8 Subtle Ways Your Cat Tells You When They're In Pain

Cats are experts at hiding when they're in pain, which means pet owners need to be extra vigilant.

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Cats are often regarded as incredibly independent animals who pick and choose whom to give their energy and love to, but when you earn a cat's trust, they're fiercely loyal and loving.

While cat personalities differ, one thing they all have in common is their ability to hide when they're in pain.

According to The Drake Center for Veterinary Care, cats have a long history of surviving in the wild before being domesticated and have not forgotten some of those instincts. A cat in pain is normally seen as weak and an easy target for a predator, therefore, to survive cats have adapted traits to hide their pain.


As cat owners, it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly what to look out for when you think your furry little friend may need medical intervention, but PetMD, an Instagram page dedicated to providing pet owners tips on how to care for their animals, provided 8 things to look out for when it comes to cats in pain.

8 subtle ways your cat tells you when they're in pain

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1. Their 'activity level changes.'

When a cat is sick or in pain, they may start becoming less active and the urge to play will decrease. They may begin to withdraw from usual interactions or their favorite wand toy may no longer appeal to them. Cat owners may even start to notice that their cat is either sleeping more or less than usual. 




PetMD recommends calling your vet immediately if your cat is extremely lethargic or if their lethargy occurs in combination with other serious symptoms like difficulty breathing or severe vomiting or diarrhea.

2. They're prone to sudden aggressive behavior.

When a normally friendly cat begins hissing, growling, swatting, or biting, it could mean that something is truly wrong. Cats that are in pain may act aggressively toward people or other pets in an attempt to avoid touch, movement, or certain activities that might worsen the pain, according to the Cornell Feline Health Center.

8 Subtle Ways Your Cat Tells You When They're In PainPhoto: Vyacheslav Dumchev / Canva Pro


Per the ASPCA, they explained that there could be several medical conditions that can cause or contribute to a cat's aggression, including toxoplasmosis, hyperthyroidism, epilepsy, abscesses, arthritis, dental disease, rabies, trauma, sensory decline, or cognitive dysfunction in older cats.

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3. Their normal routine changes.

Cats may often stop eating if they aren't feeling well because of an underlying illness or disease. Even stress can affect a cat's appetite. On top of eating less, cat owners may notice that their furry friends may have also stopped drinking water as well.

Apart from eating habits, cats pooping or peeing outside of their litter box can be a significant clue that there may be something wrong with them. Cats typically don't tend to do things like that and prefer to do their business in the litter box.


4. There's a difference in their facial expressions.

Cat owners can even notice if their pet is in pain through their facial expressions, especially if they suddenly have a vacant or "glazed" expression. Dilated pupils on cats can also indicate pain and even the mildest of cases can cause it as well. 

Unlike dogs, cat panting shouldn't be a common occurrence. 



Panting is sometimes an indicator of pain, discomfort, or anxiety. Since cats aren't able to sweat, unless it's through their paws, they resort to panting in the same way that humans usually get a fever, sweat, and increased heart rate when they're ill.


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5. They aren't taking care of their coats.

Grooming is something cats do multiple times a day, every single day. So if you suddenly notice that not only has your cat stopped grooming themselves, but their coat is in poor condition, it could be an indicator that something serious is happening with their health. If grooming stops, it means they are in too much pain to contort their bodies.

Aside from an underlying illness or disease, cats who suffer from depression or anxiety may also cease to groom themselves, as cleanliness is a low priority compared to how they may be feeling.

6. Their posture suddenly changes.

According to VCA animal hospitals' website, a cat being in an abnormal stance or having a weird posture could be an indicator that they are ill. Things like shuffling, cautious walking, or a hunched back could all be signs of pain.




A cat in pain may even stand with their front legs underneath their chest to relieve pain in their hind legs or hips. Cats may even avoid engaging in scratching behaviors or will stop stretching their bodies altogether.

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7. They're self-mutilating.

In some cases, if a cat is exhibiting self-directed or self-harming tendencies, including repetitive licking or biting certain areas of their bodies, like their paws, it could mean something is wrong and they're in pain. According to Cornell University of Veterinary Medicine, in some cases, excessive licking is called "displacement behavior."


This type of behavior may calm a cat, but it can easily become habitual if the source of their pain isn't addressed or properly identified. Excessive licking could also be due to environmental changes, as cats prefer consistency and stability, meaning that change can stress them out as well.

8. Your cat is more vocal than usual.

If your cat loves to vocalize, and that's just part of their personality, this isn't cause for concern. But for cats who normally don't speak but suddenly start hissing, and growling out of the blue, it could mean that your cat may be trying to get your attention.



Even excessive meowing or purring could be an indicator as well. If you notice your cat shrinking away from you, hissing, snarling, or exhibiting any abnormal behaviors that aren't part of their normal routine, it may be best to schedule an appointment with your local vet to make sure everything is okay.


Cat owners must stay vigilant when it comes to the comfort and well-being of their animals.

Changes in a cat's behavior may not seem like something to worry about, and for most cases, a trip to the vet can provide an easy solution that will make sure your cat stays healthy for years to come. But, just to be on the safe side, it's imperative that cat owners make sure they are in tune with their pet's various behaviors.

Our pets bring us immense joy and provide a home full of love, the least we can do is make sure we are taking the best care of them that we can and giving them the opportunity to have a full and long life. 

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Nia Tipton is a Chicago-based entertainment, news, and lifestyle writer whose work delves into modern-day issues and experiences.