Experts Reveal 25 Signs That Your Cat May Be in Pain

March 3, 2016 | Joanne Kennell

Two cats playing
Photo credit: Harald Kanins/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

It is the first list of its kind to be agreed upon by experts in feline medicine.

Every cat has its own personality, habits and preferences, which owners are quite familiar with, and when their cats start acting differently, owners can spot it almost immediately.  However, many may not fully understand what these changes mean.

To help owners with this often difficult task, an international team of veterinarians has come together and identified 25 behavioral signs displayed by cats, which could indicate that they are in pain.

The consensus, created by a team led by Dr. Isabella Merola and Professor Daniel Mills from the University of Lincoln, UK and supported by the Derbyshire-based cat charity Feline Friends, is the first of its kind to be agreed upon by experts in feline medicine.

SEE ALSO: New Study to Reveal the Meaning Behind Different Cat Meows

The purpose of the study was to collect and classify the possible behavioral signs in cats that denote pain, which were classified as either sufficient — their presence indicates that the cat is in pain) — or necessary — the signs must be present to conclude the cat is in discomfort.

Their results revealed 25 key sufficient signs, however no necessary signs or behaviors were uncovered.

“Cats are notorious for not showing that they are in pain,” Caroline Fawcett, chairman of Feline Friends, an organization that supported the research, said in a university press release.  “And the more we can find out what the signals are, then the sooner we can get them to the vets for diagnosis and treatment.”

The value of the list is that it will empower owners to evaluate a set of behaviors instead of just looking for a single symptom.

“Throughout the study, we consulted a variety of international experts so that we could be sure the signs were universal indicators of pain. By creating this core set of signs, we lay the foundation for future studies into the early detection of pain in cats, using scales which are crucially based on natural, non-invasive, observations,” said Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioral Medicine at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences.

The researchers will continue their work by investigating whether a cat’s face may be useful for observing discomfort, even if the signs are very subtle.

Below is the list of behaviors that may indicate your adorable furry friend is in pain.

  1. Absence of grooming
  2. Lameness
  3. Difficulty jumping
  4. Abnormal gait
  5. Reluctant to move
  6. Reaction to palpation
  7. Hiding
  8. Playing less
  9. Appetite decrease
  10. Overall activity decrease
  11. Less rubbing toward people
  12. Change in general mood
  13. Change in overall temperament
  14. Hunched posture
  15. Shifting of weight
  16. Licking a particular body region
  17. Lower head posture
  18. Blepharospasm (involuntary blinking or spasm of the eyelids)
  19. Change in form or feeding behavior
  20. Avoiding bright areas
  21. Growling
  22. Groaning
  23. Eyes closed
  24. Straining to urinate
  25. Tail twitching

The full report, published in PLOS ONE, is available here.

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