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How to Comfort a Cat in Pain: 10 Tips

Comforting a cat in pain on the couch
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Chances are that at some point during their life, your cat will experience some kind of pain. It could be unexpected, like the sting of a bee. Or it could be necessary, like a routine dental cleaning or life-saving surgery. Pain can also come with age in the form of achy joints and stiff knees. Regardless of the cause, seeing your cat in pain is difficult for any pet parent. But there’s good news: you can help comfort a cat in pain. 

These expert tips can make the experience less painful for everyone. So, the next time your cat has a medical procedure or is having an arthritis flare-up, consider one of these methods for comforting your cat. 

What to Do When Your Cat Is in Pain

Cat snuggled in a blanket at home

It was once thought that animals don’t experience pain in the same way humans do. In fact, pain was believed to be beneficial to the animal post-surgery, since it limited their ability to move and injure themselves further. Now, we understand that the neurological makeup of cats and dogs isn’t so different from ours. We can presume that just as pain hinders our quality of life (and slows healing after surgery), it can do the same to our feline friends [1].

While a cat in pain might limp or meow excessively for your attention, the signs of pain aren’t always that obvious. Some cats stick to their evolutionary roots—hiding their pain because an animal that shows pain or weakness becomes an attractive target for predators, explains Patrik Holmboe, DVM, head veterinarian at Cooper Pet Care

“Expressions of pain can take many forms,” adds Bruce Silverman, DVM, medical director at Village West Veterinary. Symptoms of pain in cats may include changes in behavior such as decreased play, decreased appetite, hiding, and avoidance of touch. Cats might limp to indicate pain in a limb, strain to urinate when there’s trouble with the urinary tract, or stare at the food dish when their mouths hurt

There are also auditory clues that cats are in pain, too. Cats in pain might yowl, hiss, or growl, which can easily be mistaken for aggression. 

Pain doesn’t just come in one variety. There are several types that can be important to distinguish in order to select the most appropriate treatment plan:

  • Acute pain. “Acute pain is often difficult to hide, and a cat will more readily demonstrate how much and where something hurts them,” Dr. Silverman says. Acute pain is typically defined as pain that is present for less than three months [2]. 
  • Chronic pain. As pain persists, cats may show more subtle changes in their behavior, such as decreased activity or slowed movement. Chronic pain is typically defined as pain that is present for more than three months [2]. 
  • Acute-on-chronic pain. A cat could experience acute pain on top of chronic pain. An example is a senior cat with arthritis who experiences a flare-up during the wet and cold months, explains Natasha Bui, PT, DPT, CCRT, founder of Animus Animal Rehab
  • Post-surgical pain. According to Dr. Silverman, post-surgical pain can have a hybrid effect; it’s acute but may cause cats to withdraw and hunker down, as if they have chronic pain. 

This is why it’s essential to seek a veterinarian’s expertise when your cat is in pain, as they can observe and detect even the slightest changes in your pet’s behavior and posture, Dr. Silverman says. The Feline Grimace Scale is one tool your veterinarian might use to assess your cat’s pain. “It’s based on facial expressions,” explains Dr. Holmboe. “The idea is to try to quantify pain, which isn’t always easy. The scale evaluates several factors, including ear position, muzzle tension, whisker position, and head position.”

10 Tips for Comforting a Cat in Pain

Cat being comforted by owner

Managing your cat’s pain, whether at home or with help from your veterinarian, improves their quality of life and reduces complications. It also strengthens the human-animal bond. Here are 10 tips for comforting a cat in pain.

Provide a Safe Post-Surgery Environment 

“It’s best to keep your cat in a more confined area after surgery,” Dr. Silverman advises. This allows you to monitor their progress and keeps them from hurting themselves on high surfaces or stairs. For some procedures, a room without cat trees and high furniture will do. For other procedures, like luxating patella surgery, your veterinarian may recommend confining your cat to a large crate for a few weeks. 

Swap Traditional Pet Furniture for Orthopedic Options

Orthopedic beds provide optimal support by evenly distributing your cat’s body weight, relieving pressure on any specific part of the body. Choosing an orthopedic bed with CertiPUR-US certified foam ensures that the foam has undergone extensive testing by a non-profit third party to confirm that it does not contain harmful substances and is safe for indoor air quality. Depending on the type of pain, heated beds, blankets, and pads can also provide relief. 

Improve the Accessibility of Your Home

Cat next to stairs

Life with mobility issues isn’t easy, especially if you’re a cat who’s trying to heal or is in chronic pain. The tips below will make everyday life for your feline a little easier to manage—and a lot more enjoyable.

  • Stairs and ramps: “The main factor to make your house more accessible to cats with chronic pain would be to add stairs or ramps to allow them to get to the places they want to be without putting too much strain on their hips and legs,” Dr. Holmboe says. Ramps and stairs offer your cat a safe way to access their favorite spots, like your bed, the couch, and the windowsill. 
  • Increase traction: “The more traction the better,” Dr. Bui says. Think: runners, rugs, and yoga mats in high-traffic areas. 
  • Low-entry litter boxes: Swap any elevated or top-entry litter boxes for low-entry litter boxes. Dr. Bui adds that using a lightweight litter substrate can also reduce litter box strain and pain. Furthermore, there should be a litter box on every level of the house so that your cat doesn’t have to climb the stairs to use it.
  • Elevated food and water bowls: Elevating bowls so your cat doesn’t have to bend down decreases the amount of strain on the neck, Dr. Bui says.  

Talk to Your Veterinarian About Prescription Pain Relief for Cats

The type of pain medication for cats your veterinarian prescribes depends on the procedure your cat had or the condition present. “A dental cleaning may require mild pain medications. Surgery may need stronger medications [or a longer course of medications]. However, there are enough safe choices that no matter what was done to your cat, you should have both safe and effective choices,” says Stephen Quandt, a certified Feline Training and Behavior Specialist (CFTBS) and founder of Cat Behavior Help

  • Opioids: Opioids include common medications such as fentanyl and buprenorphine. Your veterinarian may give your cat opioids before and during a procedure, since they can reduce pain response and lower the needed amount of anesthesia, and opioids may be sent home with your cat as short-acting or long-lasting pain relief [1]. In 2022, a long-acting topical opioid that lasts for three days was approved for use in cats and has been a great addition to the medical arsenal for cats.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): These drugs decrease inflammation, which is a cause of pain and why pain may be worse the day after surgery.  
  • N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonists: When a cat develops chronic pain, your veterinarian may prescribe NMDA receptor antagonists, such as amantadine. 
  • Gabapentin: Gabapentin is a common pain medication for cats that interferes with the brain’s pain transmission process, leading to a reduction in pain perception. It also helps cats relax, which in itself can relieve some causes of pain.
  • Monoclonal antibody (mAb) for osteoarthritis: Just last year, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved the very first mAb drug developed to control pain associated with osteoarthritis in cats. The weight-based dosage is injected under the skin once a month [3].

Do NOT give your pet pain relief medicine made for humans, as it could be toxic. 

Administer Medicine in a Stress-Free Way 

Cat getting a pill because it's in pain

With the correct positioning and a tasty treat (when allowed) administering medication to your cat doesn’t have to cause more stress and pain. Cat pill poppers can aid in giving medication, as can wrapping your cat in a towel. When you’re unsure of the best approach to medicate your cat, ask your veterinarian for tips or alternative forms of medication. Most medications are available as liquids or pills/capsules. Ask your veterinarian for the type that is easiest for you to give. 

Talk To Your Vet About Pain-Relieving Supplements for Cats

Always consult your vet before giving your cat any supplement. This is essential for safety reasons, as many products that are safe for humans and dogs can be toxic to cats, Quandt says. Your veterinarian can recommend the ideal supplement for your cat’s pain and prescribe the appropriate dosage for effective results.

  • Omega-3 fatty acid: Omega-3 fatty acid derived from small, cold-water fish and some plant sources have the potential to reduce inflammation. 
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate: These are popular choices for cats with chronic pain, including arthritis, Dr. Holmboe says. 
  • CBD: CBD (cannabidiol) for pets can be found in various forms, including CBD chews, tinctures, and crunchy treats. While the FDA hasn’t officially approved cannabidiol products for therapeutic use in pets and research is limited, it’s a popular choice for managing pain and anxiety, according to Dr. Silverman. Just be sure to get your veterinarian’s OK and recommended dosage before giving it a try.

Try Calming Aids

While pheromone sprays or diffusers can be useful, they are likely only effective when used alongside traditional pain relief methods, Dr. Holmboe says. He adds that their effectiveness can depend on the individual cat and the specific situation. Calming aids also come in the form of crunchy or soft treats, probiotic powder, and tinctures. 

Consider Complementary Therapies

Cat with physical therapist

Several therapies can complement traditional veterinary care to help alleviate pain and support healing. Consult your veterinarian to determine the most appropriate approach before using them for your cat.

  • Physical therapy: Working with a physical therapist can ensure safe movements, identify the source of pain, offer treatment, and provide pet parents with the necessary tools to manage their cat’s pain and enhance their quality of life. Over time, physical therapy may reduce or eliminate the need for pain medicine. Physical therapy is especially important after orthopedic surgery.
  • Laser therapy: Also called cold laser therapy or photobiomodulation, this therapy uses infrared light to stimulate cellular function to promote healing, Dr. Bui explains. 
  • Electrical stimulation: There are two types of electrical stimulation, which are used for different purposes, Dr. Bui explains. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) modulates pain and swelling, such as after surgery. Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES) maintains muscle bulk, prevents atrophy, and helps reduce spasticity in pets with neurological conditions.
  • Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy: This method reduces inflammation and pain throughout the body, and can promote faster healing, Dr. Bui explains.  
  • Massage therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic care: According to Dr. Bui, these methods may be excellent solutions for short-term pain relief but should be paired with traditional medicine and/or physical rehabilitation to treat the root cause of the pain. 
  • Hydrotherapy: Much more popular with dogs than cats, this is a physical therapy method utilizing an underwater treadmill. “This would be great for a cat with severe arthritis or who has significant pain or swelling as the water’s buoyancy can help with all of those.,” Dr. Bui says. Some cats do great with this type of therapy, but most cats prefer land-based therapy modalities.

Provide Space When Necessary 

All our experts agree, a cat in pain might not want to be cuddled or pet. “Approach slowly, gently, and speak sweetly,” Quandt says. Let your cat engage with you at their own pace by offering your hand for them to sniff or a gentle touch on an area of their body that is not painful. If they don’t seem interested, give them space but check on them from time to time.

End-of-Life Care

As tough as it may be, end-of-life care may be the most humane decision for a pet in chronic, unmanageable pain with an end-of-life condition. “Being sensitive to how your pet is doing can help you make that timely decision to end their suffering. It’s the final gift that we can give them,” Quandt says.

Considering these factors will help you determine if humane euthanasia is the right decision for you and your pet: 

  • Are they eating, able to control their bodily functions, and walking? 
  • Do they still show interest in their favorite activities and maintain their sense of self? Or do they have a vacant look and seem disconnected from the world?
  • Are they living or just alive? 

Depending on your answers, it may be appropriate to discuss humane euthanasia with your veterinarian. 


“If you have a hunch your cat is in pain, you’re probably right,” Dr. Silverman says. So, don’t wait until the signs of pain worsen to seek veterinary care. After all, you are your cat’s strongest advocate, he adds. While preventing our cats from experiencing pain might not always be an option, the above tips can prepare us to comfort our cats when they need it the most.