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How Can I Tell If My Kitty Is In Pain?

           Let’s Start With Arthritis. When people think about arthritis, they tend to think about themselves (humans) or perhaps their dogs.  Rarely do pet owners think about it as a problem for cats, partially because cats are so good at hiding their pain.  Cats are solitary hunters and are also prey, so they do all they can to not appear vulnerable to enemies.  You, as their caretaker, need to be aware of and watch for any signs that might indicate sickness or pain.  An interesting fact is that arthritis, or degenerative joint disease (DJD), doesn’t only happen in old cats.  Some cats as young as two to four years old may have it. 

            What happens is that the protective cartilage on the ends of bones gets worn away, leading to chronic, progressive pain, which can be very debilitating and result in severely decreased quality of life.  Some of the most common locations for DJD are the lower back, knees, hips, elbows, hocks, and shoulders.  Numerous studies have shown that as many as 92% of all middle-aged to old cats are suffering from it. 

            It is very important for you to know your cat.  Know her behaviors and normal activities in her environment.  For example, does she run up and downstairs, jump up on high furniture, curl and bend herself up into tight positions to groom and sleep?  When you see changes in behaviors, it doesn’t mean that she’s just “getting old.”  Usually, there is a reason for it.  Old age is not a disease!

Some of the more common changes you can see include:

  • Decreased appetite or lack of interest in previously loved treats

  • Being withdrawn and hiding instead of seeking out petting and attention

  • Lack of desire to play or chase toys

  • Reduced mobility, reluctance to go up or downstairs, hesitation to jump

  • Reduced grooming, with a rumpled coat, and grumpiness if you try to brush her

  • Over-grooming a painful area, such as her joints

  • Aggression toward other cats or toward you if you pick her up

  • Sleeping in a hunched or tucked-up position instead of curled on her side

  • Urinating or defecating outside the litter box. Constipation

  • Trembling limbs and stiffness or difficulty getting up and walking around


            There are many things we can do to help your kitty live a more comfortable and happy life.  It is important that you take her to your veterinarian when you notice changes, and to have regular checkups every year, or more often as the cat gets older.  The doctor will ask you about changes, as well as do an exam, including checking her weight, her teeth and eyes, her heart, muscles, joints, and so on.  We are likely to want to do lab work on her, to see how her organs are functioning, and to let us know if it is safe to use certain medications for pain.  X-rays can be very helpful, along with flexing and feeling of bones and joints, to locate areas of DJD, weakness, and instability, and so on.  This will help us determine methods to make life easier for her, such as placement of litter boxes, ramps, or chairs to help her reach her favorite higher places, and rearranging some of her things so she can avoid stairs.

            We will be following up with more information about causes of pain and other things that reduce older kitties’ quality of life. In addition, we will discuss ways to help. For now, please remember to work together as a team with your veterinarian and staff, and don’t make decisions about giving human or dog medications to your furry kitty without her doctor’s advice.  Medications like ibuprofen, aspirin, or especially acetaminophen (Tylenol), can severely sicken or in many cases be FATAL to cats. For more information about pain in cats, please contact Evergreen Animal Hospital in Evergreen, Colorado at (303) 674- 4331 today to schedule an appointment.

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