As a cat owner, you know your pet best of all and sometimes you can tell that something is not quite right. To help you work out whether your cat is in pain or unwell we have set out some key behavioural changes to look out for.
Firstly, it is worth understanding that cats are masters of disguise when it comes to camouflaging disease and pain, hardwired not to show pain because there is no survival benefit in doing so. In the wild they are solitary hunters that move from small prey meal to small prey meal only relying on themselves without a social structure. Pain equals vulnerability, which can make you an easy meal for a predator or a weaker opponent for an adversary. Knowing this, we need to learn how to read the subtle changes in behaviour than can be indicators of pain.
The more obvious signs that your cat is unwell are bad breath or smelly coat, unexplained weight loss, an increase or decrease in food or water consumption, but for the subtler signs you need to ask yourself the following questions:
Is your cat is spending more time off on their own? Have they become more aggressive to other cats/humans in the household?
Have they stopped or neglected their grooming? Have you noticed matting around the back and bottom?
This could be due to arthritis or oral pain. Excessive grooming or hairloss may be associated with parasites, allergies and a multitude of other causes.
Does your cat sound different? Do the noises it makes sound different in tone, pitch, frequency? Are they making more noise at night than previously?
Night time vocalisation can be associated with high blood pressure, an overactive thyroid gland, dementia or loss of sight not because your cat thinks it’s fun to keep you up.
Have you noticed a sudden or gradual decrease in activity levels?
If so this isn’t particularly normal. As vets we hear ‘they are getting older’ but old age isn’t a disease and often these reduced energy levels are due to pain or disease. Arthritis is very much underdiagnosed and treated in cats. The converse is sudden increase in activity levels in an older cat would be suspicious for an overactive thyroid gland.
Check for changes in sleeping habits – did your cat used to jump up onto the top of the bookshelf for a sleep and now is sleeping a couple of shelves lower, or somewhere completely different at a low level? If so how long has that been going on for? Is your cat sleeping a lot more, or less than previously?
These can all indicate disease processes. Is your cat seeking out warm surfaces or cold surfaces which it hasn’t before and does this appear strange given ambient temperatures.
Is your cat is going outside the litter tray or inside the house if they are an outdoor cat?
If so, something is wrong and there may be bladder or bowel related issues that needs addressing.
Do you seem to be filling up the cat’s food bowl more often but you think your cat is losing weight? Is your cat spending more time perched over their water source, have you noticed that your cat is going to the toilet in unusual places or more frequently, having accidents when these didn’t occur before?
These signs can be consistent with a number of serious diseases including Hyperthryoidism and Diabetes Mellitus. The opposite of these signs i.e. not eating not drinking are also very serious and requires immediate attention
Tip: If you think your cat is drinking more, measuring the amount of water your cat drinks over a 48hrs period. Is a very useful bit of information for your vet to get.
All of these changes in behaviour can be gradual but you know your cat better than anybody and if you find yourself thinking that’s odd or unusual, make a note to keep a watch on the particular change over the next couple of days. If it repeatable there maybe something amiss. If you spot any of the changes outlined above give us a call so we can take a look and diagnose any potential problem quickly.
Often the only time we see your cat is for their annual ‘jab’ or ‘booster’. While vaccination is important, your visit is so much more than a single injection. It can be the one opportunity we get with you and your cat to discuss at length changes in behaviours, activity levels and any concerns you might have which you initially didn’t think were relevant.
Once we have chatted through any issues we will perform a full clinical examination starting at the nose and working our way back to the tail, comparing these findings to previous years and seeing if any trends (good or bad) are developing. If there is something bothering you, always tell us about it. We are here to help.