Cat owners get to experience two unique emotions.
The first is the immense joy that comes from experiencing a cat’s affection or simply watching them love life. Whether they’re scrambling around chasing a laser pointer at top speed, patrolling your yard from their favorite window, or, yes, pushing your favorite things off the counter, happy cats are four-legged entertainment guarantees.
Nothing compares to owning a happy cat.
The other emotion is one you want to avoid at all costs: seeing your cat in pain. The despair is indescribable. You’d do anything to help them.
If you’re dealing with a cat in pain (though I really hope you’re not), let’s talk about what you can give your cat for pain so both of you start feeling much better.
8 Ways to Recognize Cats in Pain
The first step to relieving your cat’s pain is understanding if something is actually wrong.
While we always recommend seeing a veterinarian immediately if you think your little buddy is feeling off, sometimes it’s just not easy to tell. So here are eight reasons they might be feeling a little worse for wear.
1. Difficulty Getting Around
The most obvious sign your cat is experiencing arthritis pain — or other joint problems — is impaired movement. If Whiskers is walking around with a limp or appears to hesitate before taking another step, the problem is most likely arthritis.
Another possible sign is if your cat simply isn’t moving around as much as they used to. Many owners simply assume old age is catching up to their furry friends, but the truth may be that your cat would love to be as nimble as they used to. They’re just choosing the far less painful option of remaining sedentary.
Some cats will even hide if they’re having trouble getting around. This behavior is rooted in their instinctual need to find somewhere safe when they are unable to protect themselves.
In short: never assume your cat is slowing down because of old age. Arthritis could be the reason your cat is in pain.
2. Faster Breathing or Panting
Just like humans, cats may react to pain by changing their breathing. They might start breathing faster or taking shallower breaths. Your buddy may start panting, or you may even notice their stomach and chest muscles moving in unusual ways when they breathe.
Unless they were *just* running around, these kinds of changes in breathing are signs of pain in cats. Usually, it means the problem associated with the pain started relatively recently. Your cat isn’t breathing faster all of a sudden because they’ve developed arthritis over the years. They’re in pain because of something recent —like a bad fall or a tussle with another animal.
If you notice faster breathing in your cat, examine them immediately for fresh wounds. If you don’t find any, the unusual breathing could be because of an internal — and serious — injury. And if your cat’s tongue starts to stick out while they’re breathing, that’s a sign of distress indicating you should take them to the vet immediately.
3. Changes in Their Eyes
Your cat’s eyes can tell you a lot about what’s going on in their cute little bodies.
Sometimes, that’s all there is to it! They’re just cute. (Forget puppy eyes. Kitty eyes are downright adorable.)
Still, large, dilated pupils in cats can also be a telltale sign that something in their body isn’t right and could even be causing them pain. Smaller pupils or bloodshot eyes can also be signs that something has gone wrong.
If you suspect something is off with your cat, check their eyes for any changes. Occasional dilation isn’t necessarily bad, but if their eyes stay that way for long periods of time, they might be in pain.
4. Loss of Appetite
Most cats will eat and eat and eat.
There’s no stopping them. If they were humans, they’d spend their lives in sweatpants in anticipation of any opportunity to extend their waists (oh, to be a cat).
So, if you notice that your little buddy’s appetite isn’t what it used to be, something isn’t right.
Often, the problem is related to their jaw or teeth. You may notice them drop food they had meant to eat but couldn’t because the pain was too much.
If you suspect your cat may be in pain, keep an eye on how much water they’re drinking, too. A lack of appetite is far more obvious, but if your cat isn’t drinking enough water, they might be hurting from underlying issues like hyperthyroidism, heat stroke, diabetes, or kidney disease.
Bottom line: if your cat has changed their eating and drinking habits, it’s probably because of a serious underlying problem.
5. Uptick in Purring
Some cats are real chatterboxes (catterboxes?).
Throughout the day, your cat might be purring audibly for no apparent reason. Just having one long conversation all by themselves. If that’s normal for your cat, you probably know by now!
But if you hear them purring more than usual, especially if they seem to be purring at you, they might be trying to tell you something.
They want a snack.
Okay, but if they’re purring at you more than usual and they’re displaying one of the other behaviors above... they’d probably still love a snack.
However, jokes aside, increased purring can also be a cry for help. They’re trying to tell you that something is wrong. Look for the other signs on this list that they might be in pain.
6. Biting or Scratching
As every cat owner knows, feline communication can be... somewhat aggressive.
If you’re lucky, they’ll start purring or simply rubbing themselves against you. That’s cat for, “Pardon me. Do you have a minute?”
The other way they get your attention is decidedly more straightforward: they bite or scratch you. There’s really no misinterpreting that approach.
That being said, sometimes your cat attacks for good reason. They need your help!
Fortunately for your forearms, most cats will opt for vocalizing first. If your cat has bitten or scratched you because they’re in pain, it was probably just a reaction because you touched the spot that’s causing them trouble (or they thought you were about to).
Pay attention to that spot. If your cat becomes defensive as your hand approaches part of their body, that area is causing them pain.
7. Litterbox Issues
There are countless reasons it’s great to own a cat, but one of the best is that they know how to use the restroom by themselves.
Unlike dog owners — those barbarians— we don’t need to follow cats around and physically handle their... business.
Cats LIKE using their litterboxes (assuming the box is clean). So if they’re no longer stepping inside to do the ‘doo, it’s a sign they could be in pain.
Back pain is often the culprit here. If their spine isn’t able to function correctly, your cat may struggle to get into the correct position to defecate. Cats are such creatures of habit that if they can’t arch their backs properly, they might decide to hold off on going to the bathroom altogether. They’ll end up developing a second problem, as their intestines begin to lock up.
On the other hand, joint pain can also keep your cat from making it to their litterbox in time. So, if you notice your cat leaving you little surprises around the house, don’t take it personally. There’s a good chance it’s because they’re in pain.
8. Changes to Parts of Their Body
Finally, if you’re worried your cat is in pain, take a close look at their limbs, body, and face. Do you notice any swelling? Even if it seems like a small amount, swelling in cats is never a natural phenomenon. Something is causing it.
Now, look. If Whiskers has just gained a few ounces (hey, maybe it’s the holidays), then that’s nothing to worry about. Some changes in diet may be necessary, but you don’t have to turn their belly fat into a “thing”. #bodypawsitive
What we’re talking about is swelling of one of the aforementioned areas of your cat’s body that clearly isn’t because of a little extra weight.
Swelling is almost always the result of a very painful problem in your cat. It could be inflammation, an abscess or infection, or even cancer.
You should immediately seek help from a veterinarian the moment you notice swelling in your cat.
How Your Vet Will Assess Your Cat’s Pain
Ultimately, it’s best to take your furry friend to their vet in order to figure out what exactly is causing them pain.
A lot of times, a vet can tell just by looking at a cat.
Other times, they’ll evaluate your cat’s pain level by using the Glasgow Acute Pain Scale for cats. This helpful examination looks at key behaviors, from purring to lip-licking to the cat’s response to being petted. It’s a relatively quick test, yet the results will tell the vet if your cat is in pain and, if so, just how much.
By all means, go ahead and use the assessment yourself for peace of mind. But if you’re on the fence, we highly recommend you see your cat’s veterinarian ASAP.
What Can I Give My Cat for Pain?
The good news is that there’s a lot you can do for your cat if they’re in pain. While we still recommend you speak to your veterinarian first if any of the above serious symptoms present themselves, here are four options for helping your little friend feel a lot better.
1. Prescription Medication for Short-Term Relief
As a human (we’re assuming), when you don’t feel great, your first thought may be to grab an ibuprofen or Tylenol. Both are tried-and-true medications for helping you get back on your feet.
While nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen can work wonders for humans, the same cannot be said for cats. Some owners have mistakenly assumed it was a good idea to crush the pills up in their little buddies’ foods, but human NSAIDs can actually make your cat sicker.
Acetaminophens like Tylenol are even worse than NSAIDs. These can actually be fatal, as cats’ bodies aren’t capable of properly breaking them down.
To put it bluntly: don’t give human meds to cats!
The FDA has approved some NSAIDs for cats, but your vet will have to prescribe them, and they’re only meant for short-term use. Popular options include Robenacoxib and Meloxicam. Depending on your cat’s issue, NSAIDs may be all it takes to help your cat feel better while their body recovers. Other times, they’re good temporary measures to take while your vet figures out what is next.
In some situations, your vet may prescribe more powerful drugs to help your cat deal with their pain. Common examples are:
- Opioids: Morphine, codeine, fentaynyl, and others may be necessary if your cat is in severe pain following surgery, or if they're in the advanced stages of cancer
- Corticosteriods: This class of drugs reduces inflammation, which is helpful if your cat is suffering from arthritis or extreme allergies.
- Gabapentin: If your cat is experiencing seizures, this medication will help with pain in their muscles, bones, and nerves brought on by the condition.
- Amitriptyline: This is another good choice for cats who are in pain because of problems with their nerves.
- Buprenorphine HCL: Because it's an opiate partial agonist, humans often use this drug to help overcome depression. But at 30x the strength of morphine, it is and effective pain-reliever for cats, too.
Prescription medication might be the solution for what ails your cat. Just don’t try anything over-the-counter that’s meant for you and me.
2. An Anti-Inflammatory Diet
One of the most common reasons for pain in cats is inflammation. Fortunately, a cat’s diet is usually responsible for inflammation, so you have complete control when it comes to turning things around. If you’re feeding your little friend dry food that’s high in carbohydrates, switching to a grain or gluten-free wet alternative may work wonders.
Supplementing your cat’s diet with omega-3 fatty acids can have amazing effects, too. Increasing the amount of omega-3 fatty acids you give your furry friend will reduce inflammation and can even guard against future problems like heart failure and reduced muscle density (a problem known as “cachexia”).
If these simple changes don’t seem to work, experiment a bit. Your cat may have an allergy, even to something as common as beef, that’s causing inflammation and subsequent pain.
Finally, if your cat is overweight, changing their diet could reduce inflammation, diabetes, arthritis, and other joint problems. It’s never popular among cats —don’t tell them it was our idea — but cutting portion size could actually make them feel a lot better.
3. Cat Glucosamine with Chondroitin, MSM, and Taurine
Finally, glucosamine is a great supplement to give any cat, but especially those who are experiencing ongoing pain. Once again, arthritis is often the culprit, but old age, hip dysplasia, and a condition known as cystitis — problems with the urinary tract — can also cause discomfort that slows your cat down.
Glucosamine is a type of sugar molecule that has been shown to have mild anti-inflammatory effects. It’s 100% safe for cats and, among other things, helps promote cartilage health. We pair our glucosamine supplement for cats with chondroitin because this ingredient helps further protect against the wear-and-tear of cartilage and the urinary tract.
Then, we add taurine: an essential amino acid that cats can’t make on their own, but must have with many important benefits. Taurine supports cats’ eyes, digestive system, and hearts —areas that may otherwise cause pain if not properly cared for through the diet.
Finally, we include a purified form of sulfur called Methyl Sulfonyl Methane (MSM) because it helps cats’ bodies better absorb the powerful combination of glucosamine and chondroitin.
Don’t Let Your Cat Suffer
Admittedly, there could be many reasons your cat is in pain. They could even be complicated.
Still, there are tons of resources at your disposal for helping them feel a lot better. A lot of these will produce almost immediate effects, too. And (we’ll say it again for those in the back) — if you’re ever worried your pet is in danger, please get in touch with your veterinarian right away.
We started Paramount Pet Health because, first and foremost, we’re pet owners who want the best for our four-legged friends. Shop our inventory of proven pet supplements, or feel free to contact us with any questions about what’s best for your buddy.