Like many other animals, cats have an innate ability to mask pain. Before they were domesticated, cats knew that showing pain meant revealing a weakness that could be preyed upon. Back then, a wounded “meow” would not get the attention of a caring owner. Rather, it would alert predators to your location and circumstances.
Even though these instincts don’t serve cats anymore, they remain hard-wired into feline biology. It’s our job to read between the lines and figure out when our pets are suffering.
Here are five signs that your cat is secretly hiding pain.
- Grooming Changes
When a normally meticulous creature slacks on hygiene, there’s something going on. If your previously tidy cat looks disheveled, it could be a sign of arthritis or other illness.
Over-grooming a certain spot is also a bad sign. If a cat licks the same area over and over, they may be soothing inflammation there. Excessive grooming can lead to hot spots and hair loss.
Some cats are naturally more withdrawn than others, but we can observe this symptom in even the more mellow personalities. You’ll see a reluctance to enter crowded areas. When a cat feels vulnerable, high-activity spots are overwhelming.
Squinting into the light and otherwise avoiding bright areas is also telling. When a cat is in pain, their pupils often dilate. A cat who has taken to residing in dim areas is hiding something.
- Decrease in Appetite
A lack of appetite could mean illness as well as pain located specifically in the mouth. You’ll notice changes in appetite at mealtimes, but also when cleaning the litter box. Mark any changes in digestion as your vet will ask when gathering information.
The same goes for thirst. Note any sudden increase or decrease in water consumption. A change in thirst or appetite means that something is “off.”
- General Discomfort
Cats in distress often pick a “safe spot” and remain there for hours. Once they move, their sensitivity is more observable. You may see an altered gait, lameness, or hunched posture. They will have trouble jumping and may stop going to their favorite perch if it’s too high.
Other physical signs of discomfort include weight shifting, tail flicking, and avoiding touch. If your cat used to love rubs and now shies away from your cuddles, that’s a warning sign.
- Change in Personality
A change in personality is one of the biggest giveaways. Since you need to know the baseline mood of a cat before you can clock a change, it’s always the owner who can best tell. If your typically sociable cat becomes aggressive and hisses at your touch, it’s definitely time for a vet visit.
Sometimes the changes are less dramatic. For example, your cat may simply take longer naps or stop rubbing up on your leg for attention. See if other abnormalities accompany these subtle differences. It could be that your cat is particularly skilled at masking pain and will require extra investigation.