How do cats mask their pain?

Hiding pain is a cat’s natural survival instinct. Not only are they subject to predation by larger animals, but in a feral cat colony, a weaker cat loses power in his community. He will have to cede the best areas to hunt, survive on less food, and choose more dangerous spots to sleep.

When a cat is ill and shows signs of pain, the indications are so subtle even the most attentive human can miss what’s going on until the situation has become dire. Often signs of pain, like aggressively acting out or “missing” the litter box are interpreted as bad behavior instead of physical discomfort.

Signs of potential pain or physical discomfort include a decreased interest in play and an overall attitude of withdrawal. Diminished grooming behavior and any change in sleeping habits are also potential red flags.

Behaviors that can be indicators of pain include attention seeking, spraying indoors, litter box accidents, growling, hissing, anxiety, over-grooming, reluctance to be touched, sensitivity to noise, and purring constantly.

Of all the signs of illness and pain that is most often misinterpreted, purring tops the list. It is natural for humans to assume purring is a sign of contentment. In reality, the cat is saying, “Please don’t hurt me.”

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