Animals are hard enough to read as it is, but cats are certainly more enigmatic than most. This could perhaps be attributed to their domestication history; while dogs have been domesticated for about 12,000 years (and one study suggests even 32,000 years), cats have only been close human companions for 5,000-8,000 years. In a way, then, they are more “wild” than dogs and closer to their feral ancestors – and it’s certainly in a feral animal’s best interest to hide pain as long as possible, to avoid being perceived as weak.


Whatever the reason, it’s notoriously hard for owners and vets to tell when a cat is in pain. Additionally, pain in pet cats tends to center around the hips, spine, and abdomen, so it’s central or bilateral – thus, it doesn’t produce something noticeable like a limp. Owners just have to watch their cat carefully, know their behavior well, and take into consideration any behavioral change – no matter how innocuous it may seem.


Here are a few signs that your cat may be in pain.


jumping-catReluctance to jump


As cats get older, many develop joint pain that they are hesitant to show. Cats are very different from dogs in that they rarely show pain, and are experts at hiding it. Therefore, signs of pain must be picked out from your cat’s daily life – and one of these signs is a hesitance or refusal to jump up.


Especially if your cat used to jump all the time, but is getting older and now must be lifted to its food bowl on the counter, your cat probably has some arthritic pain. It could also be experiencing some other type of pain; many cats are prone to urinary tract issues, and any other abdominal pain may prevent your cat from jumping up. Check out our longer blog post on this exact issue.


Using the litterbox for a nap doesn't count as using the litterbox.
Using the litterbox for a nap doesn’t count as using the litterbox.

Not using the litterbox


One of the most common reasons a cat will stop using the litterbox is a urinary health issue. Either a urinary tract infection or urine crystals can cause your cat to associate the litterbox with pain, so he/she may try urinating outside the box to see if they get any relief. Of course, they’ll still be in pain, so it’s important to visit your vet if you suspect a urinary health problem.


Another reason your cat may not want to use the litterbox could be because they can’t climb in and out of it easily. While litter boxes with high sides are convenient for people because they stop litter from getting tossed all over the room, in older cats, they can be hard to climb into and out of. Cats are very slow to show pain, so even a cat with severe arthritis in its spine or hips may not indicate to its owner that it has issues. Visit your vet if you see other changes in your cat’s behavior, like a hesitance to jump up or a change in attitude or sleeping habits. And remember that the Assisi Loop can help with arthritis – check out Autumn’s story for more information.


We have a longer blog post on this issue as well.


Different sleeping habits


Where did your cat sleep when you first brought it home? Where does it sleep now? The change in your cat’s napping preference may be an insight into its health. If your cat used to enjoy climbing to its bed on top of the refrigerator, but now is more partial to a spot on the carpet right near the heating duct, it could be a sign that jumping up high is painful or impossible due to arthritis or some other pain. If your cat no longer sleeps in bed with you, or doesn’t climb up onto its kitty condo any more, it could be because it’s unable to jump.


Different eating habits


Similarly to the sleeping habits, if you notice you have to feed your cat differently now than you used to, it could be a sign that something is amiss. Many people with multiple pets choose to feed their cats on a counter or a table to keep the dog out of the cat’s food, but sometimes the cat doesn’t want to jump up onto the table any more, so it needs to be fed on the ground now.




Some cats are just kind of testy, and that’s their personality. We love them anyway (or perhaps we even harbor a soft spot for particularly fractious cats – they have moxie!). But if your cat that was once a total purr-machine is now more hissy or growly than usual, it could be because it’s sore. Especially when you pet a certain area, it may swat or bite at you, and that could be a dead give-away that something isn’t quite right in that area.


Changed grooming habits


If your cat is suddenly looking a little slovenly – maybe developing mats in its fur – it could be because bending and twisting its body to properly clean itself is painful or uncomfortable. Or, if your cat has gained weight recently, it could also have trouble even reaching its fur to clean itself. Changed grooming can also be a sign of stress and depression.


If you suspect that your cat is in pain, it’s always best to visit a vet – and perhaps choosing a vet with a specialty in cats, since they can sometimes be hard to diagnose. And, as always, remember that the Assisi Loop® can be beneficial for many forms of pain that your cat could experience, so keep it in your veterinary tool kit!