When a cat is sick, it is often quite obvious to its owner, but sometimes it is not so clear. What if the cat was in terrible headache or suchlike? What are signs to look for when I suspect my cat is in pain, but is not bleeding, drooling, vomiting, walking erratically or showing other obvious signs?

  • I had an old cat who became very vocal and would just yowl. At first I thought maybe it was going deaf or was getting a little senile. Eventually a vet took his blood pressure and it was sky-high. The vet said the high blood pressure was probably causing headaches and he was yowling because he was in pain. We got him on meds to control his blood pressure and he did much better.
    – user2944
    Sep 17, 2014 at 15:41

3 Answers 3


As Monica and Me123 have said, the big two signs of cat distress are:

  • hiding
  • changes in eating habits, especially not eating or drinking

Other signs I've seen with various cats include:

  • If the cat is injured, touching the area that's in pain will get complaints from the cat - depending on how badly the cat is hurting anything from crying to trying to bite to get you away from the painful place. This also happens with arthritis if you try to move the arthritic joint.
  • Any change in the cat's normal behavior. A normally standoffish cat who becomes very affectionate is likely trying to tell you something (I had this happen with a cat who was normally very aloof. She became very affectionate for a day or two, then went into hiding. At that stage she was in advanced kidney failure - she was aware she was failing and was 'saying goodbye').
  • seeking cool areas (normally cats will chase the warmest part of the house) can mean that the cat is feverish, especially if it sprawls out to get as much body contact as possible with the cool surface.
  • Inexplicable crying - a cat's distress meow is quite different from the normal talkative meow - particularly if the cat doesn't calm down with your voice or presence (an elderly cat that's having senility or disorientation issues is likely to calm in response to your voice, where one that's in pain probably won't).
  • Rapid weight loss or weight gain, particularly if there's no change in the cat's eating habits.
  • If you see a bluish tint to your cat's paw pads, nose (only works on cats with pink pads and noses, obviously), and tongue, the cat's breathing is impaired and there isn't enough oxygen in its system. The cat could be sprawled out panting (I've seen this in a cat with pneumonia - we got him to the vet in time, but the permanent lung damage he sustained took him from us when he was ten - the damage was something like emphysema and he ultimately couldn't get enough air in to sustain himself), or he could simply be not moving around much.
  • Assuming your cat doesn't mind being petted, that's a great opportunity to notice if there's any tension in its body. When I pet my cat, she immediately relaxes (assuming I haven't interrupted her in the middle of playing). If instead she remained tense, I would suspect a problem.
    – mhwombat
    Sep 17, 2014 at 16:00

When my elderly cats were dealing with various serious conditions (kidney disease, heart disease), my vet advised me that cats try to hide their pain. She told me to look for behavior changes, specifically:

  • changes in eating habits, especially loss of appetite or thirst (the latter is very serious and requires intervention)

  • hiding (my kidney-failure kitty did this in her last couple days)

  • listlessness

Other behavior changes may or may not be pain-induced; when one of my cats (who had previously been generally quiet) started yowling a lot, particularly in the middle of the night, I asked my vet about it and she suggested that senility or disorientation was more likely than pain.


My cat was once in pain, and I picked up the following things:

  • My cat was once noisy, but he suddenly got very quiet.
  • My cat started running away and hiding from me.

Also look for sores and listen in the night for fighting.

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