Assessing pain in cats can be challenging. No agreed-on tool or clear consensus exists to determine what qualifies as a sign of pain in cats.
An international panel of veterinary experts from various clinical backgrounds and specialties participated in surveys about feline pain. In 4 rounds, 19 participants were asked to list conditions believed to be reliably, inherently painful in cats. They were then asked to evaluate behavioral signs according to 4 different properties: presence of the sign in acute and/or chronic conditions and/or nonpainful conditions; reliability of the sign as an indicator of pain; how likely the sign would be present when there is a low level of pain; and the likelihood that the sign would be present when there is a high level of pain.
The panel judged 91 different signs of possible pain. None were considered necessary to denote pain, and none were specifically related to chronic conditions. Only panting, dilated pupils, and blepharospasm were reliably linked to acute pain. There were 23 signs considered sufficient to imply pain and 2 behaviors deemed reliable pain indicators. The importance of a cat’s mood and temperament and their impact on demonstration of pain was highlighted. The authors concluded that the findings provide a starting point for the development of a behavioral assessment tool for evaluating pain in cats, but further studies are needed.