Vet Blog

How to Tell if My Cat Is in Pain

April 12, 2021

Recognizing when a cat is in pain, where the pain is coming from, and what's causing it can be very difficult.

Cats are particularly good at hiding signs of pain, and sometimes the signs are subtle and easy to miss. However, chances are you know your cat's "normal" routine, such as their attitude, energy level, appetite, thirst, sleep pattern, and other physical and behavioral patterns. There are many signs you can look for that may indicate your cat is in pain. Knowing what to look for is the key, so you can prevent your cat from suffering and have them receive the proper medical help.

7 Signs My Cat is in Pain

1) Biting and Scratching

When cats are in pain, they are more likely to bite and scratch. Even with familiar people, they may be the target of the cat's teeth, claws, or both. When a person touches or moves the painful area, or if the cat anticipates you touching or moving the painful area, they will instinctively attack to prevent you from touching the area.

2) Breathing Changes

A cat in pain may breathe faster or shallower when experiencing pain. You may even notice a change in the movement of the stomach and chest muscles since both are involved in breathing. You can check your cat's respiratory rate at home by counting your cat's breaths for 15 seconds when they're asleep, then multiply it by 4 to get the number of breaths per minute. You can use a timer on your phone and place your hand gently on their chest to feel their breath as you count. Or watch their chest rise and fall, equaling one breath. The normal rate for cats is between 12 and 60 breaths a minute. Make sure your cat is not sniffing, awake, or moving around when you're trying to count, as this will lead to inaccurate counts.

3) Heart Rate and Pulse Changes

The speed of your cat's heart is the same speed of their pulse as it pumps blood from their heart to their vessels. Pain and discomfort often result in increasing your cat's heart or pulse rate. When the painful area is touched or moved, the rate often noticeably speeds up. The normal heart rate in a cat at REST is between 160-200 beats per minute. Similar to how you count your cat's respiratory rate, you can count your cat's heart or pulse rate at home. Place your hand over their chest just behind their elbow and try to count the number of beats in 15 seconds and multiply it by 4. As a cat's heart rate is typically fast, this can often be quite tricky to do. For an accurate reading, you can rely on other things such as their respiratory rate, demeanor, and body position changes. You can also ask your veterinarian or one of the clinic's nurses to show you how to check your cat's vital signs.

4) Gum Color

The normal gum color for a cat is light pink, which can vary slightly. If your cat will tolerate you lifting their lip gently, you can inspect the gum color. The gum color shouldn't be white, grey, blue, or purple. If so, this may indicate a lack of oxygen to the tissues. It also shouldn't be bright red as this could indicate increased blood pressure, pain, or inflammation.

5) Purring

Although purring typically indicates happiness in our cats, they also purr to communicate when they are stressed, anxious or trying to communicate other needs, such as if they are in pain or uncomfortable. So, if your cat's purring increases while showing other signs listed here, the purring may be pain-related.

6) Changes in Eating or Drinking

Depending on where your cat is experiencing the pain, you may discover them eating and drinking less often. This may be because since they are in pain, they don't want to get up to walk to their food bowls. To prevent them from eating less, move their bowls closer to them. If they still don't want to eat or drink, the issue may be related to something else, such as something internal. When eating, if the cause of their pain is their teeth or another part of their mouth, they may drop food out of their mouth or drool while eating.

7) Hiding and Energy Level Changes

Cats like to hide when in pain. They choose to spend time under beds or couches and even in closets. Be sure to check frequently for hiding, as it's often a very telling sign, especially if this is an uncommon activity for your cat. Most cats in pain will generally be less active. This results in a cat who sleeps more and also reduces the amount they run or jump.

Visit Your Trusted Cat Veterinarian in Asheville, NC

While this list of signs of pain in cats is helpful, your veterinarian is the best person to help you decide whether these changes in your cat are pain-related. Any change in behavior can be significant for your cat's health and should be addressed. If you think your cat is in pain, contact Avery Creek Pet Hospital and describe the signs of pain you have noticed so we can help you figure out the best mode of treatment.