Cats are masters of disguise and can often cleverly hide their pain. However, on the opposite side of the spectrum, the most docile cat can become aggressive when in pain.

So whether you’re a pet sitter, a cattery owner or a vet — recognising signs of pain and knowing how to respectably handle a cat in pain is vital.

Certainly, most cats don’t like being restrained and this is especially the case for a cat in pain. As such, mastering a few gentle handling techniques can be useful. You can even share these techniques with your cat-owning clients to implement at home.

Recognising a cat in pain

While cats should be handled gently and respectably in every situation, this is particularly important when you have a cat in pain.

Of course, cats can be quiet, private animals — which can make it difficult to identify their pain. What’s more, cats can sometimes disguise their pain as an innate method of survival.

Without doubt, if a cat has obvious injuries, such as a fracture, break or is bleeding, you may assume he or she is in pain. Yet in other circumstances, a cat may be experiencing pain but it will only show subtle signs. Less obvious signs a cat is in pain include:

  • Refusing to jump
  • Resisting being handled
  • Reluctant to move
  • Withdrawn
  • Decreased appetite
  • Displaying signs of aggression when approached
  • Limping
  • Licks or bites an area of its body
  • Constant meowing, hissing or growling
  • Change in normal personality
  • Ears are flattened or pinned back

cat lying by window

Image source: Josh Couch on Unsplash

Handling a cat in pain

A cat in pain must be handled with care and consideration. If you are presented with a cat in a carrier, it’s important not to pull the cat out by the shoulders or front legs. This can cause discomfort, particularly if the cat is injured or has arthritis.

According to International Cat Care, it is beneficial for pet owners to have carriers that open at the front, but can also have the top half removed.

If possible, it’s a good idea to place the carrier on the floor and open the door to allow the cat to walk out on its own accord. However, if the cat refuses you must lift the cat out carefully (this is where a carrier with a removable lid comes in handy!).

To do this, support the cat under its chest and hindquarters. This method suits all cats, whether in pain or not as it provides comfort and security.

It may help to remind owners to consider the cats’ sense of security. Keeping their feline friend close to their body will help them to feel safe.

Also, when approaching any cat, but particularly a cat in pain, approaching from the side or behind can be less threatening than coming from the front.

young woman holding cat outdoors

Image source: Japheth Mast on Unsplash

Advice for owners

As a pet professional, you can advise pet owners not to take it upon themselves to treat their cat’s pain. While there are many forms of pain relief that can be used in cats, some human medicines are toxic to cats (such as ibuprofen, aspirin and paracetamol).

If they feel their cat is in pain, they should visit their local vet.

Certainly, as cats age they can develop arthritis, which can make being petting and picked up painful. You can remind cat owners of this fact and suggest they avoid picking them up, unless entirely necessary.

In addition, by educating owners on the signs of pain in cats, particularly the subtle symptoms, you can help them to identify pain early on.

This way their cat can receive the necessary treatment to identify the source of their pain and hopefully reduce it.

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Liz has a passion for all things cat and dog, and was one of the first in Australia to bring Pet Insurance to the market. She has headed up Petsecure for the past 12 years, and is committed to promoting and supporting the amazing work done by rescue groups around Australia, and those who work to promote a better life for all animals.

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