By Erica Sandberg, DVM, CHPV BluePearl Pet Hospice,


Pain is the number one condition that families want to avoid for their pets. The hard part for many people is knowing when their pet is in pain. This is especially true for cats. Although there are differences between species, mammals all have the same basic nervous system. Therefore, if something were to cause pain to a human being, then it is going to cause pain in our cats and dogs as well. However, how they exhibit that pain can be harder to differentiate.  

Cats are notoriously good at hiding pain. Even though our cat friends are domesticated, they still have a strong instinct to hide pain so that they are not perceived as weak by predators. So, if this is the case, then how are their human family members going to know when their cat is in pain?  

Cats tell us a lot about themselves based on how they move in their environment, how they interact with other animals, and how they interact with their human family. Most importantly, cats give us hints about pain with their facial expressions.   

Environment: Watching your cat walk around the house can tell you a lot about their comfort. Is your cat playing with toys? Are they stretching and grooming themselves? Are they jumping up to their favorite spot on the windowsill or piece of furniture? If they are not doing these things, then they may be in pain.  


Interactions with other animals: Some cats really like their housemates, while other cats would rather be alone. Knowing your cat’s normal behavior with the other animal housemates is important. If some of these interactions are changing, then it is time to consider that your cat is not feeling well.  


Interactions with human family: The same goes for how your kitty spends time with you. Are they still seeking affection? Are they hiding or spending more time in new areas of your home? Are they avoiding touch in certain areas of their body? Are they being more affectionate than usual? Changes in behavior with human family members can be a sign of illness or pain in cats.  


Facial expression and posture: A cat’s facial expression and body posture can reveal a lot about their level of pain. The Feline Grimace Scale ( is an incredibly helpful tool that families, and their veterinary teams, can use to determine whether a cat is in pain. Cats that are comfortable will have perky, forward-facing ears, circular eyes, a relaxed muzzle and/or their head extended away from their body. Cats that are in pain will have flattened ears pointing more towards the side of their head, squinted eyes, a tense muzzle and/or their chin downwards toward their chest.  

It is important for the cat’s human family to look at their cat’s facial expression when they are at home since some of these characteristics may change when they are taken to their veterinarian. The car ride and the smells and sounds of the veterinary office can cause enough of an adrenaline rush that subtle signs of pain in cats may not be present when the veterinarian examines your cat. Taking photos and videos of your cat at home can be very beneficial for the veterinary team when it may be difficult to assess what is happening with your kitty.  


Resource: Feline Grimace Scale website