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6 Signs of Pain You May Mistake for Your Cat “Just Getting Old”

Your cat might not be getting grumpy or finicky just because she’s aging -- she might be hurting.

 |  Jan 7th 2014  |   3 Contributions


If you grew up in my generation, or the generation before, you’re probably familiar with cats living to maybe 11 or 12 years old. But these days, our pampered indoor kitty friends can live to be 18, 19, and maybe even older than that. If we don’t have the experience of living with an old cat, we may assume that some personality changes are simply due to aging when they could actually be due to pain.

As the caretaker of a cat who will be 18 in May, I’ve made some of these mistakes myself. Here are a few behavior changes that I’ve learned could be signs your cat is hurting.

1. Grumpiness

A cat who is in pain will understandably be grouchy. She may react with hostility to other cats who want to play with her or she may hiss when you touch certain parts of her body.

2. Finicky eating

If your cat has pain in her mouth, either from dental disease or resorptive lesions (“kitty cavities”), she may suddenly decide to stop eating certain types of food that make her teeth hurt.

The hip bones are a common site of arthritis in cats. X-ray of a cat's pelvis by Shutterstock

3. Clumsiness

If your cat is falling when she tries to jump, losing her balance walking across narrow surfaces, or just generally acting less graceful than she did when she was younger, she may be in pain. It’s hard to make an elegant jump if your hips and knees are bothering you!

4. Excessive sleeping and/or moving around less

Yes, cats do sleep a good 18 hours a day, but a cat that sleeps even more than that or doesn’t move as much as she used to could be trying to tell you she’s in pain.

Sleepy cat by Shutterstock

5. Litter box problems

A cat with arthritic hips may have trouble holding the appropriate position to keep her urine or feces in the box. If you’re seeing poop just outside the box or pee running up the side of the box and maybe even onto the walls, that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s bad or senile; it probably means she’s hurting.

6. Weight loss

If your cat is losing weight, this can be a sign of pain -- either from dental issues or from something hurting inside her -- or of a condition such as kidney disease or hyperthyroidism.

If your cat is showing one or more of these signs, visit your vet to find out what’s going on. Do not give her aspirin, acetaminophen, or naproxen sodium: These types of pain relievers are highly toxic to cats. Your vet can give you tips on safe medicines for pain management, and my cat Siouxsie tells me that a heated cat bed provides great relief for achy joints.

A warm, soft bed can be great for a creaky kitty. Cat sleeping by Shutterstock

What other subtle signs of pain have you seen in your cat? Do you have any tips and tricks to help creaky cats enjoy a good quality of life and minimal pain? Please share your thoughts and advice in the comments.

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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

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