The thought of a beloved pet in pain is a guardian’s worst fear. If only they could communicate their symptoms with their human companions. Some pets, like sick cats, are notorious for hiding their pain, so September’s Animal Pain Awareness Month is the perfect opportunity for a reminder on how to know if a cat is in pain and what to do about it.
“Because Their Pain Is Our Pain”
The International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (IVAPM) launched Animal Pain Awareness Month in the hopes that more pet guardians learn about and recognize pain in their pets. The tagline “Because Their Pain Is Our Pain” reinforces that our companion animals aren’t immune to the acute and chronic pains that so many of us are familiar with. For instance, the FDA recently discussed how feline osteoarthritis is becoming much more common in cats.
Unlike other companions, it’s hard for a cat to show their pain. Evolution is working against well-meaning guardians. According to the Okaw Veterinary Clinic, as both predators and prey, disguising pain can save a cat’s life: “The easiest prey for a predator to kill is the sick or injured one.” As solitary creatures, they don’t have the protection of a pack either.
Signs that Your Cat is in Pain
It’s up to you to help keep your kitty alive. Here are a few telltale signs your kitty is in pain from the Cat Hospital of Chicago:
– Less to nonexistent grooming OR too much grooming
– Strange or changed sleep patterns, e.g. sleeping on only one side
– Decreased appetite or disinterest in food and water
– Less social and interactive with you/the family OR hiding more
– Growling or hissing when stroked, touched (in a particular area) or moved
– Change in posture, e.g. is she more hunched back?
– Less activity, e.g. has she stopped or is she struggling to jump in her favorite spots?
– Ongoing purring; purrs can be used to comfort, calm or heal cats
– Not acting like herself, e.g. more cranky or restless than normal
4 Ways You Can Help Your Kitty in Pain
If you recognize one or more of these signs, don’t feel bad. Remember — wild feline instincts are working against you. But you need to get your kitty to a veterinarian ASAP. Your vet might recommend medications, surgery or other pain management treatments. Fortunately, there are also a few things that you can try to do for your cat at home (with your vet’s approval, of course) to make life for them more comfortable:
1. Give your kitty access to her favorite spots, but keep her safe. When my kitty was sick, I tried to recreate her favorite spots. Lowering things, lifting things, implementing stairs, baby gates and a playpen with her favorite things, etc. Cats can be particular about their environment (they thrive on routine and order), so it’s hard for a cat to accept a “no.” Instead of a “no,” give them an alternative that comes close, so it’s not a huge shock. I made these changes in more common and private spaces. While you want your cat to still feel like a member of the family, it’s important to recognize that she’ll need more “me” time, too.
2. Give your cat a massage. Just like humans, a cat in pain can benefit from a therapeutic massage. While professionals offer that service, it can’t hurt for you to pick up some tips to do it yourself. As VCA Hospitals explains: “The kind of physical contact that is such a critical part of massage can help strengthen the bond with your cat.” I believe that as aloof as cats can act sometimes, deep down, they want and need their guardians around when they’re in pain.
3. Let the sun in. When my kitty was in pain, my vet recommended giving her more access to sunlight. Whether it’s opening more windows or using an outdoor catio, some cats might benefit from more sunlight. Not only are kitties being distracted from their pain, but they’re getting some benefits of light therapy, including: more DNA and RNA synthesis, more collagen, better circulation, more fibroblastic activity and more elimination of the lymphatic system (so less swelling or inflammation).
4. Make your home a kitty sanctuary. Your cat should feel rested and relaxed. Aromatherapy, playing classical music (because cats do respond positively to it) or just toning the noise level down will make kitty naps easy.