Many a cat lover will tell you one of the reasons they chose their particular pet is the animal’s sense of independence.
Yes, of course, they are loving and affectionate, but they are also their own animal. If they were human, they’d be leaving for an honest day’s work and coming home for quality time – unlike dogs, who’d stay at home all day for tummy tickles.
Being somewhat reserved at times, it can be difficult to tell when a cat is in pain.
Writing in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, a committee of 19 experts from around the world categorised 25 specific signs that indicate there is a problem.
“Both owners and veterinarians are clearly able to recognise many behavioural changes in cats, which relate to pain,” according to Daniel Mills, study co-author and professor of veterinary behavioural medicine at the United Kingdom’s University of Lincoln. “However, owners may not always recognise the clinical relevance of what they see. We hope that having an agreed list of more objective criteria, which relates to specific signs of pain, could improve the ability of both owners and vets to recognise it.”
The study further broke down the cats’ behaviour into mild and chronic pain. For example, while avoiding bright areas, growling, change in feeding behaviour, closed eyes and groaning were rarely present in the first category, they ramped up considerably in the second.
Signs your cat is in pain
Among the behaviours that can indicate both mild and chronic pain are some obvious contenders, such as limping, an abnormal gait, lack of appetite, a reluctance to eat and hiding.
However, more subtle signs, such as a lower head posture, hunching, less rubbing up against people, an absence of grooming or only licking one area are all signs to visit the vet.
All of this, of course, relies on knowing what your cat’s version of normal behaviour is. Thankfully, this is not a chore, as observing an animal you love can be as much of a pleasure as the scent of homegrown gardenias through open windows in summer.
Another sign to compare and contrast is an altered breathing rate. If the pattern appears faster and more shallow than normal, or more panting is evident, get it checked out. According to the website Preventive Vet, your cat’s eyes can also be valuable sources of information.
“This is true both for eye pain itself and for pain elsewhere in their body,” it states. “Often times, pain elsewhere in the body will result in larger (dilated) pupils, while pain in the eye(s) can result in either larger or smaller (constricted) pupils – depending on the underlying injury or disease process, and whether one or both eyes are affected. Squinting may indicate pain, either in the squinting eyes or elsewhere in the body. Similarly, a ‘bloodshot’ appearance can indicate pain in the affected eyes.”
Pain relief for your cat
Whatever you do, do not – do not – reach for the painkillers that have given you relief in the past. An active ingredient in Panadol, for example, can severely impact on a cat’s red blood cell structure and impair its ability to carry oxygen to tissues. It can also damage the kidneys and liver.
Meanwhile, those with ibuprofen can cause bleeding and ulceration of an animal’s stomach and intestines. The only place to get medication for your feline is your vet, not your bathroom.