets out of hand. A sick cat shows “symptoms”, although they are often very subtle. Hoping to help you spot signs of pain that have escaped me, here are some tips that may indicate a cat that is sick or is in pain.
1. A sick cat may have behavior changes
If a super active cat spends most of its day sleeping, it could be a sign that you have a sick cat. If a cat gets grumpy, it’s not because it’s “just getting old.” I learned that the hard way when Siouxsie changed her whole disposition after pulling four painful teeth. Usually, sedated cats can also become very hyperactive and agitated due to pain.
2. Touch resistance and the desire to be left alone can indicate a problem
If your cat starts growling, slapping, or snapping while petting, touching, or moving, it is a sign that something is bothering him.
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3. A sick cat can hold onto a sleeping position
When Siouxsie’s hips bothers her, she only sleeps on her right side. Her left hip is more arthritic than her right, and I suspect that this is why she is more comfortable sleeping on her right side.
4. A cat in pain may be hiding
Because cats know that pain makes them vulnerable, a sick cat will hide so that it is not pursued by stronger animals.
5. Excessive licking of an area can be a sign that something is wrong
Cats that are injured will try to bring relief by licking the area that is bothering them. You will often see this in cats with urinary tract infections or idiopathic cystitis. Siouxsie’s sister Sinéad had recurrent bladder infections (she was very sensitive to stress) and when her bladder ached, she licked her stomach bald.
6. A sick cat may stop grooming
It’s not normal for older cats to get greasy and unkempt. Most older cats look less “put together” than they did when they were younger because arthritis or other conditions have made the stretch required for grooming too painful. Any cat who stops grooming must be seen by a veterinarian.
7. Abnormal body positions can cause problems
A cat in severe pain sits hunched over with its feet under it and its nose almost on the floor. But there are other abnormal positions that may not be as obvious. For example, in the first video I shared in my post on medical cannabis, Siouxsie walked short strides with a stooped gait.
8. A cat in pain may get a distant look in the eyes
This is especially meaningful when combined with abnormal body positions. I saw that look a lot in Dahlia’s eyes towards the end of her life.
9. A sick cat may have changes in litter box habits
Cats with painful backs and hips may have trouble using the litter box as they used to. For a sick cat with sore hips or knees, it can be very difficult to maintain proper positions to pee and poop. Kissy peed up the side of the box and got urine on the floor and walls, for example because her bad knee made it too painful to maintain the usual “pee squat”.
Tell us: Are there any other subtle signs of cat pain that you’ve noticed? Please share them in the comments.
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Thumbnail: Photography by Nikolay Bassov | Shutterstock.
This piece was originally released in 2015.