Cats are known for their quirky, independent behavior--and as cat owners, we expect it from them. However, there are times when a change in a cat’s behavior can be a sign of discomfort and may be indicative of a serious underlying condition.
Unfortunately, there’s a bit of a language barrier between say, “meow” and “I think I have a blood clot in my heart.” So let’s take a look at the ways cats express pain, and at some of the most commonly overlooked feline conditions.
Recognizing Signs of Pain in Cats
Cats can display discomfort in myriad ways, and there will always be some individual variation from cat to cat. It’s important that you recognize the way your cat expresses pain, and here are some of the common behavioral changes:
Loss of appetite
Overgrooming (in general or in a particular area) or undergrooming
Changes in gait
Lameness or favoring of a limb
Reluctance to move
Tender to the touch
Hiding (out of character)
Decrease in play or in general activity
Straining to urinate or frequent urination
Avoidance of bright places
If your cat consistently displays any one or a combination of these behaviors, a trip to the vet is warranted.
When we see a cat with favoring a paw, we tend to suspect an orthopedic injury, such as a sprain. In cats these are surprisingly rare. Far more common conditions include cat-bite abscesses (seen in outdoor cats who may fight with neighborhood strays) or ingrown toenails (seen in older indoor cats whose claws aren’t clipped regularly). Both these conditions can cause lameness. Abscesses are infections and require medical treatment, while an ingrown claw can be trimmed at home or by a professional pet groomer.
Another commonly overlooked condition is urinary tract blockage—common in adult male cats that receive a dry-food diet. Crystals can block an already narrow urethra, preventing the animal from urinating. This is a potentially life-threatening condition that can, if untreated, result in sepsis, kidney failure, ruptured bladder, and death. If you suspect that your cat is having trouble urinating—straining in the pan, or is passing blood—see your vet immediately.
Another painful condition that affects cats is pancreatitis(inflammation of the pancreas). Unfortunately, the condition is as hard to treat as it is to diagnose. Its signs can be nonspecific and change over time.
Stomatitis(a sore or inflamed mouth) can also be very painful for cats and can result in loss of interest in food, undergrooming, and bad breath. Sometimes a dental cleaning can resolve the issue. In other cases, antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications may be needed.
Like people, cats can also develop osteoarthritis(a painful stiffening of the joints). This condition can limit mobility, especially in older or overweight cats. Some cats may require a low-sided litter pan for easier access, and soft cushions for resting. In more severe cases, pain meds administered by your veterinarian can provide some relief.
Among the most painful feline health problems is called saddle thrombosis (a condition that occurs when a blood clot becomes lodged in the base of the aorta). Generally this affects circulation to the hind limbs, which may feel cool to the touch or display paleness in the pads or nail beds. In severe cases, the animal will drag itself about using its forelegs and may display difficulty breathing. If you suspect saddle thrombosis, contract your vet immediately regarding diagnosis, pain control, and surgical interventions.
Remember that an alert owner is a cat’s best advocate, so prepare yourself with cat insurance!
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.