Arun Veterinary Group

Recognising pain in cats

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Signs of pain: cats

In the second of our articles we’ll look at how to identify pain in cats – who are masters at hiding pain!

When we, as veterinary professionals, are assessing pain levels we look at three different areas: body language, behaviour, physiological parameters. It is the combination of results from all these observations alongside a physical examination that allows us to allocate a ‘pain score’ in a patient and then select the most suitable form of pain relief to give. Regular assessment and pain scoring in hospitalised patients allows us to be sure that we are providing adequate pain relief and keeping your cat as comfortable as possible.

So, how confident are you that you are able to tell when your cat is in pain? Here are some signs to look out for:

Body language:
changes in posture such as an arched back, or sitting hunched up
sensitive to being touched

Cats can be very difficult to read for signs of pain and in general are far less demonstrative than dogs. However some subtle facial expressions can indicate that there may be a problem. Perky upright ears belong to a comfortable cat – if they are flattened towards the head this can be a sign of pain. A wider, more stretched out muzzle – as if the cat is smiling – can also indicate pain as can narrowing or squinting of the eyes.

Changes in behaviour:
being withdrawn, less keen to interact, hiding
eating less, having difficulty eating or not eating at all
drinking more
vocalising: hissing, growling or crying
grubby coat or matted fur – this is a cat that is struggling to groom itself
not wanting to jump up or down onto surfaces
sleeping much more or less than usual
excessively licking a particular area
licking lips
changes in toileting behaviour: not using the litter tray or going in unusual places, passing very small amounts of urine and frequently visiting the litter tray
Physiological parameters:
rapid, shallow breathing or breathing with the mouth open
increased heart rate
As an extra challenge many of the above signs, particularly relating to posture and behaviour, can also be associated with fear and anxiety in cats. Identifying pain in your pet can therefore be a tricky business and it is often very subtle changes in behaviour that give the game away. Please remember we are here at the Storrington hospital 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to offer advice over the telephone and see your cat if necessary. If in doubt a phone call may confirm the need for a visit to see the vet or just be all it needs to provide reassurance.

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