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It can be easy to miss the signs that your cat is ill. Cats have a tendency to hide their pain, making it difficult to properly care for them when they need it the most. If you know what to look for you can recognise cat pain symptoms early and get your kitty the help they need.
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, it would also put them in danger of being bullied or abandoned by their group.
Although today's domestic cat generally doesn’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 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 behavioural changes that can serve as a hint to astute pet parents that something's wrong. According to Vetstreet, common signs 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 vocalisations
- Restlessness or aggression toward friendly surroundings
- Doing their business outside the litter box
Cats in pain might also show a loss of appetite, unusual vomiting, clingy behaviour or other noticeable changes in personality and demeanour. 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, they may also stop climbing or jumping onto the high perches.
Any abnormal behaviour from your cat should prompt a visit to the veterinarian. Your vet will help determine whether these changes are due to pain or illness and then work with you to treat the underlying cause.
If your cat is overweight, your vet may recommend a weight-management food, especially if they are experiencing chronic joint pain. Certain joint supplements can help maintain her mobility too, but you may want to try a therapeutic food to help manage an underlying condition.
One thing you should never do is administer over-the-counter pain medications, as they could be very toxic to the feline digestive system. You should also check with your vet regarding any supplements you plan to give to make sure they're safe.
Consider relocating the bed, food dishes, water bowls and litter box so they're easier to access. Make sure the litter box is simple to climb in and out of as well. If you have a model with a lid or deep sides you might need to replace it with an open, shallower structure, and keep it scooped clean more frequently. Big family? Prevent other pets or children from trying to play or roughhouse with her.
Of course, the best medicine is prevention. Annual vet checkups and well-balanced food will go a long way towards preventing your cat from developing a painful condition.
As a pet parent, you no doubt want your cat to be healthy for their entire life. Learning to recognise pain will go a long way in 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.