VCA Five Corners Animal Hospital

Why Does My Cat … Mask That He's in Pain?

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If you’ve ever watched your kitty pounce on a catnip mouse, you’ve seen the vestiges of his wild, predatory nature. Since the rule among predatory creatures is “eat or be eaten,” cats instinctively hide their pain as a survival mechanism to prevent other predators from viewing them as weak or vulnerable.

Granted, your cat probably doesn’t have to hunt down any of his meals, and you likely don’t resemble anything close to a hungry wolf or a hawk, but the instinct remains.

For years, people mistakenly assumed that because cats didn’t show pain, they didn’t feel pain. Now we know that simply isn’t true. The nervous system of a cat is relatively similar to that of a human, so it stands to reason that what is painful for people is probably painful for felines.

But a behavior that's protective in the wild can be problematic in the home, making it difficult for owners to know when a pet is in pain.

Signs Your Cat May Be in Pain

The rule of thumb: Any time your cat starts to exhibit unusual behaviors, it’s time for a trip to the veterinarian. Signs of pain may include:

  • Lack of interest in grooming
  • A reduction in activity, such as jumping, walking or playing
  • Less interaction with the family
  • Hiding
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Aggression or flinching when touched
  • Accidents outside of the litterbox
  • Increased vocalization
  • Increased heart and respiratory rate
  • Dilated pupils

While older cats may not show obvious signs of pain, X-rays don’t lie: Cats can suffer from arthritis in the limbs and spine, just like dogs. The signs, however, are usually more subtle.

A cat who once groomed himself with a back leg flung straight up may simply stop grooming — and become matted — because it may be too painful to bend like he once did.

The same cat may have accidents outside the litterbox because the sides of the box are too high, and it’s painful to hoist his leg over the top. Or maybe the litterbox is in the basement, and tackling a long flight of stairs is too painful for his creaky joints.

A cat with arthritis may or may not limp, but if he has stopped jumping up onto cat perches and beds, he could be saying that he’s in pain.

All of this means that owners need to be especially attentive to even subtle changes in their cat’s behavior. It also makes that regular visit to the veterinarian even more important.


Specialty Care

Sometimes sick or injured pets need the care of a veterinary medical specialist. When that happens, VCA specialty hospitals work closely with the general practitioner veterinarians who refer cases to us in order to provide seamless veterinary care to your pet. When your pet is facing any kind of serious illness or injury, our specialty referral hospitals will provide the compassionate and expert care your beloved pet needs.

Our goal is to make sure that when you and your pet are in need that you have access to board certified specialists who are up to date on the very latest developments in their field. In our state of the art hospitals, our specialists also have access to the most sophisticated diagnostic and treatment tools and techniques from ultrasonography and endoscopy to CAT scans and even MRI.

As part of the VCA family, we have over 83 specialty hospitals across the US and Canada which provide referral specialty care, so there may be one near you. Our specialized services include: behavior, cardiology, critical care, dentistry, dermatology, integrative medicine, internal medicine, neurology, oncology, ophthalmology, radiology, rehabilitation, reproduction, and surgery.

Find a VCA Specialty Care Animal Hospital near you:


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Emergency Care

Your emergency needs can be met right here at our hospital. VCA Five Corners Animal Hospital provides Urgent Care and Emergency Services 7 days a week, 365 days a year between the hours of 7:00 am and 12 Midnight.

Please call us at 206-243-2982. We are located at 15707 1st Ave South. Burien, WA 98148.

We provide the highest standard in veterinary emergency and critical care services. We are trained and equipped to perform a variety of emergency surgeries and procedures. We provide the highest standards of pain management. Emergency internal medicine consultations, including full diagnostics, are available.

Please call or come in immediately if you feel your pet is having an emergency. After hours we recommend ACCES Renton or Seattle - 206-364-1660 or VSC Lynwood - 425-697-6106.