Cats are experts when it comes to hiding pain and discomfort. So how to tell if there is a problem? Discover the signs now with our handy little guide.
Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage. Cats are experts when it comes to hiding pain and discomfort. Sometimes they may be so good in this that we may not be able to notice their pain and suffering. Sometimes all we can notice will be a change in their behavior. By knowing what to look for, we can stay alert about their behaviour and minimise any chances of missing sicknesses or pain in them, so we can look for a veterinarian's help in time.
It is believed that cats got the habit of disguising their pain from their ancestors during their evolution. Signs of weakness make wild cats more vulnerable to predators and create a risk of being abandoned by their group. However, modern domestic cats do not have any dangers, yet they keep hiding pain and discomfort.
The most obvious signs of cats in pain are their behavioral changes. You may notice that your cat is trying to hide frequently or stay away from playing and cuddling with you and your family members. They may not show any interest in jumping onto surfaces or playing with their favourite toys and stay sitting still in a hunched-up position.
They may avoid family members and other pets in the house and sometimes warn us to stay away by hissing and growling. Also, they can be reluctant to move, showing difficulty to get up from a lying position, limp, and stay hidden in the same posture for longer periods. An obvious reduction of the animal's activity level can be noticed together with one or a few of the signs mentioned previously.
In contrast, some animals may become restless, frequently lying down and getting up, show increased vocalization (could be meowing, purring, and other unusual sounds) when they are in pain.
Some cats may show aggressive behaviour towards friendly people and other pets at home (biting, hissing, growling), while some may seek more affection from the owner.
Loss of appetite is another important and noticeable change in cats with pain. Together with that, difficulties in chewing, weight loss, and changes in water intake may also be seen. Some may start to gain weight suddenly due to lack of exercise and other reasons.
Some cats show changes in their grooming behavior when they are in pain. Some may neglect to groom themselves, resulting in matted fur, while some may excessively groom a particular area leading to conditions like bald spots. Self-protection strategies like protecting a part of its body, not putting weight on a particular limb, and refusing to be held or picked up can be seen in some animals. Signs of self-mutilation like biting or scratching a particular part of the body can also indicate suffering.
Apart from the signs mentioned above, some cats may show changes in sleeping patterns; many cats tend to sleep more if they feel unwell.
In addition, symptoms like frequent urination, failing to use the litter box, changes in posture (Hunched back, tucks in the abdomen), discharges from eyes or nose, panting while in rest, lethargy, trembles, shaking, etc. may also be seen. Moreover, we can recognize pain by facial expressions like enlarged pupils, looking sleepy, having a vacant stare, squint eyes, etc.
Sometimes your cat may need emergency care, but the signs may go unnoticed if you are unaware of that. You may only see swelling around the face in severe allergies, but this condition could easily progress to respiratory distress. During fighting with other animals, animal bites can predispose your cat to be severe and fatal infectious diseases like rabies and it can sometimes lead to internal bleeding. Eye injuries and other eye abnormalities may not be apparent if the cat stays asleep for longer periods. Check your cat’s eyes if it keeps on staying with closed eyes most of the time because these eye injuries can cause sudden blindness.
Signs of emergencies like poisoning, breathing difficulties, bloody diarrhoea, unconsciousness, and collapse may also go unnoticed if you do not pay attention to a cat who tries to hide and stay asleep most of the time.
Heatstroke is another emergency that can occur if a cat is left inside an unventilated vehicle or room for some time or due to sudden increases in environmental temperature. Cats will show excessive panting and lethargy, followed by death if immediate treatment is not given for heatstroke.
Apart from emergencies, there are signs of chronic pain in cats that need veterinary care. These may be primarily associated with nutritional deficiencies, malignant tumours, orthopaedic disorders, nerve tissue damage, or chronic inflammation. Don’t wait until the annual checkup if you spot changes in its behaviour, because the earlier you get a diagnosis and start the treatments, the prognosis will be better, and recovery could be quicker. Observe your kitty carefully and pay attention to the colour of mucus membranes, visible signs of swelling or reddening in the body, urination, defecation behaviour, etc and once you notice one or several indications of pain or discomfort, contact your veterinarian. Your vet will decide whether you need to take the animal for a checkup or not. In case of a possible emergency; take your pet as soon as possible to a veterinarian.
After determining the actual cause of pain, the veterinarian will start pain management by prescribing analgesics, providing heat therapy and massage, recommending necessary physiotherapy, and altering the animal’s diet plan. Pain management will be done while treating the primary cause, if it is detected.
When you are back at home after the checkup, try to rearrange the animal’s essential items like bed, litter box, food, and water bowls close to each other so that they can reach them easily when necessary. Also, locate your cat in an undisturbed area so that it won’t try to hide all the time. Another important thing to note is that we should never give over-the-counter pain medications to relieve pain in cats without consulting the veterinarian. Cats are a group of sensitive animals who cannot metabolize many commonly used analgesics. Although many cat parents are aware of the acetaminophen toxicity by now, it is good to know that some other pain-relieving medicines used for humans like ibuprofen and aspirin are also not recommended to be used in cats. Using these drugs to relieve pain in cats will further aggravate the existing condition, and will start showing signs of toxicity. This is an emergency where the animal should be taken to the vet immediately.
After all, be alert about your kitty's behaviour and seek veterinary advice whenever necessary to give your furry companion a life free of pain and suffering. Apart from the annual checkups, as a prevention, provide your kitty a balanced and nutritious diet, safe environment and provide space and furniture to play, scratch and walk on as exercise.
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