What painful ailment could your cat be hiding?

Q: We’ve been keeping cats for more than 40 years, and we feel like we still can’t figure them out. Last week we even had one diagnosed with painful hip dysplasia. Who knew cats could get this!? The week before we had another who ended up with four extractions because of cavities. Our cats didn’t even look like they were in pain. How does this happen?

A: Cats are amazing creatures for a long list of reasons. As a veterinarian, however, I can’t help but marvel most over how well they hide any evidence of pain or discomfort. They’re so skilled at occulting any obvious signs of distress that we humans are often shocked when cats seem so “suddenly” to take ill.

But that doesn’t mean pain is impossible to identify in cats. Not when you know the specific signs to look for. And part of that means knowing which disorders tend to be accompanied by nearly imperceptible signs of pain. With that in mind, here are eight painful conditions my feline-owning clients often overlook:

1: Ingrown claws. This happens when especially curly claws don’t get trimmed. This is most common in older cats whose claws more often tend to grow thicker and longer due to their more limited exercise.

2: Feline idiopathic cystitis. This inflammatory bladder disease is considered highly painful. Thankfully, many cats do demonstrate their discomfort by urinating about the house (often while straining).

3: Pancreatitis. This hard-to-diagnose and considerably painful condition is the bane of many a veterinarian’s work life. What’s worse is that pancreatitis is hard to treat, too!

4: Periodontal disease. Afflicted cats will typically show no signs beyond a change in appetite and a messy food bowl (they often move their head erratically as they painfully ingest their food).

5: Stomatitis. This is kind of like periodontal disease only more sudden and more painful.

6: Osteoarthritis. Some researchers have suggested that the incidence of osteoarthritis in cats is higher than in dogs. Which will probably come as a surprise to those of you who had no idea cats could get arthritis.

7: Otitis. Ear pain happens when chronic skin disease of the external ear canal leads to infection and ulceration called otitis.

8: Corneal ulceration. Ever seen your cat squint at you with one eye? If so, you can be pretty sure she wasn’t trying to be cute. More than likely she was experiencing some degree of ocular discomfort.

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is Send questions to