Is Your Cat In Pain? A Study Lists 25 Signs

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A lowered head and reluctance to move can be signs of pain in a cat. (Picture:

Do cats have a universal body language of pain? And can we humans recognize the mostly silent expressions of distress in a species notorious for concealing pain? These are some of the questions answered by a top team of international experts who came up with a list of 25 signs that your cat is hurting and needs help.

You may already know some of these feline pain signals: a cat that sits in a hunched posture or that persistently licks one spot on its body is probably hurting. But not everyone knows these three signs that a cat is in acute pain: dilated pupils, panting and uncontrolled blinking, all of which are identified in the study authored by Isabella Merola and Daniel S. Mills from the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom. The researchers compiled a  cross-checked a list of 91 behavioral signs of pain in cats, and narrowed the list down to 25. The article, “Behavioural Signs of Pain in Cats: An Expert Consensus,” was published February 24 in the scientific journal PLOS One and involved clinicians with specialties in internal medicine, anaesthesiology, cancer, dentistry, behavior and neurology. Here are the signs:

  1. Dilated pupils
  2. Hunched posture
  3. Uncontrolled blinking
  4. Trembling
  5. Excessive licking of one spot on body
  6. Avoids bright light
  7. Hides
  8. Stops grooming or seldom grooms
  9. Reluctant to move
  10. Stops jumping
  11. Plays less or won’t play
  12. Lowered head
  13. Shifts weight
  14. Furrowed brow
  15. Low-grade tail twitching
  16. Lack of appetite
  17. Gulps food
  18. Makes odd noises while eating
  19. Eats using one side of mouth
  20. Salivates or drools
  21. Vomits
  22. Strains when urinating
  23. Respiratory distress
  24. Teeth grinding
  25. Tension around eyes or muzzle


One of the goals of this study was to educate both veterinarians and cat owners to be more alert for behavioral indications of pain in felines, in the hopes that early detection could lead to faster diagnosis. “Both owners and veterinarians are clearly able to recognize many behavioral changes in cats which relate to pain,” said Mills, a professor of Veterinary Behavioral Medicine at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences. “However, owners may not always recognize the clinical relevance of what they see. They may view the changes as an inevitable part of natural ageing and not report them to the vet as a concern, or at least not until the behaviors become quite severe.”

6 thoughts on “Is Your Cat In Pain? A Study Lists 25 Signs”

  1. Please send me the 25 signs that a cat is in pain. I went to trouble clicking on this article that seemed to promise information and it gave me 1 sign and then just repeated that there are 25 signs. It’s time consuming clicking on these articles and uses up my data really fast.

  2. Read the entire article. How hard is that? Most are in the text of the piece and it also gives a link to the original scientific article. It’s not a very long article. I’m sure you can handle. it.

  3. Hi:

    You make a good point. I decided to write a paragraph explaining the signs rather than listing them. All the signs are included. I did not think of the data issue. So you are helping me do a better job. Thanks for the suggestion. I got the message!

  4. The signs are as follows:
    Panting, respiratory distress, uncontrolled blinking, dilated pupils, vomiting, vocal distress, reluctance to move, poor or no grooming, stops playing or jumping, loss of appetite, stops eating a favorite food, makes growling or other sounds while eating, gulps food, eats out of one side of its mouth, ends yawn with growling noise, sits in hunched posture, low-grade tail flicking, avoids light, hides, lowered head, furrowed brow, strains while urinating, drooling or salivating, tension around muzzle, tension around eyes.

  5. You are right. Thanks for the input. I changed it to make it easier: Here they are:
    Dilated pupils
    Hunched posture
    Uncontrolled blinking
    Excessive licking of one spot on body
    Avoids bright light
    Stops grooming or seldom grooms
    Reluctant to move
    Stops jumping
    Plays less or won’t play
    Lowered head
    Shifts weight
    Furrowed brow
    Low-grade tail twitching
    Lack of appetite
    Gulps food
    Makes odd noises while eating
    Eats using one side of mouth
    Salivates or drools
    Strains when urinating
    Respiratory distress
    Teeth grinding
    Tension around eyes or muzzle

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