Celia Haddon - Cat Expert

Understanding animals through their behaviour


It’s not easy to tell when a cat is in distress, pain or illness. They do not show usually show pain by crying or mewing. They protect themselves against predators and threats in the outside world by not making any noise or showing any obvious bodily changes. But any of the following signs are indications your cat needs a veterinary check up, in case it is suffering from pain or illness.

  • Stops interacting with you and may avoid eye contact
  • Stops grooming. Matted coat.
  • A hunched  or crouching posture. Tail and paws tucked away. (Waran et al., 2007)
  • Dribbling or wet chin.
  • Incessant licking, over-grooming, or self mutilation. Bare patches or nibbled areas of fur.
  • Vocalizing, which can include crying, yelping or groaning.
  • Hisses or growls when approached or touched
  • Attacks or bites when approached or touched
  • Sits very still, lies rigid or is non-responsive
  • Stops eating. May approach the food, eat a tiny amount then back away.
  • Stops drinking or drinks excessively.
  • Toileting in the wrong area, possibly because of difficulty getting into litter tray or reaching litter tray by going up or down stairs.
  • Changed deposits in the litter tray. Nothing in the litter tray. Lots of small deposits. Blood in the urine. Spends a lot of time going to the tray.
  • Reluctance to stretch or jump or a general reluctance to move with increased sleeping.
  • Lameness. This isn’t very common even when a cat has bad arthritic pain.
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Lumps or bumps on the body. Sores or wounds that don’t seem to heal. Crusting skin. Unexplained bleeding.
  • Breathing difficulties. Coughing. Wheezing.
  • Vocalizing, which can include crying, yelping or groaning, but many cats stay silent through pain and distress.
  • Claws are brittle and long. The cat may be unable to scratch properly.
  • No longer plays. Hides. No longer enjoys being groomed or stroked. Aggressive to other companion cats (Robertson 2008).
  • Changed habits in general. “Not himself somehow.”

This website will help you recognise pain in your cat  – www.spotcatpain.co.uk   A video presentation can be found here. There’s a pdf which will help you recognise pain in a cat – useful for vet nurses here.


Robertson, S., (2008), ‘Managing Pain in Feline Patients,’  Vet Clin Small Animals, 38, 1267–1290

Waran, N., Best, L., Williams, V., Salinsky, J., Dale, A. & Clarke, N., (2007), ‘A preliminary study of behaviour-based indicators of pain in cats,’ Animal Welfare, 16, 105-108

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