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How to Tell if a Cat is in Pain: Tips for Concerned Owners

how to tell if a cat is in pain

Cat stereotypes will tell you cats are skittish, aloof, and scared. But what people might not realize is that cats are very strong animals. They are so strong, in fact, that people often can’t determine if their cat is in distress. This has led owners to ask, do cats feel pain? We are here to teach you how to tell if a cat is in pain, so you can get your feline friend the help it may need.



Do Cats Feel Pain?

It can sometimes be pretty tricky to tell if cats feel pain, but they do! Cats can run off immediately after falling from great heights. You accidentally step on their tail and after a quick hiss, they are already back to their regularly scheduled grooming. But that doesn’t mean cats don’t feel pain.


Because of their seemingly superhuman ability to resist pain, experts believed in the past that cats didn’t feel pain like other animals. But we now know that cats definitely feel pain.


By studying cats throughout the past few decades, it’s quite clear that cats have a nervous system that’s quite similar to humans. Like us, the feline nervous system has two components: the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (cranial, spinal, nerves, and muscle).


Do Cats Cry if They Are In Pain?

While cats are tough animals, they will still cry out in pain from time to time. This usually happens when they experience sudden or intense discomfort.


It won’t always be a loud howl. It might just be a meow that sounds different to you. If you suspect your cat is meowing because of discomfort, visit a veterinarian.


Why Do Cats Hide Their Pain?

The cat’s ancestors are predators. By nature, predators hide their pain because they know that a predator who can no longer hunt is now the prey for other predators. That’s why cats are so good at hiding their pain — they don’t want to appear weak and become targets.


One thing you will quickly realize is that cats are experts at disguising their discomfort. In fact, they’re so good at it that people ask questions like, “do cats feel pain?”



injured tabby cat



How Do I Know if My Cat Is in Pain?

It’s good to know cats are tough, but if your cat is in pain how could you tell? They most likely won’t let you know when they are uncomfortable. You might have to look for more subtle signs of your cat’s distress.


Start by closely observing their behavior and ruling out potential issues. This process will help you discover your cat’s pain and determine the cause.



Signs of Pain in Cats

Every cat will display different symptoms when they are in pain, so it’s vital to get familiar with your cat’s normal behavior and language. Here are some cues to look for.


More Vocal

If your cat is meowing more than usual — or louder than usual — that could be a sign that your cat is in pain. If you’re not sure why your cat is howling, it’s probably time to take them to the vet to make sure they are feeling okay.



This is probably the most common sign of pain. If your cat is not usually fearful or one to hide, this is a telltale sign that something is wrong. When cats are in pain or afraid, they will usually find a place where they feel hidden. This can be a box, under the bed or couch, or squeezing in a tight space where they don’t feel they can be found.


Excessive Grooming

Cats that are in distress will often lick or chew the area they are experiencing discomfort. This behavior can lead to fur loss and irritated skin. If you notice that your cat is licking and chewing a particular spot more than usual, it could be due to pain.


Decreased Appetite

A cat in pain might have a reduced appetite. You might be able to tell if your cat is in pain if you notice their food bowl is fuller than usual.


If your cat isn’t excitedly running over to eat or is only picking at their meal, this might be a sign that something is wrong. Your cat can die if it doesn’t eat, so take it to the vet to get to the bottom of the problem.


A Change in Expression

People think cats aren’t as expressive as dogs (they don’t have those movable eyebrows), but you can still read subtle cues on their faces.


Look at their eyes — their facial expression can give it away. If their eyes are constantly squinted or partially closed, they may be experiencing pain. You may even notice dilated pupils. Of course, this is not always because of pain. But if you observe your cat looking different than usual, it’s still worth asking a vet what could be going on.


Posture or Movement

Think of how your cat normally acts, whether it be the way they walk or the way they respond to touch. When there’s a difference, this could be due to discomfort.


Maybe they’re limping or avoiding putting pressure on a particular leg. Or perhaps they feel tense when you touch them. They may even flinch or slink away. If this isn’t how your cat typically reacts to being touched, this could be an indicator that something is wrong.



Cats in pain might run away. But they also might lash out seemingly without warning. Your cat may hiss or try to scratch you, hoping you’ll back off. Maybe you noticed that their ears are back and their tail is flicking when you discover their hiding spot. If this isn’t how your cat normally responds, there could be something bothering them.


As previously mentioned, a pained cat won’t want to be touched. If you stroke your cat and they turn around to bite or scratch you, or hiss at you when touched, or even if they just start twitching their tail in an agitated manner without any apparent reason, get your cat checked out by the vet.



cat in a cone



When to Go to the Vet for Cat Pain

If you notice your cat acting or looking differently, it’s never a bad idea to contact your vet and have them checked out. Since your cat is a pro at hiding their discomfort, there may be signs of trouble only your vet can notice, like unusual blood pressure or heart rate.


Even veterinarians may have trouble pinpointing the reason for your cat’s change in attitude. They might need certain evaluations and tests to find out the source of their strange behavior. Even though cats are strong creatures (who even have healing capabilities), you never want to ignore a possible injury or disease. Don’t let your cat suffer in silence.



How to Comfort Your Cat

If your cat is showing signs of pain, it’s essential to have it addressed by a vet. But meanwhile, there are things you can do to comfort a cat in distress.


  • Leave them alone: Sometimes, it’s best to just let them hide. If you know where your cat is hiding, it won’t hurt to put some blankets or other comforting items there. But don’t keep trying to engage a cat that wants to be alone.
  • Try CBD cat treats or CBD oil: Our full-spectrum CBD oil can be easily dropped into food or water, undetected by your kitty. CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that doesn’t get your cat high like THC. Instead, it reacts with their endocannabinoid system (ECS), providing them with a soothing sense of comfort and relief.
  • Avoid the area that upsets them: If your cat is still friendly and social, keep a close eye on which areas get them irritated or tense. Don’t pet those spots.
  • Give them a quiet area: Cats are usually not a fan of loud noises. Try to be quiet and calm around them. If they have chosen to avoid the hustle and bustle of the home, make sure everyone is respectful of the cat near where they’ve decided to get away from the action.
  • Make sure they have water: Cats notoriously don’t like to drink water. This can lead to dehydration and other complications, especially if they are already in pain. To make sure they are getting the proper amount of water, try providing them with a fountain. Moving water can be enticing to more picky cats.



Final Thoughts – How to Tell if a Cat is in Pain

Cats are pretty tough animals, despite what stereotypes may tell you. You may not even be able to tell if your cat is in pain — they’re experts at hiding discomfort. That’s why you have to look for pain in cats more closely than you might for humans or dogs.


Look for signs of pain like hiding, loss of appetite, yowling, and excessive grooming. If you suspect that your cat is suffering from pain, contact a vet immediately to schedule an appointment. They will be able to discover the source of your kitty’s discomfort.



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