Recognizing pain in cats

The Oregon Veterinary Medical Association reports that Dr. Heidi Shafford of Veterinary Anesthesia Specialists in Clackamas says, "The signs of pain in cats can be subtle. They evolved to hide symptoms of illness or disease from predators. Watch for changes in your cat's activity level and behavior as these are the best indicators of pain." 

An annual veterinary exam is recommended for all cats, and twice a year for senior cats. While signs of pain are always sought during exams, Dr. Shafford says you should consult your veterinarian if your cat is not acting normally or is showing any of these signs:

  • Trauma or injury
  • Lameness or abnormal gait
  • Difficulty jumping
  • Reluctance to move or jump
  • Withdrawn or hiding
  • Straining to urinate
  • Decreased appetite or changes in feeding behavior
  • Excessive drooling
  • Playing or engaging less with people
  • Mood or temperament changes
  • Squinting or closed eyes
  • Hunched posture
  • Abnormal sleeping
  • Abnormal reaction to petting
  • Absence of grooming
  • Licking a specific body region
  • Unusual growling or groaning
  • Tail flicking

How Veterinarians Alleviate Pain in Cats

  • Treat the illness or injury causing the pain
  • Prescribe appropriate pain medications
  • Recommend weight management and/or special diet
  • Suggest changes to the home environment
  • Acupuncture
  • Laser therapy 

For signs of pain to watch for in dogs, visit

The Oregon Veterinary Medical Association is a nonprofit organization of veterinarians dedicated to helping people give their animals a high quality of life. For more pet health care tips, visit or talk to your veterinarian.