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Signs of Pain

Pain Pyramid
gibby pain_edited
linus pain_edited

        Our pets often mask their pain, and since they can’t talk it’s even harder to know if they are uncomfortable.  Many people accept their pet slowing down as a normal sign of aging. It is important to remember old age is not a disease. There are a few behavioral changes you can look out for to help you determine if your pet might be painful. We need to differentiate between normal behavioral changes of aging pets and abnormal behaviors indicating pain. 

A Quick Quiz

  1. Samantha is an eight-year-old female. She isn’t eating as much as usual and isn’t playing with her toys like she typically does.

  2. Tiger is a two-year-old male who just had a cyst surgically removed. The incision is fairly small, but he spends a lot of time sitting hunched over in his cage, and he hisses when people come too close to him.

  3. Mocha is a 12-year-old male with abdominal cancer. He’s eating and sleeping as much as usual, and he doesn’t cry out or flinch when his tummy is touched.

Question: Which of these cats are in pain?

Answer: All of them. Samantha has an abscessed tooth, Tiger’s incision is sore and Mocha’s cancer is terribly painful.

Here are some signs that your cat may be in pain:

  • Lack of grooming

  • Sleeping a lot and/or sleeping in only one position, especially if this is a change from weeks/months/years past.

  • Lack of interest in food, water or surroundings

  • Growling or hissing when stroked, touched or moved

  • Nonstop purring

  • Licking a particular area

  • Abnormal body positions, such as a hunched-back or head-in-the-corner stance

  • Restlessness/General irritability or crankiness

  • Change in food preferences, sleeping spots and/or litter box habits

  • Reluctance to jump to favorite spots, such as window sills and beds

  • Reduced social interactions with owners, other cats in home

  • Hiding or isolating oneself/wanting to be left alone

Any time a pet’s behavior changes it can signal something is wrong. A visit to the vet can help determine if it’s an issue with pain or something else. If you notice any of these behaviors, tell your veterinarian. A good rule of thumb is “when in doubt, get it checked out.” The first goal of any treatment plan will be to control pain and discomfort. Once your pet begins to feel more comfortable then your vet will add in treatments to regain mobility, strength, and function.

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