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Not many people can observe the subtle conduct of our feline companions and tell if something is off.
Cats can be complicated in their communication with humans, and sometimes they are very good at concealing their inner feelings.
But with a keen eye and comprehension of feline communication, you can be able to tell when something is troubling your furry friend.
Knowing the warning signs your cat is crying for help will put you in a good position to intervene and solve your cat’s problems before they get worse.
Keep reading this post to learn the 14 signs that indicate your beloved kitty needs immediate help, and when to call the vet for professional services.
Understanding Your Cat’s Communication
Even though cats do not communicate with humans in an explicit language, they have a subtle way of passing their message through various means.
Understanding your cat’s body language will give you insightful signals into what they’re trying to tell you or other pets.
Interpreting Body Language – How Do Cats Act When They Are in Pain?
Our whiskered friends can be very good at hiding discomfort. This trait stems from their ancestors, who would hide pain to avoid being a target for predators.
However, being a cat owner comes with the solemn responsibility of interpreting the cues to know when they are in pain.
Common Body Language Signals in Cats
1. Tail position
The changes in a cat’s tail position can be a powerful indicator in determining their feelings and moods.
A lifted tail is a good sign that your feline is confident in their territory and feels very contended. A high tail and a little twitch mean your cat is ready to play and make friends.
If your cat tucks their tail, it is somewhat apparent they’re trying to submit or something is making them a little worried.
However, a tensed or puffed-up tail can indicate your feline friend is nervous or severely agitated. They do this to appear bigger, which may help in scaring away potential threats.
A cat’s tail with a whipping motion slapping back and forth may point to fearfulness or aggressive behavior.
2. Ear orientation
In addition to tail position, the orientation of the cat’s ear is another common non-verbal indication used in feline communications
The neutral orientation of the cat’s ear can indicate that your furbaby is chilled out and they’re in a happy mood.
Ears facing forward is a tell-tale sign that your feline friend is feeling contended and interested in exploring their nearby surrounding.
Your cat may put up their ears straight and face forward when they want to know who’s that? What’s that noise? Or any other curious interest.
A low and sideways ear inclination is a sign your cat is anxious, nervous, or frightened, and this may sometimes lead them into aggressive behavior.
Flat ears against the head are a clear warning sign that your feline friend is extremely scared or trying to be aggressive.
Your lovely feline may signal they’re not feeling well when their ears are low and faced out.
3. Whisker Movement
The neutral position of your cat’s whiskers can indicate they are relaxed and content. This means they will be slightly fanned out but not stiff or forward.
It’s a sign that your furry friend is comfortable in their current surroundings, and there is no cause for alarm.
If the whiskers move in a forward position, this can be a strong sign that something has sparked the feline’s interest.
This could be anything interesting such as a new toy, a suspicious noise, or a smell of their favorite meals. Pushed whickers are often accompanied by erect ears and wide-open eyes.
If your cat’s whiskers are pulled back tightly against their face, it’s usually a sign of fear, aggression, or discomfort.
It’s an urgent warning sign that your furball is on edge or feels threatened, and they might need your help immediately.
4. Eye movement and Pupils
We encourage every cat owner to make a habit of monitoring their feline’s eye routinely. Healthy eyes in cats should be clear, bright, and free from any foul-smelling discharge.
Drastic changes in your cat’s eyes can indicate something worse including potential eye problems.
Having said that, the movement of your cat’s eyes and pupils can be a good pointer to their current mood although they may not tell the whole story.
You need to combine the following signals with other signs to get a full picture of what your furry friend is trying to communicate to you.
If your cat’s eyes are wide open with normal pupil dilation, then this is a welcoming sign that they are in a happy mood and contented.
An unblinking stare of cats can indicate something that has caught their attention by surprise.
Cats would often look into what they’re investigating without moving their eyeballs to get a full picture.
However, a cat may give a direct stare at something they find threatening or intimidating. The pupils in this case may be slit or dilated.
In addition to body language, cats may also use various vocalizations to communicate with each other, express their feeling, or call out for help from their human caregivers.
The following are some of the most common vocal messages produced by our feline friend:
We have all heard cats’ meows. This is the most common vocal tool in the feline world and it signifies a communication between cats and humans.
Kittens usually meow to attract their mother’s attention, while for adult cats it is often a communication with their valued caregivers.
If you’re keen enough, you must have noticed that cats’ meows do not sound the same at all times. The standard meowing in cats is that of ‘asking for something’ from their caregivers.
Cats make the standard meowing sound using a mid-pitched tone and it’s always mid-lengthen in duration.
A contented cat is likely to make repeated normal meows to communicate their excitement to the human family. It can also be a subtle way of requesting attention.
A short high-pitched meow, commonly known as the mewl, is usually a sign of saying hello, and it can be accompanied by other body movements such as rubbing against your legs.
Cats who need something specific like food or water are likely to make a long, drawn-out meowing sound to catch your attention.
A startled or hurt cat can make high-pitched meows to communicate their discomfort.
Low-pitched meows are usually a sign of sadness and some cats may make this sound to express discontentment with what you’ve done.
For nearly all cat parents, purring is one of the most gratifying feline vocals they look forward to when spending special moments with their furball.
Purring is that soft rumble that indicates sheer delight in cats, and they make it a way of expressing satisfaction.
Most people associate purrs with excitement and positivity, making it difficult to know when your cat needs help as they rumble softly.
Even though purring is associated with a nice feeling in the feline world, you need to understand that it can also indicate problems including pain and sad emotions in rare occasions.
Some cats can purr as a way of soothing themselves from fearful situations. If your cat is purring with a tense body or showing other signs of fear, this could be an indicator that your help is long overdue.
Most cats produce a nervous purr on their journey to the vet’s office.
Cats may produce the hissing sound as a way of expressing fear or agitation.
Hissing can also be a warning sound made to other pets or people to back off, failure of which the offended feline can start an attack.
When hissing, your cat may exhibit other defensive postures including hatched back, barred teeth, puffed-up fur, or twitchy tail.
Unprovoked hissing could also be a sign that your cat is in immense pain or suffers from an undiagnosed medical condition.
Yowling is similar to meowing, but it is drawn-out, long, and rhythmic. Your cat may yowl as a way of expressing discomfort, pain, or distress.
In most cases, reproductive intact cats may yowl at each other during breeding season as a sign of looking for a mating partner.
It is a common vocal in the feline language that indicates a female cat is in heat or a male cat is looking for a ready female.
5. Growling and snarling
Cats can communicate their discomfort by producing aggressive sounds such as prolonged growls and snarls.
In addition to that sound, a growling cat can also posture their body in readiness to attack an intruder.
It is not uncommon for cats to growl or snarl as a way of indicating their pain. This is directed to their human companion as a subtle way of calling for help.
Modification of Cat’s Vocal Cues
Cats can modify their vocal sounds when they are in pain by adjusting the pitch, volume, intensity, and duration.
Modification of these vocalization cues is a way of requesting an urgent need for attention and passing their emotions.
For example, a high-pitched prolonged yowl may point to a cat who needs immediate attention due to sudden discomfort.
Some cats experiencing pain are highly likely to withdraw from their surroundings and seek a secluded place for self-soothing.
You should NEVER ignore what your cat is trying to tell you especially when they’re doing so by facing straight into your face.
Cats can show a wide range of behaviors, from scratching to grooming, and playful interactions in different contexts.
These activities can give us a glimpse of your cat’s emotions and well-being. The following are some of the most common behavior cues we can observe in felines:
Cats are very good at grooming themselves and others. This habit is not only a way of maintaining good looks, but also to relax, relieve stress, and bond with each other.
Keep in mind that overgrooming can point to pain, discomfort, and emotional distress in cats.
They may resort to this behavior as a way of catching up or soothing themselves from challenging situations.
Scratching is a natural behavior in cats that helps in maintaining sharp claws. Aside from that, cats may also nick into various surfaces to leave their footprint behind.
They do this by releasing pheromones on scratched surfaces in a bid to mark territory or communicate with other felines.
Cats who live a sedentary lifestyle cat also scratch on furniture to release pent-up energy, which is an undesirable behavior.
Excessive scratching can be one of the ways your cat uses to soothe themselves from discomfort or emotional distress.
3. Play Behavior
Cats are naturally playful and active. They have intuitive ways of engaging with each other and creating their own fun beyond entertainment.
Play sessions between you and your feline friend can provide a perfect bonding session where you get to know their current emotional state.
The complex feline communication and body language is not a recent phenomenon. This behavior can be traced back to the time when cats lived in the wild.
Cat ancestors needed to unite by bonding and playing games as a way of coming together against their predators.
In the wild, overt communication can attract predators. This is a risk solitary hunters like cats can’t afford.
Instead, they’ve evolved to communicate in ways that are less likely to draw unwanted attention to other pets and humans.
Even though domestic cats have been living with human beings for many years, they still retain many of their wild ancestors’ instincts, including their subtle communication methods.
Every cat is an individual with a fairly unique communication style and preference. It helps to know your cat’s personality and communication style, to be in a good position of decoding their message.
Feline language and communication can become a mystery to us because they don’t rely on obvious expression like humans do.
Instead, cats communicate through body language, vocalizations, and behaviors. And to make things even more interesting, these signals can vary significantly from one cat to another.
Every cat has unique behaviors that they associate with specific emotions or desires. Knowing these personalized signals is key to identifying when your cat needs help.
We suggest spending time with your cat, grooming them, or petting them as a way of strengthening your bond and gaining valuable insights into their unique communication cues.
14 Warning Signs Your Cat Is Crying for Help
Behavior warning signs
1. Changes in eating habits
Changes in your cat’s eating habits, be it an increase or loss of appetite, can raise questions about their emotional and physical health.
It should be particularly more worrying when your cat declines their favorite foods, and snacks, or fails to drink water as they usually do.
Missing one meal may not be a huge concern, but the problem occurs when the cat fails to eat in several sessions.
Dental problems or gastrointestinal issues are some of the major culprits that may make your furry friend avoid eating as they normally do.
A sudden heightened appetite should equally be worrying. Hyperthyroidism is a condition that may cause cats to eat more than they should.
If your cat is eating too much without reciprocating in gaining weight, then there are high chances of having undiagnosed medical conditions.
2. Altered sleeping pattern
A healthy adult cat can sleep for about 12 – 16 hours every day in short sessions. This makes it very easy to notice when your kitty isn’t getting enough sleep.
If you notice that your cat is having trouble with maintaining normal sleep patterns or habits, they could be suffering from underlying issues.
Your cat is probably refraining from sleep as a way of diverting their energy to heal from infections or injuries.
3. Social withdrawals
Cats have no problem staying alone, but sudden withdrawals from social interactions can indicate an imminent danger.
If your cat is increasingly spending more time alone than they used to, then this could be a warning that they need immediate help.
4. Unusual vocalization
As we discussed in the previous section, cats rely on various vocalization techniques to convey messages to each other and humans.
Unusual vocalizations such as excessive meowing, yowling, hissing, or snarling can point to an underlying issue affecting your furry friend.
Any strange noise from your cat should be a pointer to pain or emotional issues. You need to take it as a literal cry for help.
5. Aggressive behavior
A healthy contended cat is more likely to stay calm and with a relaxed demeanor. However, sudden aggression towards humans and other pets can indicate that they need help.
Unexplained aggression is often a sign of pain because the cat is unable to soothe themselves and they fear that their agony can last longer.
You should never encourage your cat to persist with sudden aggression. We strongly suggest you attend to your kitty immediately by finding ways of averting aggression.
6. Changes in litter box habits
Cats are naturally hygienic and creatures of habit. This makes them easy to train on housebreaking rules.
A sudden deviation from your kitty’s routine such as abrupt changes in the use of the litter box should be a red flag.
If your disciplined cat is suddenly soiling your carpet or furniture, there’s a possibility of underlying health issues, social issues, or environmental stress.
Don’t punish your cat for not using the litter box, you should rather try to find the reason for their unwanted conduct and redirect them with love.
If your cat doesn’t revert to their normal toilet habits within a few days, then you ought to ask your vet for professional advice.
On the other hand, frequent trips to the toilet area can also indicate that your cat is having constipation.
Trying to poop without success may change your cat’s litter box habit and make them cry for help while straining.
Physical Warning Signs
7. Drastic weight fluctuations
Unexplained weight loss or weight gain can be an indicator of serious health issues such as diabetes and cancer.
Emotional distress can cause your cat to shed lots of weight.
In addition to health issues, a rapid increase in weight can be attributed to certain behaviors. Cats experiencing emotional distress can gobble up more food portions and live a sedentary life, making them add some weight.
Rapid weight gain can cause more problems for your cat because it may lead to obesity and open up the possibility of other chronic issues.
Sudden loss of critical body mass may sometimes be caused by abrupt changes in diet. If you have to change your cat’s food, we recommend doing it progressively while monitoring their reaction.
8. Coat and Skin Changes
Whatever happens inside your kitty’s body will be revealed in their coat and skin. Depressed cats may not groom themselves, and this can lead to deteriorated coat conditions.
On the flip side, some felines may groom themselves compulsively, due to emotional distress, causing bald patches on the skin.
Overweight cats can have significant challenges in self-grooming, causing their coat and skin health to get worse.
Skin inflammation, bacterial infections, fungi, or external parasites can cause your cat to lose significant amounts of hair.
If your cat’s hair is dry or brittle, then you can have a reason to worry about a deficiency of certain nutrients and minerals.
Cats with smelly coats may be suffering from kidney-related conditions or dental issues because they apply the coat with smelly saliva during grooming.
9. Lethargy and Reduced Activity
Healthy cats are active and playful by nature. An unusual reduction of activity may be a worrying sign that your kitty needs help.
Prolonged lethargy and fatigue can be a sign of underlying illnesses including diabetes and kidney-related conditions.
Keep in mind that it is normal for cats to reduce their activity cycle as they advance in age. However, inactivity should be a red flag when it abruptly occurs in an active kitty.
It’s also worth mentioning that some cats can be more active than others. Normal tiredness may not necessarily paint the whole picture of your cat’s need for emergency help.
We recommend observing your cat’s body language and changes in activity patterns to understand their physical and emotional state.
10. Changes in grooming habits
Overgrooming or undergrooming can be behavioral problems in cats, but they could also indicate skin problems or underlying pain.
Your cat may overgroom a particular hotspot as a way of relieving pain or soothing themselves from a skin injury. Look for hair loss, soreness, or blisters on the areas being licked too much.
Abrupt changes in your kitty’s grooming habits can also be an indicator of allergic reactions caused by new foods.
Cats keeping up with painful chronic illnesses like arthritis may find it difficult to achieve their grooming requirements.
You can discourage your cat from overgrooming to prevent them from hurting their skin and coat.
11. Breathing Irregularities
The normal breathing rate of a healthy cat can fluctuate between 15 to 30 breaths per minute depending on several factors such as overstimulation.
The everyday sneezes and coughs should not cause you to worry since this can be triggered by a trickle in the cat’s throat.
Excessive panting or breathing with the mouth open due to irregularities can be a sign of respiratory distress.
Other signs of acute respiratory disorder in cats are nasal discharge, pale lips, labored breathing, irregular heartbeats, periodic blackouts, and gastrointestinal upset.
Environmental Warning Signs
12. Avoiding the litter box
If your housetrained cat is no longer using their toilet, then you may have induced the problem through some abrupt changes.
Changing your cat’s litter box or shifting its location can cause stress and avoidance behavior in some cats.
Cats are known for their finicky habits; it may surprise you that switching the litter type could also cause them to avoid the litter box, and relieve themselves in an unsuitable area.
13. Unwarranted aggression
Introducing a new pet to your cat can cause them to develop unwarranted aggressive behavior or cause potential attacks on the newcomer.
Other factors that can induce undeserved aggression in cats include visitors and subjecting them to new environments.
14. Changes in home routine
Cats can do well when subjected to a known routine at home. If you notice any abrupt changes in your cats’ everyday conduct then you can suspect health problems.
Creating a stabilizing environment and familiarizing your cat with a predictable routine can help in stress reduction and it also provides the cat with a sense of control.
Make sure to plan regular meal times, playtime, bonding sessions, and exercise sessions for your feline friend, to give them a hint of what’s coming up next.
Similarly, changing your cat’s routine abruptly can cause severe effects on their mental well-being.
Sudden shifts in what your cat expects can cause aggression, hiding, or potential attacks due to frustration.
When to Seek Veterinary Care
The moment you notice your cat is wailing for help through any of the signs discussed above, we recommend examining them for potential medical problems.
It’s possible for them to conceal pain, so don’t assume your cat is well just because they are not shouting for help.
We recommend booking an appointment with your vet if the worrying signs persist for more than two days for a professional examination and possible treatment.
Some warning signs ought to warrant immediate attention from the vet while others are complementary in making a proper diagnosis.
For example, if your cat is having a drastic change in their eating habits while vomiting and yowling in pain, you should chat with your vet straight away.
In addition to a prompt reaction, we strongly advise that you maintain your cat’s regular wellness checks at the vet’s office.
Routine checkups will allow the vet to diagnose your feline friend and provide early intervention before the issues get out of hand.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. How to tell that my cat is sick
You can tell if your cat is sick by carefully looking for signs of pain, discomfort, and emotional drain.
Most veterinarians will advise you to monitor the cat’s habits when they’re healthy so that you can tell the deviation when they do something sinister.
Excessive meowing, yowling, and emotional signs of distress, among other symptoms, can raise a red flag about your cat’s physical or mental health.
There are more reasons to be worried if these tell-tale signs are abrupt and accompanied by avoidance behavior.
2. How can I tell if my cat’s weight loss is normal or a sign of illness?
Sudden and unexplained loss of weight on your cat can reveal underlying illnesses.
Normal fluctuation of weight in cats can take time and they occur due to changes in diet, activity levels, and age.
Weight loss caused by a medical condition is rapid and noticeable, while normal shedding of pounds can take a while and it is mainly detected by a weighing scale.
3. What should I do if my cat starts avoiding the litter box?
Your first response should be to ascertain the root cause of the problem. Maybe the litter box is dirty and, in this case, you may need to switch the litter and clean the toilet area.
Your cat may also avoid toileting because of urinary tract infections or other related conditions. You can rule out medical reasons by taking them to the vet for a routine examination.
Changing the type of litter can also cause your cat to avoid the box. Make sure to stick to what your cat loves and try out different brands slowly before making a sudden change.
It is also possible for cats to avoid using the litter box because of personal preference. We recommend stationing the cat’s toilet in an easily accessible area yet a private area free from traffic.
4. My cat has been hiding more than usual. Is this a sign of distress?
Occasional retreats in quiet hiding spots such as under the bed or perching in secluded places like cat trees are a normal part of cat behavior.
They do this to escape the buzzing activities in the house when they want a solace moment to meditate or rest.
However, prolonged hiding can indicate the cat is fearful or distressed about something in their immediate environment.
The triggers of distress are many including other pets, unfamiliar sounds, or the presence of visitors at home.
If cats could speak, they would be more than happy to tell their human caregivers about many issues afflicting them including sickness.
Since this is not a choice, we are left with the only option to observe and analyze what we can see through subtle cues and body language.
To know the warning signs your cat is crying for help, you need to understand how your cat behaves in a normal situation to know when they’re acting awkward.
It would be best if you NEVER ignore what your beloved kitty is trying to tell you. In most times it may not be a literal cry for help, because these finicky creatures are excellent in hiding pain.
Book an appointment with your vet once you notice abrupt changes in your cat’s behavior, signs of discomfort, or pain, since they may be indications of something bigger than what you see.
Laura is the founder of Furs'n'Paws. She is a also a pet writer and expert with more than 20 years of experience of working with dogs and cats. She developed a very strong love for animals at a young age. Her passion led her to establish a thriving pet sitting and dog walking business in Dubai. As an expert in pet training, behavior, and nutrition, Laura is committed to helping pet owners and pet lovers by offering high-quality information on a wide range of topics.