Cat owners are familiar with their pets’ individual personalities, habits and preferences, and are adept at spotting when their behaviour differs from the norm. However, understanding what these changes mean can be a much more difficult task.
International veterinary scientists recently came together and identified 25 behavioural signs (narrowed down from an original list of 67) displayed by cats which could indicate that they are suffering pain.
The expert consensus, led by Dr Isabella Merola and Professor Daniel Mills from the University of Lincoln, UK, supported by cat charity Feline Friends (Derbyshire), represents the first list of its kind to be agreed by a panel of veterinary experts in feline medicine.
The list they have created could now help cat owners and veterinary practitioners to spot important signs that the animals are in pain and ultimately reduce suffering by leading to faster diagnosis of problems and illnesses.
The aim of the study was to collect and classify expert opinion on the possible behavioural signs in cats that denoted pain. These signs were classified as either ‘sufficient’ (their presence indicated that the cat is pain) or ‘necessary’ (the signs must be present to conclude that the cat is in pain) for pain assessment in cats.
By repeating a process of behaviour analysis and selection, their work revealed 25 key ‘sufficient’ signs, such as: an absence of grooming, hunched-up posture, avoiding bright areas, change in feeding behaviour and difficulty to jump, which all infer pain, but no ‘necessary’ signs. These results highlight that being able to evaluate a set of behaviours will be much more reliable than looking out for one single symptom.
Professor Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, said: “Both owners and veterinarians are clearly able to recognise many behavioural changes in cats which relate to pain. However, owners may not always recognise the clinical relevance of what they see. For example, they may view the changes as an inevitable part of natural ageing and not report them to the vet as a concern, or at least not until the behaviours become quite severe. We hope that having an agreed list of more objective criteria, which relates to specific signs of pain, could improve the ability of both owners and vets to recognise it.”
Caroline Fawcett, Chairman of Feline Friends, says that the results obtained from the research so far take a major leap towards a better understanding of our pets: “Cats are notorious for not showing that they are in pain, and the more that we can find out what the signals are, then the sooner we can get them to the vets for diagnosis and treatment. There is a long way still to go before the more subtle signs can be identified, but we are really excited about progress to date. The team at Lincoln is highlighting its dedication to cat welfare by tackling this extremely difficult project.”
Read the report and more about the symptoms in full here