Behavioural Signs of Pain in Cats Experts Agreed On


A recent scientific study collected and classified veterinarians' opinions on the possible behavioural signs in cats that denoted pain in general. It aimed to find consensus among the experts on what signs are reliable indicators of a cat in pain.

Table #1 shows core signs, what the experts agreed are behavioural signs that the cat is in pain

Table #2 are the behavioural signs not considered reliable indicators of pain (i.e. the experts cannot reach a consensus) but possibly present in a low or high level of pain


Behaviours considered by experts as sufficient (reliable) for pain and their presence in high and/or low level pain.

Behaviour sufficient for pain Presence in LOW level pain Presence in HIGH level pain
Abnormal Gait Frequent Frequent
Absence/reduction of grooming Frequent Frequent
Appetite/food intake decrease Frequent Frequent
Avoiding bright areas Rare Frequent
(squint or blink spasmodically)
Frequent Frequent
Change in form of feeding behaviour Rare Frequent
Difficulty to jump (up and down) Frequent Frequent
Eyes closed Rare Frequent
General mood state * Frequent Frequent
Groaning Rare Frequent
Growling Rare Frequent
Hunched up posture Frequent Frequent
Lameness Frequent Frequent
Less rubbing toward people Frequent Frequent
Licking biting a particular body region Frequent Frequent
Lowered head posture Frequent Frequent
Overall activity/movement decrease Frequent Frequent
Playing/hunting less Frequent Frequent
Reaction to palpation/restrain Frequent Frequent
Reluctance to move Frequent Frequent
Shifting of weight Frequent Frequent
Temperament ** Frequent Frequent
Withdrawn/hiding Frequent Frequent

* For example: tendency to be irritable from time to time due to pain
**Indicates that pain is persistent or relief is only temporary. For example, a cat in chronic pain might be described as jumpy the whole time


Behaviours considered by experts as not sufficient (unreliable) to infer pain, but shown by cats in high and low level pain.

Behaviour NOT sufficient for pain Presence in
LOW level pain
Presence in HIGH level pain
Appetite increase Rare Rare
Body tense Frequent Frequent
Crouching Rare Frequent
Crying Rare Frequent
Ear downward Rare Frequent
Ear flattener Frequent Frequent
Ear rotated Rare Frequent
Escaping when owner tries to catch it Rare Frequent
Half blinks Rare Frequent
Hiding/lying down in the litter box Rare Frequent
Hissing Frequent Frequent
House soiling  Rare Frequent
Less rubbing on objects Rare Frequent
Lying on its side Rare Frequent
Lying ventrally Frequent Frequent
Meowing Rare Frequent
Mouth semi open Rare Frequent
Over Grooming Frequent Frequent
Panting ^ Rare Frequent
Pupil dilation ^ Rare Frequent
Purring Rare Rare
Reduced urination and defecation Rare Frequent
Rolled up Rare Frequent
Scratching less Rare Frequent
Seeking contact with a person more often  Frequent Frequent
Sitting more often Rare Frequent
Sleeping less Rare Frequent
Sleeping more Frequent Rare
Spitting Rare Frequent
Standing longer than usual Rare Rare
Teeth grinding Rare Frequent
Tongue showing Rare Frequent
Trembling or shivering Rare Frequent
Trying to bite someone Rare Frequent
Trying to scratch someone Rare Frequent

^ More related to acute conditions but were not reliable indicators of pain



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