Recognising Pain in Cats

(Picture from Tracey Nesbit “Silver our diabetic, he’s approx 12/13”)

Cats are remarkably good at hiding pain and discomfort, so it can be very hard to notice when our cats are in pain, unless we know what signs to look for.

Cats can sometimes show obvious signs of pain such as vocalising or limping, if the pain is acute. If they are experiencing ongoing, chronic pain, then they are much less likely to express this. Chronic pain can also affect cats emotionally.

Behavioural signs of chronic pain in cats include:

  • Not playing as much
  • Sleeping more
  • Not jumping as they used to
  • Being more irritable

Pain can also be expressed by a change in their body language:

  • Tense
  • Hunched
  • Head down

Facial expressions can also show pain, including:

  • Squinting or closing their eyes
  • Flattened ears or ears tilted to the sides
  • mouth/nose/cheecks seem tense or pinched together


Cats can be in pain for many reasons, especially as they get older. Recent research has shown that 61% of cats over 6 years old show signs of arthritis in at least one joint. Cats may not show us obvious signs of the pain, instead you may notice changes in their behaviour. Lots of owners put these changes down to old age – but this often isn’t the case. Zoetis have a page with information about arthritis in cats, including a quiz you can use to assess signs your cat might be showing of having arthritis ( The PDSA also have a page about arthritis in cats which includes ways you can help your cat at home (

If you have any concerns that your cat is experiencing pain, it is important to book an appointment with your vet as soon as possible to have them examined. There are many options for pain relief which could help to improve your cat’s comfort and quality of life. However, if the time comes where they can no longer be kept comfortable even with pain relief, you may need to consider the impact of the pain on their quality of life.