Researchers release an application to assess pain in cats based on their grimaces

Veterinarians and cat owners will benefit from an app developed by University of Montreal academics Paulo Steagall and Beatriz Monteiro to determine feline discomfort levels.

This new tool, called Feline Grimace Scale, is the first step in applying AI to veterinary practice.  Zoetis and the Quebec-based company Vertisoft funded its backing research.

Available in English, French, and Spanish, the software is intended to educate users on the importance of treating acute pain in feline patients. However, since cats are less vocal than dogs per se, it can be problematic to identify their suffering.

Steagall, a professor at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Montreal university, remarked:

“Pain is indeed quite difficult to recognize in cats because of their particular behavior, even by animal health professionals. It’s a big challenge on a daily basis.”

Consequently, the Feline Grimace Scale uses visual inspection to evaluate a critter’s state. In a nutshell, to detect a cat’s discomfort, the owner must stand back and take notice of five characteristics: ear position, eye-opening, muzzle tension, whisker position, and head posture.

This app provides extensive information on each metric.  The only thing left is picking the one that best describes our pet.

Feline Grimace Scale is not yet a robotic process.

For instance, cats’ ears can be a good sign of whether or not they are in discomfort. One of the indicators of pain in cats is the position of the ears.

Each indicator is rated on a scale of 0 to 2. The sum of all indicators determines the potential degree of acute pain, expressed as a score out of 10.

After five years of development, the app was released in early 2022, even though it will not replace a veterinarian’s diagnosis.

“The objective is not to make a diagnosis but to raise the alert if veterinary attention is required”, Paulo Steagall said.

Many species, such as horses, mice, and rabbits, have previously had their own grimace scales, but cats have not.

The app also has a feature that lets users snap pictures of their pets and share them with their vet. Furthermore, users can send those pictures to help the study lab at the University of Montreal.

Steagall’s research team has already gathered more than 5,000 photos that might help create artificial intelligence so that they can automate the pain detection process.

Their future goal is to be able to photograph an animal and have an algorithm determine whether or not the animal is experiencing discomfort.

This technology may have its drawbacks, but it can potentially improve the lives of animals on farms and herds. For example, a cat that falls asleep or makes vocalizations may show signs of distress even if it is not in pain.

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