Practical feline behaviour understanding cat behaviour and improving welfare

(Axel Boer) #1
© T. Atkinson, 2018. Practical Feline Behaviour (T. Atkinson) 79

6. Health and Behaviour

There is a very close link between physiological and psychological welfare.
● A change in behaviour may indicate that an animal is unwell.
● Pain, discomfort and disease can negatively affect emotional well-being.
● Emotional or psychological distress can cause, trigger or exacerbate physical disease
and heighten pain.


Pain is both a sensory and an emotional experience. The main function of pain is to
alert the individual to actual or potential tissue damage. It can, however, also have
harmful effects on welfare by negatively influencing mood and increasing stress. This
is not only due to the unpleasant experience, but pain can also restrict and disrupt a
cat’s behavioural coping strategies by:
● Reducing the ability to escape from real or perceived threats.
● Reducing the ability to access safe and secure resting areas.
● Reducing the ability to defend and maintain territory.
Recognizing pain in cats is not easy; they can appear very stoic by nature and rarely
exhibit clearly evident signs of being in pain. This is a survival tactic because revealing
the presence of pain or disability could make the individual an easy target for preda-
tors or rivals.
Degenerative joint disease, which includes osteoarthritis, is one of the most
common causes of pain in older cats and this can be particularly difficult to spot as
it often affects cats bilaterally, making it less likely that the cat will develop an easily
seen ‘limp’, although the cat’s gait may be altered in other ways (Hardie et al., 2002;
Lascelles et al., 2010).

Behavioural signs associated with pain

Pain is highly subjective, and its effects can vary greatly between individuals. Any of
the following signs could indicate that a cat is in pain but none of them is necessary
to signify the presence of pain. Other factors such as fear, stress and the strength of
the cat’s motivation to perform an action should also be taken into account because
these can also have a very significant influence on an individual’s behaviour and
reaction to pain.
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