What is pain in cat ? How to spot it ? How to relieve it ?

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Yesterday, Claire inconveniently walked on one of my forepaws. The fact that I wriggled among her legs obviously played no role in this accident. We were in the garden, and to be honest, it didn’t hurt me so much, but I had all the same a good roar to let her know that such a clumsiness was unbearable. Then I verified that she was very worried and remorseful, and next I went to do a chase with Pixie.
What is pain in cat ? How to spot it ? How to relieve it ?
Do you know that until the years 80-90, we didn’t conceive that animals, or human babies, can feel the pain in the same way as the grown-up humans ?

Nevertheless, different studies show that the structure of the cat’s nervous system is similar to that of the human, that the same brain areas are activated in case of pain.

What is pain ?

Pain is a sensory and/or emotional answer of the body to a most of the time unpleasant experience. It has a protective function : it aims at causing a reaction to put an end or avoid renewing that experience, or escaping it.

What are the various types of pain that can feel a cat ?

Somatic pain or visceral pain ?

Somatic pain is exactly located at the level of the skin, muscles, bones, joints, or still connective tissues. It’s caused by a mechanical, chemical, or thermal stimulus.

Visceral pain is situated at the level of organs (thorax and belly) ; it’s difficult to locate and spreads. For example, a cat having a bladder problem can feel the pain in the skin of his stomach.

Acute pain or chronic pain ?

An acute pain has often only a single sudden and brutal cause (cut, burn, fracture, tear, …). A surgical operation is also a cause of said acute pain. It disappears as soon as the body doesn’t need it anymore to protect itself. An acute pain is easily relieved by painkiller treatments.

A chronic pain is often the result of the combination of several factors and a deregulation of the control mechanisms of pain : you feel pain while it’s not or not anymore normal to feel pain. A chronic pain is difficult to relieve ; it often responds little to basic painkiller treatments. Its treatment will consist of a combination of measures : medicine (analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant), physical care (surgery, physiotherapy, …), arrangements (adapted material and environment), and psychological support.

Procedural pain

Procedural pain is the pain that cause the care lavished on a sick cat. For example, putting drops in an ear in case of otitis extremely aches. This pain can lead to aggressive reactions or to negative associations (owner = cause of the pain).

Thus it’s advisable to identify carefully the care which could ache to warn them (taking an analgesic before the care for example), and to choose the least painful possible techniques of care (contention of the cat and the way of lavishing the care). This awareness allows to respect better your cat, to limit negative association, and to have a better safety for the nursing.
What is pain in cat ? How to spot it ? How to relieve it ?

How to recognize pain in your cat ?

Unlike humans, we cannot speak : only an attentive observation enables to estimate our pain. Some physiological and behavioral signs can be the expression of a pain, for example :

– increase of the heart rate
– paleness of gums or ears (vasoconstriction)
– fast and / or superficial breath
– loss of appetite
– digestive issues (diarrhea or constipation, vomitings)
– excessive salivation
– tensions, shivers

– aggressiveness
– agitation, or on the contrary inactivity
– retreat, or on the contrary search for cuddles
– motor skills difficulties (limp, difficulty jumping or sitting down)
– growls, groans, or purring
– wrinkled face, fixed or glassy eyes, dilated pupils
– loss of appetite
– untidy wash
– elimination outside the litter box (wee-wee or dropping)
– protection or excessive licking of a particular zone

How to handle pain ?

According to the type of pain, its treatment requires a “simple” medicinal approach or a combination of various measures, as we explained it above.

Only a veterinarian is authorized to choose and if needed to combine various treatments for an optimal efficiency. In every case, there is no question of administering medicine planned for humans to your cat !

Sources :
Philippe Bocion, veterinarian
L.U. Sneddon, « Evolution of nociception in vertebrates: comparative analysis of lower vertebrates », Brain Research Reviews, vol. 46, 2004, p. 123–130
Frances V. Abbott, Keith B.J. Franklin et Frederick R. Westbrook, « The formalin test: scoring properties of the first and second phases of the pain response in rats », Pain, vol. 60, no 1, janvier 1995, p. 91–102
National Research Council (US) Committee on Recognition and Alleviation of Pain in Laboratory Animals, « Recognition and Alleviation of Pain in Laboratory Animals », National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2009

25 thoughts on “What is pain in cat ? How to spot it ? How to relieve it ?

  1. Mickey's Musings

    Good advice!
    It is important to know your pet and know when they are acting differently.
    Observation can help decide if the pet needs a cuddle or a Vet.
    Purrs Georgia,Julie and JJ

  2. Marti

    Good information! I’m glad you didn’t get badly hurt. I’m afraid Buddy T. Cat doesn’t do a good job indicating pain. I think he lived in the wild too long and learned not to show weakness. But he has been licking one spot lately, I think it’s that allergy, but I will look for the signs you mentioned. Be careful around those legs, little one.

  3. meowmeowmans

    We’re happy that you are okay, Zorro! That was a great and informative article. Cats are so good at hiding their pain, and it’s important to watch for the signs you shared.

  4. Catio tales

    A very informative post – we are good at hiding our pain.
    Indignation – now that is another matter and we have a need not to hide that and a good roar at the clumsy humans now and again is most useful.

  5. Teddy

    Ouchies on the accidental paw crushing! I’m glad it’s OK……we do tend to get under our humans’ feet when they are busy so accidents happen. Thanks for all the super good information about pain and how to know when we have it……keeps our humans ALERT!

    Hugs, Teddy

  6. Seville at Nerissa's Life

    Generally speakin’, Peep #1 is a pain in my tail, but that’s clearly not the kind of pain about which you’ve written. When I had those two bouts of the crystals a few years back, THAT was pain. Oh my gosh, that was the worst pain imaginable. I can’t remember what the peeps gave me for it. I’m sure there was somethin’. PLUS, I spent a few nights in hospital to have the crystals removed. Even though I haven’t had any crystals for a really long time, the peeps are always lookin’ for signs of my havin’ pain while usin’ the litter box, just in case. A sign of pain usin’ the box or jumpin’ up and down is the first sign of the crystals, you see. PURRS.

  7. da tabbies o trout towne

    pixie N zorro; thanx for sharin two day; we agreez with island cats; uz catz due like ta hide sew much; thiz izza grate ree minder for R peepulz ~~~~~ ♥♥

  8. Colehaus Cats

    Good post and great information! We think it’s so important pet owners learn the signs and take the necessary steps to get help when needed! Thanks for sharing this!

  9. Memories of Eric and Flynn

    Good information. Cats are very good at hiding pain, but an owner knows their cat and how it acts. The slightest signs that all is not right can sometimes just feel like a niggling doubt but should be watched carefully to see if there is something wrong. I am glad your paw was ok.

  10. Lola The Rescued Cat

    What an informative post! This info is so important for pet parents to know. Lexy is usually under Mommy’s feet, but luckily so far the only thing that happened is that Mommy got tripped. Oh! She did stpe on her tail once.

  11. Basil

    Guys what a totally fab post, thanks for sharing all that amazing info!

    Oh and guess what? MEW WON SMOOCHIE’S GIVEAWAY WOO HOO! Many congratulations! Amber announced it today

    When mew get a minute email us your snail mail address to: deardrbasil @ gmail . com

    Big hugs

    Basil and co xox

  12. Valentine

    Mom learned some new things today, by reading your post! Thanks for that! Yesterday I was walking behind Mom when she stopped all of a sudden and my nose bopped her leg. She was worried that it might’ve hurt my nose, but I was OK.

  13. Marv

    Great post. Nellie was extremely good at hiding how much she hurt. More so than other cats (and dogs) I’ve had. Kozmo lets you know if anything is out of sorts with him. Marv is somewhere in the middle. I LOVE your posts.

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